8.05.2017

Something So Right: The 2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring

Side view of 2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring
The 2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring .
The right car for a trip is like the right tool for a job.  It can make or break the whole enterprise.  So when Mrs. TireKicker and I cooked up our first-ever two-week summer vacation roadtrip, we knew we had to get the right car.

Regular readers will remember three years ago, when, for a shorter eight-day camping trip to Utah, the 2015 Kia Sorento SXL proved to be a terrific traveling companion.   This time, Mazda and their prep and delivery partners at Drive Shop partnered to provide a 2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring for three weeks, allowing time for packing and cleanup.



Map of route from Folsom, CA to Grand Teton National Park
Leg One: Folsom to Grand Teton National Park (source: Google Maps).
The plan, as with pretty much all our drives, from daytrips to epic journeys, was ambitious: The first leg alone taking us 842 miles from TireKicker World Headquarters in Folsom, California to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, using as little of the Interstate Highway system as possible.   Yes, it takes longer that way, but you see more of America, and realize that no, it hasn't really all been turned into strip malls.  That's just what the frontage roads look like.

And the plan was to camp the entire vacation.  Which meant a tent, sleeping bags, food and other supplies...for two weeks.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring with camping supplies in back
Camping supplies in the back of the 2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring.
Mrs. TireKicker's got the space utilization gene that I don't have.  The plan: Fold down the third-row seats.  Back there is where the tent, tarps, air mattress, sleeping bags, cookstove, air compressor, firewood and other camping essentials go.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring second-row pantry
The second-row pantry in the 2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring.
The second row of seats stays upright.  It holds dry storage, cold storage and cold water.

Because of a series of unforseen events, packing didn't happen until the morning of departure.  And we slept in.  Everything you see is about 90 minutes worth of work.  Efficiency (another of Mrs. TireKicker's strengths) rocks.

That did, however, get us a late start.  Our plan originally was to do the 842 estimated miles (not counting side trips and detours) to Grand Teton in one day, figuring a 6:00 a.m. start, a 13-hour drive and the time zone change would have us at our destination at 8:00 p.m., which in July in Wyoming leaves another 60 to 90 minutes of daylight.

But departure was more like 11:30 a.m., traffic was hit and miss, we stopped for supplies in Reno, Nevada and for dinner in Winnemucca.

Winnemucca, Nevada welcome sign
Winnemucca, Nevada.  Where the "Welcome" sign is on the town cemetery grounds.

With darkness rapidly falling, we put in for the night at Angel Creek Campground outside Wells, Nevada.  It wasn't until we woke up the next morning that we realized what a great place we'd picked.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring and our tent at Angel Creek Campground near Wells, Nevada
2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring and our tent at Angel Creek Campground near Wells, Nevada
If you keep your eyes on the road as you drive Interstate 80 in Eastern Nevada, you'll swear there's a whole lotta nothing out there.  But if you look south, you'll see a mountain range.  And if you get off the Interstate and explore, you'll find some breath-taking scenery.

Angel Lake, Nevada
Angel Lake, Nevada.
Angel Creek is fed by Angel Lake and a prettier place would be hard to find.  We spent some time drinking in nature before getting back on the road for the second leg.

Map of route from Angel Creek Campground to Grand Teton National Park
Angel Creek Campground to Grand Teton National Park (source: Google Maps).
Day two is where we achieved the goal of getting off the Interstates. Apart from just a few minutes each on I-80 and I-15, the vast majority of our 400-plus miles to Grand Teton would be spent on back roads.

Mis-reading GasBuddy.com's very useful app led me to think that there was gasoline in Oasis, Nevada, the point at which we'd leave I-80.  There wasn't. What it was showing me was that the nearest gas station to Oasis was the Pilot truck stop where I'd washed the windshield (but not bought gas) 45 minutes earlier.  My fault.  Our choices were to turn back to Wells (a 90-mile roundtrip) or to press on, despite GasBuddy saying our next chance at gas was in McCammon, Idaho.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring fuel economy gauge
Status check on the CX-9 in Oasis, NV.
The predicted range in the CX-9 Grand Touring's instrument cluster was 197 miles.  McCammon was 217.  And I have a rule, learned from helicopter pilots I've flown with, that the final 20% never leaves the tank.  Still, I didn't want to eat 90 minutes, I knew I hadn't been babying the CX-9, doing 75 mph on I-80 in Nevada (the posted speed for most of the road east of Reno), and that dropping my speed to 60 or 65 could probably buy me back 20+ miles.  Would I gain back enough to have a fifth of a tank when we reached McCammon?  Probably not, but I was willing to bend that rule just this once.

