As noted in previous entries here at TireKicker, Mazda doesn't make bad cars. And the CX-9, based on the very good previous-generation Mazda 6, is a strong contender.
The CX-9 is big enough for three rows of seats accomodating seven passengers. The weight of the vehicle, people and stuff is pulled (yep, front-wheel drive) along by a 273 horsepower 3.7 liter V6 with a six-speed automatic transmission. The six speed helps nudge the EPA estimated mileage into respectable territory...16 city, 22 highway.
Ordered in Grand Touring trim, as the test vehicle I drove was, the CX-9 shows up with 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels, automatic Xenon headlights, leather-trimmed seats (including an 8-way power heated driver's seat), Bluetooth hands-free capability for your cell phone, a three-zone climate control and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system. Price: $33,355.
Options on the tester included Sirius Satellite Radio, a blind spot monitoring system, a package including a moonroof and a 277-watt, 10-speaker Bose surround sound sytem with a six-disc changer in the dash, a towing package and a GT Assist package...including navigation, rear view camera and power rear hatch. That propels the bottom line (with delivery charges) to $39,405. ..which puts it right in the hunt with a similarly loaded GMC Acadia.
Safety's a plus here, too, with the CX-9 getting a five-star rating from the government for frontal and side crashes for the driver and passenger, and a four-star rollover rating.
As a smaller manufacturer, Mazda often gets overlooked. In this case, that would be a big mistake.
UPDATE: Just finishing a week and a few days in the base-level CX-9 Sport...one without any options whatsoever. And it's brilliant. How? Because the basic goodness of the CX-9 as above is there...but the lower standard equipment level (not lower by much) and lack of options keeps the price just a nick under $30,000 as tested. That's ten grand below the sticker price above....for the same basic vehicle. Go. Drive. One. Now.