I recently got to spend a week driving the new 2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature Edition. Initially I didn't have high hopes. You see, I'm a sports car guy. The CX-9 is an SUV and we all know how well SUV's handle, right? However, I decided to approach it with an open mind and hoped some redeeming quality would pique my interest. The exterior was surprisingly attractive - not your typical slab-sided SUV or "look-at-my-cray-cray-design" crossover. Instead, it was an elegantly styled SUV body with very artistic details. Overall, I'd call it "wind-sculpted." Throughout the week, I found myself looking at other SUV drivers with pity, wondering how they could stand driving those bland boxes when something this smart looking was available. And as much as I liked the exterior, the interior was even MORE attractive: black carpeting, auburn red leather seats, piano black panels, chrome bits for accent, and rosewood switch bezels on the doors. It has to be the most beautiful and inviting interior I've ever been in. It's the kind of interior that makes you want to stay just a bit longer. When I was informed that it only had a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, I immediately expected that it was going to be underpowered but Mazda's SkyActiv technology that they keep touting is evidently a real thing and not just a marketing ploy because the CX-9 never really felt underpowered to me. Sure, it wasn't going to win any drag races but it was quick to reach the speed limit and once at speed, it offered plenty of power for passing and overtaking. But what really amazed me and changed my mind about the CX-9 was the handling. After driving around for a few days, getting comfortable with it, I got a little bored and decided to push it a little down some backroads near my house that had a nice mix of curves and hills. Selecting "Sport" mode on the center console, I got kind of aggressive with it and drove it more like a sports car. And the CX-9 never batted an eye. It gracefully glided through the curves like no SUV I've ever driven. The engine and transmission were responsive to my driving style, helping me get the most out of the car, and when I needed to slow down fast, the anti-lock brakes did a superb job of controllably and confidently slowing it down. I've always known Mazda for the Miata, but it appears that even their more pedestrian people movers have that same sporting DNA that people who love to drive look for. On top of that, Mazda loaded the CX-9 with a raft of safety technology to keep you in your lane, warn you of blind spot drivers and cross traffic as you back up in parking lots, and many other things. When the week was up, I was thoroughly impressed with this vehicle and I know that if I ever need an SUV, Mazda will be the first (and probably ONLY) brand I look at. The only thing I could have wanted on the car would be paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. It would have made it even more fun to drive and a little less SUV-ish. Still, overall, it's a winner. Very nicely done, Mazda. Very nicely done.
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