Plus...there really couldn't be NO place to buy gas for the few thousand people that live in those 217 miles, could there?

2017 Mazda CX-9 getting fuel in Montello, Nevada
The 2017 Mazda CX-9 meets the 1967 gas pumps in Montello, Nevada.
No, there couldn't.  There was exactly one.  40 miles north of Oasis in Montello, Nevada, population 84 as of the 2010 Census.  Likely lower now, as people die in seven years, and I doubt many folks are moving here.

Montello Gas & Grocery, Montello, Nevada
Montello Gas & Grocery, Montello, Nevada.

Montello is a combination of two small bars, and a combination motel/general store/gas station with the oldest gas pumps I have seen still in service in literally decades. Memory and a best guess says they're 50 years old. While they're not outfitted to read a credit card, they have somehow retrofitted them to tell the clerk in the general store how much gas you've pumped.  And despite their remote location and status as the only gas around, the price per gallon was a fairly reasonable 30 cents more than what I would have paid in Wells (which is still 90 cents a gallon less than what they're asking at Lake Tahoe these days).

Fully fueled, it was on to McCammon with zero stress.  A top-off there and we were in Grand Teton National Park by dinnertime.  And even though I didn't ease off the throttle in the pursuit of fuel economy, we saw an improvement regardless, boosting our average mpg for the trip so far from 24.1 to 25.2.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring trip computer at Grand Teton
Status check on arrival at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

A personal note here:  I have lived about one-third of my life in or very near the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  I thought I knew mountains.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
Nope.  There is nothing....at least on this continent...that prepares you for the majesty of the Tetons. They're real...and they're spectacular.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring at Jenny Lake Campground, Grand Teton National Park
2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring at Jenny Lake Campground, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
So spectacular, in fact, that Mrs. TireKicker and I almost immediately amended our two-nights-per- campsite plan so that we could spend five nights just drinking in the phenomenal beauty that surrounded us.

View from Jackson Lake Visitors' Center
View from Jackson Lake Lodge.
I mean, this is the view from the floor-to-ceiling windows at the Jackson Lake Lodge.  You don't have to go out into the wilds.  You can sit in an overstuffed chair, sip cocktails and look at this all day long if you're so inclined.  Mrs. TireKicker and I were so inclined for about an hour.  Then we got out and enjoyed every inch we could of this amazing national treasure for the next five days.

And then...up the road to Yellowstone National Park.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring at Yellowstone National Park
2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring at Yellowstone National Park.
The borders of Grand Teton and Yellowstone touch each other, but they are two very different landscapes.  Where Grand Teton is about the peaks, Yellowstone is about the valleys caused by geothermal activity.  Geysers, hot springs and mudpots.  They're everywhere.  Some erupt every few decades or centuries.  But there's one you can set your watch by...give or take a few minutes.

Old Faithful eruption clock
Old Faithful's Eruption Clock.
Plus or minus ten minutes may not seem like precision in the digital age,  but day in, day out over more than a century, Old Faithful has never been off its expected schedule by more than ten minutes in either direction.  And it's well worth waiting...or being early....for:





Old Faithful is just a few dozen steps from the Old Faithful Inn, a magnificent and unique place everyone should see at least once.  Absolutely take the guided tour:

Old Faithful Inn lobby, Yellowstone National Park
The lobby of the Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park.
Also available at, and departing from the inn, are motor coach tours...some of them in these beauties:

Yellowstone National Park motor coach
Yellowstone National Park motor coach.
That is one of a fleet of 1937 White motor coaches that are used daily in the park.  We took a "Geyser Gazer" tour in one.  And there will be a separate piece about the tour and these wonderful old motor coaches (including the reason you never call them a bus) in the next few days.

In our four days in Yellowstone, we saw moose, bear and buffalo.  Lots of buffalo:


I had never seen a buffalo before going to Yellowstone.  I've now seen at least a thousand.  All in four days:


They're by the side of the road.


