All those crossovers out there make my feet hurt.
Try finding one in a crowded parking lot when they look so much alike they cast the same shadows – sort of like boxes lining an alley after Christmas.
I spend so much time wandering various lots in search of a particular crossover vehicle that I probably set off silver alerts.
“Call security. Some old guy is out on the lot walking around cussing and waving his hands.”
Heck, maybe those ubiquitous two-box wagons – the fastest-growing segment in the auto industry – should fly special flags from their antennaes.
Or you could consider the 2018 Mazda CX-9, easily the freshest, most distinctive vehicle in the mid-size crossover segment.
I don’t know where Mazda found its design “language,” but I wish its designers would take a pencil to me.
Believe me, the vibrant metallic-red CX-9 Grand Touring I had recently never got lost on any parking lot.
Like lots of crossovers, the CX-9 wore a blunt, over-sized grille that Mazda managed to make shapely rather than exaggerated – even with a giant Mazda emblem in its center.
Fairly small but intense headlamps cut cleanly into front fenders that barely had any overhang at all, while a long, slightly raised hood made the 4,400-pound CX-9 seem even wider and larger.
Meanwhile, two subtle character lines – one high and one low – lightly carved the trucklet’s smooth, muscular sides, giving them a taut feel.
Also helping were meaty 255-50 tires on multi-spoke 20-inch alloy wheels that fit tightly in the wheel-wells and a slightly curved top with unusual slender rear pillars.
The CX-9 whispered – rather than shouted — its boldness.
Unfortunately, that sometimes applied to its modest 2.5-liter turbocharged four, an engine that struggles some at speed despite its 250-horsepower.
Actually, the CX-9 is quick for a mid-size crossover, sprinting to 60 mph in a respectable 7.1 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
Around town, it felt lively, with good surge to 50 mph or so. Like all of Mazda’s heavily hyped SkyActiv motors, the 2.5 seemed a bit soft at low rpm, but sprung to life with a little speed.
Mated to a refined six-speed automatic, the rich-sounding engine snapped positively through its gears like something more expensive than a $44,000 mainstream crossover. Over 50, though, speed was more difficult to summon, the CX-9’s 4,400 pounds loading down the engine.
About 200 pounds of that load, incidentally, came from my Grand Touring model’s all-wheel-drive system – a feature many buyers would probably want.
Even at speed, though, the engine was adequate, pushing the CX-9’s stylish bulk around reasonably well and registering 20 miles per gallon in town and 26 on the highway.
Just take solace in the handling, ride and overall dynamics of the CX-9, which seemed almost European.
The suspension, for example, felt a little firm, holding body motions mostly in check when the big wagon was being tossed around at moderate speeds.
Most of the time in the real world, it just felt compliant — able to absorb bumps smoothly while controlling lean in corners.
Likewise, the steering seemed quick and precise, giving the CX-9 an agile feel in traffic.
It was a pretty impressive mix of attributes for something that is little more than a souped-up station wagon – special enough, in fact, to earn the CX-9 a place on Car and Driver’s 10 best SUVs list this year.
That nod of approval was reflected in the interior, which like other aspects of the CX-9 seemed more upscale than most in the segment.
My CX-9 wore light tan and black inside, stitched in a mix of good materials.
A two-tier dashboard in textured black plastic, for example, looked almost spare, with a slender upper tier following the curve of the windshield and a lower tier rolling gently down to the mid-dash area.
There, a tablet-shaped 7-inch screen provided most of the display information, while a sleek horizontal panel beneath it contained climate controls.
Multiple safety nannies also resided somewhere in there, including blind spot monitoring; lane-departure warning; lane-keeping assist; and cross-traffic alert.
Unfortunately, distracting touchpads on the display screen must be used to tune the stereo – seemingly at odds with the nannies.
Just knock on the rosewood trim inlays at mid-dash for good luck.
Light tan seats in Nappa leather kept the vibe going, offering sculpted, perforated surfaces that kind of matched the light-tan centers in the mostly black door panels.
Leg and head room in the second row of seats was more than adequate, though tight third-row seating should be limited to kids and small adults who have been drinking. (Neither should mind the limited space.)
Although Mazda remains one of the smaller automakers in Japan, it continues to offer polished, sophisticated vehicles that few of its competitors can match.
Give the CX-9 an engine with at least 25 more horsepower and it would border on greatness. For now, though, really good isn’t bad at all.