Families today have big appetites and big wants. Thoughts of shopping at Costco or transporting half the team are more than enough to rationalize a vehicle that can swallow seven, be they vats of canola oil or soccer players. And while the minivan, wagon, and SUV often meet those needs, they suffer from social stigmas. Automakers, ever so keen, have been establishing and touting a relatively new breed of sport/utility known as "crossovers," a segment that's outpacing the staggering growth of SUVs in the 1990s. In fact, in 2006 more crossovers were sold than SUVs, for the first time ever.
These CUVs ditch truck underpinnings for car platforms and cross over the boundaries of minivan, wagon, and SUV, imparting a bit of each while carrying few if any of the stigmas. Naturally, there exist varying subsets within the segment, none more popular than the premium midsize CUV. These crossovers offer carlike characteristics, all-wheel drive, and the requisite luxuries-leather seats, power tailgate, backup camera, navigation and DVD systems, and six airbags-all wrapped in a package that can carry seven adults.
Scouring this class of CUV exposed three brand-new models, each plenty ripe to compete in a comprehensive taste test. The Acura MDX, now in its second generation, wears show-car sheetmetal and an SH-AWD badge to signify a sophisticated "Super Handling All-Wheel Drive" system. By routing power not only fore and aft but also side to side via a direct yaw-control component, SH-AWD promises sport-sedan-like handling and optimal delivery of the MDX's 300 horsepower. GMC's Acadia, one of three all-new crossovers from the General to share the unibody Lambda architecture-the other two are the Buick Enclave and the Saturn Outlook-is saddled with bringing a crossover mentality to a truck brand. For this test, we opted for a topline SLT-2 AWD, the most professional grade possible. The CX-9 is the only seven-seater in Mazda's lineup, making it the only alternative for customers who come knocking for the now-deceased MPV minivan. As such, it's the be-all family crossover for the zoom-zoom brand. Rounding out this threesome, we selected a Grand Touring AWD, which, as its name suggests, is the grandest of the portfolio, with abundant standard equipment and an Active Torque Split all-wheel-drive system.
To determine which crossover sits atop the crest, we packed our jackets, notepads, and cameras and headed for the winter wonderland that is Sierra Summit, an understated mountain resort off of Highway 168, just 65 miles northeast of Fresno. The 600-mile round trip would not only give us ample time on the highway, but also plenty of action on the serpentine roads that zigzag around Shaver Lake. Following two days of driving and a half day of testing the slickness of the slopes (oh, yeah, we packed our skis), we soaked in a 104-degree hot tub deliberating until our fingers resembled prunes. Fatigued yet relaxed, we had a winner-cross over to see.
Bigger is Good
At just over 201 inches long and nearly 79 wide and 70 tall, the Acadia is a sequoia among two bonsais, overshadowing its competitors by as much as 10.4 inches in length, 2.7 in width, and 1.9 in height. Moreover, the GMC's 118.9-inch wheelbase stretches 10.6 inches beyond the Acura's. For maneuvering through parking lots or pulling U-turns, the massive GMC, with its 40.4-foot turning circle, is the least suited of the group. But for hauling people and gear, it's just the opposite, boasting the most cargo volume-119.9 cubic feet behind the front seats-and the most first- and third-row room. Further, the second row sports the slick Smart Slide feature, which allows the captain's chairs to be folded and slid forward at the pull of a lever for easy access to the third row. Our $45,360 tester further dazzled with a touch-screen nav ($2145), a dual sunroof ($1300), a DVD system ($1295), and a useful head-up display ($350), options that compensated for the comparatively low-rent plastic and lack of a backup camera. Looking for a minivan in crossover clothing? The Acadia is it.
With the GMC's big size comes big burden. It depresses the dirt with 5044 pounds, which makes the 4604-pound CX-9 feel more like a Miata by comparison. On mountain roads during our test, the Acadia's size and mass were felt, and not in a positive light. "It's heavy and not a lot of fun in the twisties," notes one editor. "Its heft is its Achilles' heel-it just feels like a big, heavy rig," says another. Numb steering that needed consistent corrections, soft nonadjustable dampers, and a spongy brake pedal that went incommunicado for the first inch of travel did little to help things.
