After 37,248 miles and 15 months of grueling service, including trips to Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah; myriad assignments with Motor Trend's photo and video teams; and dozens of seven-passenger loaded-to-the-gills excursions, some of which ventured into snowy climes, our 2008 Sport/Utility of the Year-winning long-term Mazda CX-9 drew the following complaints from our discerning staff: The volume knob for the radio was located too far from the driver, the rear hatch didn't rise far enough, and the driver seat (at least for one editor) induced backaches on long drives. Other than those minor quibbles, our Liquid Platinum CX-9 Grand Touring AWD, which carried an as-tested price of $41,540, received nothing but rave reviews.

"Unlike other vehicles in its weight class, you really don't get the feeling this sucker is a pig or handles like one: It's darn near carlike in the handling and overall driving feel departments. Brakes are more than adequate, as is the acceleration," says online editor Michael Floyd. Sure enough, the CX-9, which scooted from 0 to 60 in 7.8 seconds and the quarter mile in 16.0 flat at 87.5 mph, was adequately swift, and not too far behind the times of our departed $63,270 2007 Audi Q7 4.2 Premium, whose 350-horsepower V-8 delivered 0 to 60 in 7.3 and the quarter mile in 15.5 at 91.1. Further, the CX-9's 60-to-0-mph braking number of 125 feet was only four longer than the Audi's, and its lateral acceleration of 0.78 g was just 0.04 g less secure.

Speaking of the Audi, Floyd, along with associate Web editor Rory Jurnecka, found the Q7 no more desirable than the $21,730-cheaper CX-9. "For the most part, the Mazda has all the bells and whistles of other 'utes in higher classifications like our Q7, and does it for thousands less. It's most definitely worthy of our Sport/Utility of the Year award, without a doubt," adds Floyd. Jurnecka opines: "The CX-9 seems an acceptable substitute for an Audi Q7; it's almost as good to drive and almost as stylish for much less money. The interior materials are beautiful and lend a truly upscale feel that puts the CX-9 on par with some of Europe's better automakers. I'm not convinced that many people need a crossover this large, but this is the one to have, if you do. As a bonus, the manual-shift feature offers the correct pattern: Pull back for upshift and push forward for downshift."