In addition to the CX-9's impressive test numbers, upscale interior, and well-sorted six-speed automatic, our staff appreciated its deft dynamics ("The CX-9's steering is light and precise, the brake response smooth and progressive, and the powertrain lively and refined-sounds like a sports car, no?"), handsome styling ("Its aesthetics are sharp and clean and compare favorably with any of the lux 'utes"), and sure-footed all-wheel-drive system ("The CX-9 is a great winter SUV for all but the absolute worst conditions that would challenge even a properly prepared Jeep Wrangler Rubicon"). We were also fond of the fuel economy (17 mpg versus the Q7's 14), easy-to-operate DVD entertainment system, the sliding second-row seats, which better accommodated ingress and egress, and the sweet sounds of the Bose audio system. That said, the stereo's satellite radio feature did go AWOL at around 23,000 miles and required a visit to the dealer to kick it back into action; otherwise, the Mazda suffered from no other problems.

The CX-9 required maintenance every 7500 miles; thus, during its tenure, it made four scheduled stops at the service bay. The initial three visits cost us $76.02, $88.21, and $61.67, with each consisting of an oil change, full inspection, and tire rotation. The fourth and final service, which ran us $391.11, was a repeat of the first three but included replacement of the engine air filter. All said and done, the maintenance tally came to $617.01. As for normal-wear cost, the CX-9's OE Bridgestone Dueler H/L 400 tires were the only items that required replacing. After roughly 30,000 miles of exploring the Western United States, the Duelers grew tired, so we had a set of Goodyear Eagle RS-As installed for $490.92.

Our protocol here at Motor Trend is to subject every "of the Year" winner to a long-term test, to see if our affection wanes over time. Some winners lose luster as the months mount, while others continue to shine, reaffirming our verdict with every click of the odo. The more we drive it, the more we love it. The Mazda CX-9 was such a vehicle. As editor at large Arthur St. Antoine puts it: "The CX-9 superbly balances roominess and utility with rewarding performance and handling." Sounds like the definition of a Sport/Utility of the Year to us.