That said, the GMC's wide track, long wheelbase, and broad 255-section Goodyears afford it the plushest ride and, aided by standard StabiliTrak, enabled it to be hustled from one side of the mountain to the other without losing sight of the others, evidenced by its CX-9-matching 28.2-second time in the figure eight and respectable test numbers-0 to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds, the quarter mile in 16.4 at 83.6 mph, 60 to 0 mph in 138 feet, and 0.79 g of lateral acceleration. Granted, all the numbers place the GMC third in a three-vehicle test, but in light of its corpulence and 3.6-liter engine, the numbers aren't too shabby-especially considering it matched the quicker, lighter MDX's fuel economy. Speaking of the engine, it's a smooth piece whose 275 horses and 251 pound-feet are low on NVH and high on refinement. The same, however, can't be said of the six-speed automatic, which hunts for gears with the same fervor as Ted Nugent does deer. Moreover the odd manual control-a rocker button with plus and minus symbols-on the gearshift is less intuitive and more difficult to operate than the others', which can be operated quickly and blindly.
At the end of the trip, the GMC's size, a blessing for passengers and parties, and excessive weight were deemed too cumbersome, hindering its fun-to-drive factor. And, at over 45 large, the Acadia's bottom line helped sink it to the bottom of the hot tub. Picking a winner between the other two, though, required a much steamier debate.
Quicker is Better
It shouldn't be surprising that the MDX proved the quickest and most agile of the group. Just stare at it-it looks fast and athletic, with its shield-of-armor grille, flared fenders, and raked D-pillar. Under the hood resides the largest, most potent engine of the group: a 300-horse, 3.7-liter single-cam V-6 with a heady 11.0:1 compression ratio and VTEC variable valve timing. Mated to a seamless five-speed manumatic, the robust six turned the 4591-pound MDX (the lightest of the three) into the sprinter of the set. Indeed, from 0 to 60 and through the quarter mile, the Acura was nearly a half second ahead of the others and almost a full tick quicker through the figure eight. Lateral acceleration? Hold on, because the MDX will deliver 0.86 g of grip-that's sport-sedan territory-thanks in part to 55-series Michelins and an active damper system that can be switched from supple comfort to taut sport mode at the press of a button. Braking? Equally impressive, with 60 mph erased in only 121 feet-again, sport-sedan country. For context, a Lexus IS 350 is good for 0.85 g and 60 to 0 in 121 feet.
Navigating the twisty, snow-covered roads in the MDX proved enjoyable and confidence inspiring, the SH-AWD hugging the slippery surface and the well-bolstered sport seat squeezing the driver with equal vigor. The variable-assist power steering delivered accurate, tight lines while the four-wheel disc brakes provided a firm pedal and reassuring deceleration. Presented with a map stuffed with squiggles, we'd be hard-pressed to pass on the MDX-it's the easiest and most forgiving when searching for the limits and also the finest and most refined whether the road is wavy or straight. Slide behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel and the ambiance suggests space-age luxury, highlighted by a futuristic button-infused center stack framed by premium, soft-touch plastic and rich wood trim. The materials and fit and finish are first rate. Our only real nit to pick is the stack's proliferation of buttons and knobs-40 and three, respectively, not to mention another 10 buttons on the steering wheel. As a staffer observes, "I needed three glances (taking my eyes away from traffic) to find the recirculation button. The center stack is stylish enough, but at the expense of function."
The third row also suffers from poor function. First, getting back there is challenging, as only the passenger side of the 60/40-split second row slides forward, which means entering from the driver side requires a flexible stepover. Climbing in via the passenger side is further complicated by a tight aperture. Once nestled in the rear row, space is at a premium, with the least amount of legroom and shoulder room. Adults can squeeze back there, but the shorter the trip the better.
The sportiest and fanciest of the group, the MDX is also the priciest. At $48,465, it includes almost every techno-gadget imaginable. But given that the Mazda costs over $9000 less yet still comes well equipped for real-world duties, the Acura's gadgets suddenly seem overpriced.
Comprehensive is Best
Vehicles that excel in most criteria yet don't necessarily finish first in all of them tend to win comparison tests. The CX-9 is no exception. At the test track, the Mazda dispensed 0 to 60 in 8.1 seconds, the quarter mile in 16.3 at 85.3 mph, achieved lateral acceleration of 0.80 g, and stopped from 60 to 0 mph in 123 feet, placing it right between the Acura and the GMC. Most of those figures put the Mazda closer in performance to the GMC, but it was the Acura that the CX-9 felt more akin to. Carrying just 13 more pounds than the MDX, the CX-9 seemed equally nimble weaving through twisty roads, its low-profile Bridgestones, firm suspension, and tenacious all-wheel drive devouring curve after curve. Of course, tackling turns requires adept steering, and the Mazda's proved ideal, delivering light and rapid actions with supreme feel. The Acura may be quicker and more forgiving, the GMC cushier and more compliant, but the Mazda felt the most connected-to the driver and the road.
