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."

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.

From The Logbook

"It's not one to take over the rocks or into deep mud, but I'd gladly have this for a long drive, especially one that could include a detour on curvy two-lane highways."
- Allyson Harwood

"Love the constantly updating gear display. Instead of just showing 'D,' it always reveals what gear the transmission is currently in-useful when you're thinking of pulling the lever into manual mode and want to know what gear you'll get first."
- Arthur St. Antoine

"The CX-9's AWD was reassuring on the few gravel roads we meandered onto, its side mirrors are big, there's plenty of power, the six-speed transmission is a silky wonder, and the interior is relentlessly attractive."
- Kim Reynolds

"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."
- Rory Jurnecka


Our Car
Base price $35,250
Options Rear Seat Entertainment System ($2560: Bose audio, DVD, in-dash six-CD chgr, 115 V outlet); GT Assist Package ($2500:nav, rearview camera, power hatch, Bluetooth); Towing Package ($525), Sirius radio ($430), Auto-Dimming mirror ($275)
MSRP, as tested $41,540
Total mileage 37,248
Avg fuel economy 17.0 mpg
Problem areas Satellite radio
Maintenance cost $617.01
Normal-wear cost $491
Three-year residual value* $19,524
Recalls None
*Automotive Lease Guide


2008 Mazda CX-9 GT AWD
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layout Front engine, AWD
Engine Type 60 V-6, alum block/heads
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 227.4 cu in/3726 cc
Compression ratio 10.3:1
Power (SAE net) 273 hp @ 6250 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 270 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm
Redline 6500 rpm
Weight to power 16.9 lb/hp
Transmission 6-speed auto
Axle/final/low ratio 3.46:1/2.37:1/-
Suspension, front; rear Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 16.3:1
Turns lock-to-lock 3.1
Brakes, f;r 12.6-in vented disc; 12.8-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 7.5 x 20 in, cast aluminum
Tires 245/50R20 102V, Bridgestone Dueler H/L 400
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 113.2 in
Track, f/r 65.1/64.7 in
Length x width x height 199.8 x 76.2 x 68.0 in
Turning circle 37.4 ft
Curb weight 4624 lb
Weight dist., f/r 55/45%
Seating capacity 7
Headroom, f/m/r 38.4/39.0/35.4 in
Legroom, f/m/r 40.9/39.8/32.4 in
Shoulder room, f/m/r 59.4/58.7/56.9 in
Cargo vol behind, f/m/r 100.7/48.4/17.2 cu ft
TEST DATA
Acceleration to mph
0-30 2.6 sec
0-40 4.1
0-50 5.9
0-60 7.8
0-70 10.4
0-80 13.5
0-90 17.0
Quarter mile 16.0 sec @ 87.5 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 125 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.78 g (avg)
MT figure eight 28.0 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)
Top-gear revs at 60 mph 1750 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
Stability/traction control Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/m/r curtain
Basic warranty 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Roadside assistance 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Fuel capacity 20.1 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 20/26 mpg
Co2 emisssions 1.13 lb/mile
Required fuel Regular

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