Mountain Wheels: Mazda’s biggest family member still carries sporty appeal |

Mountain Wheels: Mazda’s biggest family member still carries sporty appeal

2014 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD

MSRP: $36,625; as tested, $40,005

Powertrain: 273-HP 3.7-liter V6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission

EPA figures: 18 mpg combined (16 city, 22 highway)

A third row built for humans over the age of 3? A Mazda with the galootness of a GMC Acadia? And still more than just a bit of the family’s sporting character underneath?

It’s sometimes hard to remember that Mazda still makes a nearly full-sized mid-size SUV, given its recent emphasis on the smaller CX-5, but if you’re looking for classy and substantial people-hauling power, with the Mazda badge, the CX-9 still delivers.

That means broad presence, a formidable handling feel and positively gigantic seats all the way back to the third row, making it a pleasant riding experience for up to seven people — and not just the neighbors’ kids.

If you’ve followed the progress of the CX-9 over the years (and the demise of the actually mid-sized CX-7), a fresh look at the 2014 model might leave you scratching your head for truly major updates — for any sign that it’s much different from more than just a few years ago.

In that, you would be largely right, though the inverted prow of a nose is definitely a major departure from days of yore. For 2014, the tweaks are limited to a new 20-inch wheel design and an available rear cross-traffic alert system, plus some new colors.

I’d certainly suggest you throw in a couple of extra bucks to jump up to my tester’s options, which included a power moonroof, a wonderful 10-speaker Bose stereo system and a color touchscreen navigation system, which my notes describe to me as being “vague and utterly useless” in its directions and details. The stereo was awesome, at least.

More important, you get a tall, command-styled seating position and, somewhat oddly, rather aggressively sporty seats themselves, suggesting a slightly perverse mix of roles.

Given those wagon-wheel-sized 20-inchers and the happily punchy (and fuel-hungry) 3.7-liter V6, making 273 horses you’d just love to see available in any of the company’s other offerings, you can indeed pretend that the CX-9 is a particularly gigantic sports car.

Not to burst your bubble, but CX-9’s gigantitude is indeed formidable, meaning that intense acceleration is often muted, the six-speed automatic is a bit slow on the uptake and the moves necessary to get it into a tight parallel parking spot or an underground garage can be just a tad tricky. The car can certainly get around, but be sure to mind that largesse.

I do think those who are looking for volume and grace won’t be especially disappointed, as CX-9’s sporty, chrome-edged package is great on the surface and includes interesting little surprises. Like, for instance, the aluminum sill plate under the rear lift gate, a classy and functional touch for those who drag, and do not lift, their luggage aboard the piece.

The leather quality is quite nice and there are suede inserts not only in the door panels but in the red-pinstriped seats themselves, possibly to keep you and your friends planted in place during your inevitable mall-parking-lot-crossing excursions.

The second-row seating slides fore and aft what seems like 2 feet, allowing what I would call “nearly” easy access to the third row — which itself can fold entirely flat, for added cargo space (drop the second- and third-row seats at the same time and you get 100 cubic feet of space). Planted back there, you’ll be surprised by the amount of head room, the decent visibility from that last set of windows and, again, the leather. The entire vehicle’s seats enjoy futuristic, ergonomic headrests, which are particularly prominent up front.

You’ll notice that the center console up front is a little too high for its own good, but does channel a full A/C blast to the rear of the cabin, with a full set of second-row air distribution and temperature controls. It also looks a bit like a leather-topped missile silo, but provides good storage; the front cupholders can be hidden away with a flip-forward cover.

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