Certainly, it's hard not to feel connected when the CX-9 looks so alluring. Next to the snub-nosed, brutish Acadia, the Mazda appears downright stunning. In view of the edgy, ultramodern MDX, make that svelte. Inside, the CX-9 continues to strike the right balance between form and function. Ergonomics are generally excellent, although the audio controls are a bit of a reach and angled away from the driver. The materials aren't quite as luxurious as the Acura's or as hardnosed as the GMC's, but they're nevertheless rich and purposeful, making the cabin an appealing place to be. As for space, the Mazda, with its lengthy 113.2-inch wheelbase, provides ample third-row and cargo room, trailing only the cavernous GMC. And, unlike the Acura, which turns third-row access into a chore, the Mazda makes it a breeze, offering a second row that slides on both sides and thus leaves plenty of room-nearly 26 inches-through which to climb aboard.
The CX-9's Ford-sourced Duratec 35 V-6 churns out the least amount of oomph-263 horses and 249 pound-feet-but the refined, rev-happy mill still feels plenty adequate in this package, although we'd have welcomed a bit more low-end torque. Besides, the Aisin six-speed manumatic is so transparent in its shifts and intuitive in its operation that the engine never seems as if it were struggling. Trudging up a steep incline? No problem, the tranny would quickly drop a gear and hold it there until pressure on the throttle softened. Few automatics are this instinctive-we had little use for the manual feature.
Our $39,335 Grand Touring tester, replete with HID headlamps, heated mirrors, 20-inch alloys, leather seats, a Bose stereo, a backup camera, a power liftgate, and nav lacks only a DVD entertainment system to place it on par with the others (it's available if you can live without the moonroof), but the final tally still screams bargain versus those of the GMC and the Acura. Armed with driving dynamics that nearly match those of the MDX and space and utility that approaches that of the Acadia, all for substantially less money, makes the CX-9 the clear champ here. Grab the towels, we're done.
|   || 2007 Acura MDX || 2007 GMC Acadia SLT AWD || 2007 Mazda CX-9 AWD |
| POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS |
| Drivetrain layout || Front engine, AWD || Front engine, AWD || Front engine, AWD |
| Engine type || 60 V-6 alum block/heads || 60 V-6 alum block/heads || 60 V-6 alum block/heads |
| Valvetrain || SOHC, 4 valves/cyl || DOHC, 4 valves/cyl || DOHC, 4 valves/cyl |
| Displacement || 223.6 cu in/3664 cc || 217.5 cu in/3564 cc || 213.3 cu in/3496 cc |
| Compression ratio || 11.0:1 || 10.2:1 || 10.3:1 |
| Power (SAE NET) || 300 hp @ 6000 rpm || 275 hp @ 6600 rpm* || 263 hp @ 6250 rpm |
| Torque (SAE NET) || 275 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm || 251 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm* || 249 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm |
| Weight to power || 15.3 lb/hp || 18.3 lb/hp || 17.5 lb/hp |
| Transmission || 5-speed automatic || 6-speed automatic || 6-speed automatic |
| Axle/final || 4.53:1/2.44:1 || 3.16:1/2.34:1 || 3.46:1/2.37:1 |
| Suspension, front; rear || Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar || Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar || Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar |
