Imagine this scenario: At the end of our 2008 Sport/Utility of the Year program, a small crew of trans-dimensional beings suddenly materialize and capture the winner, the Mazda CX-9. Search parties go out. The National Enquirer does an exposé. But of course, no one listens. The poor Mazda sits in isolated stasis.

In 2011, these beings, whom you may understandably now refer to as jerks, release the CX-9, allowing it to rejoin the automotive landscape. How would it fare in this brave new(ish) world?

You'd assume that with the large number of new or significantly revised SUVs released since 2008, the competition might've caught up with and bested the CX-9's benchmarks. The full-size, three-row class should be refreshed and updated in ways that would make the Mazda feel, well, 3 years old.

You'd assume wrong.
Enter the 2011 Mazda CX-9, which, aside from a few minor tweaks, is very much the same as the 2008 Mazda CX-9. Those tweaks are key and tidy, the most significant being an exterior refresh in 2010 that brought a new fascia and side mirrors, and in 2011 better fuel economy and different wheels.

The qualities that made the CX-9 our SUOTY in 2008 -- smart interior packaging, and actually delivering the "sport" part of SUV, to name a few -- haven't been diminished one bit by time. The CX-9 still delivers an eye-pleasing interior with comfortable trimmings and generous interior space. Drivers will appreciate the well-bolstered seat, which provides ample view of the road (and corners) ahead, pedals that always fall right where you expect, a push-to-downshift, pull-to-upshift manumatic mode, and genuinely fun driving dynamics.