Vicious is the only way to describe competition in the seven-passenger crossover segment, especially at the price level of the 2010 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring.

Spend nearly 40 grand on a large crossover and you're presented with more than 10 vehicles. Thankfully for Mazda, though, the CX-9 still has what it takes to stay competitive.

The original CX-9 was our 2008 Sport/Utility of the Year. Introduced as a 2007 model, the CX-9 was refreshed for 2010, adopting the aggressively designed grille of the controversial Mazda3. Complain all you want about the nagare styling on the CX-9, but at least you can distinguish the crossover as a Mazda in a Costco parking lot. Cover the badge of a Toyota Highlander or GMC Acadia and we're not sure most consumers could say the same.

Move beyond the CX-9's face and you'll see this is an attractive SUV. A rising beltline like the smaller CX-7 crossover adds a dash of style as do chrome-lined windows. Twenty-inch wheels (18s are standard) and chrome door handles remind you that this is the top-line Grand Touring trim.

Where the CX-9 excels is its ride. Even on the 20-inch wheels, the suspension is compliant and smooth enough to make long freeway journeys a breeze. The CX-9 is very manageable despite its 199.8-inch length. Steering is overly light, though we imagine that's how most large crossover drivers prefer it. For its size, the CX-9's wind noise is also kept to a minimum. A luxury crossover for less? Well, not quite, but the CX-9 gets close.

Speaking of luxuries, our $38,135 tester was fitted with plenty of upscale touches including two-tone leather seats, a 10-speaker Bose sound system, touchscreen navigation system, and a power-operated rear hatch. HID headlights and the Blind Spot Monitoring system are part of the Grand Touring trim's extra features.