| Steering ratio || 17.0:1 || 16.0:1 || 16.3:1 |
| Turns lock-to-lock || 3.3 || 2.9 || 3.1 |
| Brakes, f;r || 13.0-in vented disc; 13.2-in solid disc, ABS || 12.8-in vented disc; 13.0-in vented disc, ABS || 12.6-in vented disc; 12.8-in vented disc, ABS |
| Wheels || 8.0 x 18 in, cast aluminum || 8.0 x 19 in, cast aluminum || 7.5 x 20 in, cast aluminum |
| Tires || 255/55R18 104H Michelin Latitude Tour HP || 255/60R19 108H Goodyear Eagle RS-A || 245/50R20 102V Bridgestone Dueler H/L 400 |
| DIMENSIONS |
| Wheelbase || 108.3 in || 118.9 in || 113.2 in |
| Track, f/r || 67.7/67.5 in || 67.3/67.3 in || 65.1/64.7 in |
| Length x width x height || 190.7 x 78.5 x 68.2 in || 201.1 x 78.9 x 69.9 in || 199.8 x 76.2 x 68.0 in |
| Ground clearance || 8.2 in || 7.4 in || 8.0 in |
| Apprch/depart angle || 28.0/22.9 deg || 16.1/25.4 deg || 17.0 x 21.1 deg |
| Turning circle || 37.6 ft || 40.4 ft || 37.4 ft |
| Curb weight || 4591 lb || 5044 lb || 4604 lb |
| Weight dist., f/r || 55/45% || 55/45% || 55/45% |
| Towing capacity || 5000 lb || 4500 lb || 3500 lb |
| Seating capacity || 7 || 7 || 7 |
| Headroom, f/m/r || 39.2/38.6/35.7 in || 38.5/38.3/38.1 in || 38.4/39.0/35.4 in |
| Legroom, f/m/r || 41.2/38.7/29.1 in || 41.3/36.9/33.2 in || 40.9/39.8/32.4 in |
| Shoulder room, f/m/r || 61.6/61.5/57.1 in || 61.9/61.1/57.8 in || 59.4/58.7/56.9 in |
| Cargo vol behind f/m/r || 83.5/42.9/15.0 cu ft || 119.9/68.9/19.7 cu ft || 100.7/48.4/17.2 cu ft |
| TEST DATA |
| Acceleration to mph |
| 0-30 || 2.8 sec || 2.8 sec || 2.8 sec |
| 0-40 || 4 || 4.2 || 4.3 |
| 0-50 || 5.7 || 6.1 || 6.1 |
| 0-60 || 7.6 || 8.2 || 8.1 |
| 0-70 || 9.9 || 11.1 || 11 |
| 0-80 || 13.3 || 15.1 || 14.4 |
| 0-90 || 16.8 || 19 || 18 |
| 0-100 || 20.8 || --- || --- |
| Passing, 45-65 mph || 4 || 4.3 || 4.2 |
| quarter mile || 16.0 sec @ 87.8 mph || 16.4 sec @ 83.6 mph || 16.3 sec @ 85.3 mph |
| Braking, 60-0 mph || 121 ft || 138 ft || 123 ft |
| Lateral acceleration || 0.86 g avg || 0.79 g avg || 0.80 g avg |
| MT figure eight || 27.4 sec @ 0.63 g avg || 28.2 sec @ 0.59 g avg || 28.2 sec @ 0.59 g avg |
| Top-gear revs @ 60 mph || 1950 rpm || 1600 rpm || 1650 rpm |
| CONSUMER INFO |
| Base price || $40,665 || $35,225 || $34,470 |
| Price as tested || $48,465 || $45,360 || $39,335 |
| Stability/traction control || Yes/yes || Yes/yes || Yes/yes |
| Airbags || Dual front, front side, f/m/r curtain || Dual front, front side, f/m/r curtain || Dual front, front side, f/m/r curtain |
| Basic warranty || 4 yrs/50,000 miles || 3 yrs/36,000 miles || 3 yrs/36,000 miles |
| Powertrain warranty || 6 yrs/70,000 miles || 5 yrs/100,000 miles || 5 yrs/60,000 miles |
| Roadside assistance || 4 yrs/50,000 miles || 5 yrs/100,000 miles || 3 yrs/36,000 miles |
| Fuel capacity || 21.0 gal || 22.0 gal || 20.1 gal |
| EPA city/hwy econ (est) || 17/22 mpg || 17/24 mpg || 16/22 mpg |
| MT fuel economy || 17.1 mpg || 17.1 mpg || 17.6 mpg |
| Recommended fuel || Premium unleaded || Regular unleaded || Regular unleaded |
| *SAE certified |
2nd PlaceAcura MDX The driving enthusiast's CUV, stalled only by a stiff price tag and a snug third row.
3rd PlaceGMC Acadia SLT AWDThe biggest and the roomiest...and the heaviest and the slowest.
1st PlaceMazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWDThe premium blend of performance, utility, and value.