Think of me as a small peg rattling around in an increasingly square, 90-degree world. It leaves lots of slivers and nicks.
As a car-guy steeped early on in the fumes of GTOs, Hemis and Shelbys, I face a radically evolving auto-scape now shaped by boxy, boring crossovers and SUVs. Whoopee.
Thankfully, the 2019 Mazda CX-9 crossover just might help some of us hopeless enthusiasts settle into the hard-edged new world – someday.
With total sales last year of only about 300,000 vehicles, little Mazda continues to consistently build crossovers with as much distinctive style and zip as its cars.
Just take a look at the metallic-gray CX-9 Signature model I had recently, a mid-sized crossover that somehow manages to transcend its basic two-box shape.
My CX-9, for instance, sported a typical large grille, but it was pressed flatly into a short, blunt front and trimmed with slender chrome.
A long, slightly raised hood topping fenders with a subtle muscular roll in them gave the big Mazda much of its presence.
Even the top of the CX-9 – a $50,000 three-row crossover – seemed to be pulled tightly to the body.
Moreover, good-looking 20-inch wheels wrapped around 255/50 tires that nicely filled the wells, adding to the Mazda’s fine proportions.
Heck, I thought it flashed almost as much special appeal as the old Pontiac Catalina or Chevy Malibu wagons. (Sorry, I sometimes disappear into the ‘60s – again.)
Like a couple of other Mazdas, the CX-9 relied on a 2.5-liter SkyActiv four-cylinder engine brought to a pleasant, moderately powerful simmer by a turbocharger.
Conventional SkyActiv engines from Mazda tend to feel soft and kind of weak, but with boost from the turbocharger, the CX-9’s engine can crank out 250-horsepower on 93-octane gas (227 on the lower grades).
Bolted to a sophisticated eight-speed automatic, the huffed 2.5 delivered a satisfying wave of torque down low and good power in the mid-range, pushing the 4,400-pound crossover to 60 mph in a commendable 7.1 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
I thought the engine flattened out some over 70, but the CX-9 could still easily merge with the insane, fast-moving traffic on most freeways.
In addition, the engine is rated at 20 miles per gallon in town, which struck me as reasonable for a vehicle with three rows of seating and all-wheel drive.
Mazda, however, cares more about handling and driving dynamics than straight-line speed, and that priority is plenty evident in the CX-9.
Despite its heft and all-wheel-drive, the vehicle turned into corners pretty eagerly and comfortably, albeit with some body-lean from its 68-inch height.
As always, Mazda’s sensitive, precise steering provided decent road-feel and heft.
In fact, the compliant CX-9 -- which rides with the sweet firmness of a near-luxury vehicle – felt vastly more lively than most mid-size crossovers.
Part of Mazda’s secret sauce is its ability to give its vehicles an upscale, near-luxury feel when most are reasonably priced.
I hesitate to describe my near-$50,000 CX-9 as “reasonable,” but its dark-saddle interior definitely lives up to the lofty price.
A shallow black upper dashboard, for example, provided a graceful hood over the instrument panel, tumbling down onto a dark-saddle colored mid-dash.
Meanwhile, an 8-inch display screen shaped like an iPad rose from the mid-dash with knobs on the console for tuning and volume. As is becoming common, the system had Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capabilities.
Likewise, Mazda included knobs and switches for the climate system.
Although the black door panels were mostly plastic – and that’s a piece of the car you live with daily -- they were sculpted in good polymers with a slash of dark saddle up high as trim and padded armrests.
The seats were even better. Stitched in more of the dark saddle, they featured slender ribbons of black through their perforated centers, as well as supportive bolsters.
Also, since you probably wouldn’t be considering a three-row crossover if you didn’t need the space, leg- and head-room in the second row felt expansive, while the third row was for junior members of the soccer team.
My well-equipped CX-9 came with just a few options, including a rear-seat entertainment system ($1,995); the metallic gray paint ($300); illuminated doorsill plates ($675); and a trailer-tow hitch ($450).
I don’t foresee the day when a crossover fills my wooden garage. If the car-world turns on me totally, I’ve always got my grandson’s hand-me-down bicycle as a backup.
I admit that when I drive a crossover as well-tuned and thoroughly designed as the Mazda CX-9, it’s almost as good as driving a car. Almost.
2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
- What I liked most: Just about everything – and it’s a crossover
- What I would change: Mazda’s have long been solid values, but at $50,000, I’m not sure the CX-9 makes that list
- MSRP: Base price, $32,280 for the entry-level Sports model; as equipped, $49,780 for the Signature model
- Fuel economy: Rated at 20 miles per gallon in the city, 26 on the highway and 23 mpg combined with filler on the left
- Official color: Machine Gray Metallic
- Odometer reading when tested: 3,060 miles
- Weight: 4,365 pounds
- Length-width-height: 199.4 inches long/77.5 inches wide/67.6 inches tall
- Fuel-tank capacity: 19 gallons
- Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
- Spare tire: Temporary compact
- 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature in a few words: Probably the best mid-size, three-row crossover on the market – and by a wide margin
- Warranty: Three-year, 36,000-mile overall warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain protection
- Final assembly location: Hiroshima, Japan
- Manufacturer’s website: www.mazdausa.com
- E-mail me at email@example.com
- Up next: 2019 Kia Niro EV