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MSRP Range: $29,400 - $33,355
Fuel Economy: 16 MPG city / 22 MPG highway

New power, proven safety.

The Mazda CX-9 offers a swift and stylish alternative to a mid-size SUV or a minivan. The CX-9 is a crossover, meaning a vehicle with SUV-type ride height and carrying capacity, but with significantly better fuel economy, ride quality, and handling than a truck-based SUV.

The CX-9 can carry seven six-foot people, thanks to a third-row seat designed with adults in mind. The surroundings are handsome. And while it was easy for a 5-foot, 6-inch woman to climb into the CX-9, the seating position is high enough that the driver looks straight over at drivers of traditional SUVs. The CX-9 is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, providing a nice option for those who worry about snowy travel in hilly areas. Properly equipped, it can tow 3500 pounds.

What sets the CX-9 apart are its sporty looks, and the road manners to back them up. The CX-9 responds quickly to the driver's requests, feeling surprisingly enthusiastic about travel on a serpentine two-lane. Its sporty looks are supported by its sprightly driving dynamics.

Introduced as a 2007 model, performance has been improved for 2008, courtesy of an enlarged V6 engine delivering 10 more horsepower and 21 additional pound-feet of torque. It now boasts 273 hp and 270 pound-feet of torque. This refined, 24-valve V6 was designed by Ford and is built in Ohio before being shipped to Japan where the CX-9 is assembled. It works with an impressive six-speed, Japanese-made automatic transmission, which can be shifted manually if the driver is interested in some frisky motoring.

Safety is enhanced by electronic stability control, which helps the driver maintain control on slippery surfaces, roll stability control, and curtain airbags, which provide head protection in a side-impact crash. The CX-9 has received five-star ratings from the U.S. government tests in frontal and side impact crashes, and four-star ratings for rollover resistance.

New for 2008, is an optional Blind Spot Monitoring system, which alerts the driver to other vehicles lurking in those hard-to-see, over-the-shoulder locations. All 2008 Mazdas come with a roadside assistance program, which operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, throughout the United States and Canada.

The one down-side of the CX-9 is a stiff ride on rough surfaces, the price of its sporty handling. Still, if you don't need the heavy-duty ruggedness a truck-based SUV, and if a minivan just doesn't suit your style, then maybe the CX-9 is for you.

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