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Mazda CX-9 has elegant styling, pleasing driving dynamics

With elegant looks and a premium feel, the flagship Mazda CX-9 is a beautifully-styled mid-size crossover with three-row seating.

After spending a week with the CX-9, though, I found that there was not enough leg room for my 6’3” frame. I wanted to move the driver’s seat further back, but to my dismay, it was at the end of its travel.

I quickly came to the conclusion that the CX-9 is not the best choice for taller folks like me. Still, this 7-passenger SUV does offer adequate accommodations for most people. CX-9’s sliding and reclining second-row is probably the best seat in the house. It offers agreeable space for two adults, or three children.

The two-seat third-row, as you might expect, is best suited for children. There is very little leg room back there and it is challenging for adults to enter and exit the third-row. Cargo volume is smallish (14.4 cu. ft.) behind the third-row, but increases nicely to 38.2 cu. ft. with the third-row folded, and 71.2 cu. ft. with both second- and third-rows folded.

Having gone through a redesign one year ago, the Mazda CX-9 is relatively unchanged for 2017. The only revision is that the mid-level Touring trim adds Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support system as a standard feature. The 2017 Mazda CX-9 is available in four trim levels; Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Signature.

Front-wheel drive is standard in the three lower trims, while AWD is available, it comes standard in the line-topping Signature trim. All CX-9 models are powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It produces 227 horsepower when using 87-octane fuel, or 250 horsepower when using 93-octane. CX-9’s four-cylinder engine is responsive and there is very little turbo lag, but the engine does feel taxed when the vehicle is loaded with passengers.

A six-cylinder engine is not available as an option. Regardless of whether you choose FWD or AWD, all CX-9 models utilize a 6-speed automatic transmission and all have a 3,500-lbs. towing capacity. Fuel economy ratings are 22/28 mpg city/highway for FWD models, and 20/26 mpg city/highway for AWD models.

On the road, CX-9 feels more car-like than most others in this segment. The ride is more spirited than you might expect. Its cabin is well-insulated and remains fairly quiet at highway speeds. Likable driving dynamics are one of CX-9’s strengths. Additional strengths are the cabin’s fit and finish and excellent craftsmanship.

There are a lot of standard and available amenities and technologies with CX-9. The entry-level CX-9 Sport FWD ($31,520) includes 18-inch wheels, auto/off LED headlights, LED taillights, three-zone automatic climate control, 7-inch color touchscreen display, Mazda Connect infotainment system and more.

Stepping up to the Touring FWD model ($35,970) adds heated outside mirrors, power tailgate, leather upholstery, power driver and front passenger seats, 8-inch color touchscreen display, Smart City Brake Support and more.

The Grand Touring FWD ($40,470) adds 20-inch wheels, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, aluminum interior trim, head-up display, navigation, satellite radio with 4-month subscription, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control and more. The Signature ($44,315) adds standard AWD, Rosewood interior trim, Nappa leather upholstery and more.

While some of the standard features found in the higher trims are available as options in the lower trims, every CX-9 trim will easily satisfy most shoppers in this segment.