Often, they're in the road.  And not alone.



They're even inside fenced-off geysers along the trail.  In short, they're wherever the heck they want to be.  Our job is to accomodate them without getting your car or yourself gored.

Map of Yellowstone to Folsom
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming to Folsom, California...the long way. (Source: Google Maps)
Ten days into our 14-day vacation, it was time to think about heading home.  And in the same way that Mrs. TireKicker and I will find anything but an interstate to drive, we tend to like to find a different way home than the way we came.  We did.  And, as you can see from the map above, it was only about 500 miles longer than the way we took going to Wyoming.

2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring at the Log Cabin Cafe in Silver Gate, Montana
2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring at the Log Cabin Cafe in Silver Gate, Montana.
Along the way, one of the best breakfasts either of us has ever had in the impossibly beautiful twin towns of Silver Gate and Cooke City, Montana at the Log Cabin Cafe' (in business for 80 years with only three changes of ownership)...

Cody, Wyoming's Buffalo Bill Center of the West
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming.
An entertaining and educational afternoon at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming...

Star Plunge Hot Mineral Pools, Thermopolis, Wyoming
Star Plunge Hot Mineral Pools, Thermopolis, Wyoming.
A stop in Thermopolis, Wyoming, which boasts the world's largest mineral hot springs...

Dinosaur National Monument, near Vernal, Utah.
And a couple of days in and around Vernal, Utah with its amazing fossil discovery site at Dinosaur National Monument...

Petroglyphs near Vernal, Utah
Petroglyphs near Vernal, Utah.
And on the backroads in and around Dinosaur National Monument, ancient petroglyphs.

The All Aboard Cafe and Inn in Ely, Nevada
The All Aboard Cafe and Inn in Ely, Nevada.
From Vernal to Folsom was 834 miles of....well, pretty much nothing.  Most of it on the aptly-named "Loneliest Road in America", US Highway 50.  We broke it up with one night in Ely, Nevada (in a hastily-booked motel after finding out that the campsites were all spoken for) and another wonderful breakfast, this one at the All Aboard Cafe and Inn, near the town's historic railyards.  It's a bed and breakfast, but folks who stay elsewhere can come in and order.

Final trip miles and mileage on the 2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring trip computer
The final tally.
We were home before dark, having stopped in Lake Tahoe for an outdoor burger at the justly famous Izzy's Burger Spa on the South Shore....and the total was there on the trip computer.  Three thousand, three hundred twenty-nine and one-tenths miles.  Averaging 26.7 miles per gallon.  Fourteen days, six states, a thousand buffalo and a million memories.

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring near Vernal, Utah
2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring near Vernal, Utah.
And the 2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring?  While it wasn't abused (we never torture-test the cars we drive here at TireKicker), it saw every kind of road and every kind of weather, with temperatures as low as the high 30s and well into the 100s.  It was loaded with two people and enough of their stuff for two weeks. There is no CUV of its size that has its handling ability. On the twisty roads that we sought out, that made a huge difference. And it was comfortable.  That may sound like a minimum requirement, but there are cars that can only carry it off for four or five hours.  My best guess is we spent a shade under 100 hours in the CX-9...and there was never a moment when we were wishing for something else.

Particulars: Our tester was the front-wheel drive version of the CX-9 Grand Touring.  Base price $40,470.  A 2.5-liter, 227-horsepower turbo four with a six-speed sport-mode automatic transmission standard. EPA fuel economy estimate 22 city/28 highway, 24 combined.  Again, we saw 26.7.

Standard equipment: 20-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, electronic power-assisted steering, front and rear stabilizer bars, independent front and rear suspension, rain-sensing windshield wipers, an intermittent rear-wiper (which came in handy for all the dust we put on the tailgate), heated power mirrors with turn lamps, rear privacy glass, a power moonroof, aluminum roof rails, automatic LED headlamps, adaptive front lighting, automatic high beam control, LED fog and daytime running lights, LED combination taillights, a rear roof spoiler, a power liftgate, three-row seating for seven, tilt/telescoping leather steering wheel, power locks and windows, leather-trimmed upholstery, power heated front seats (memory for the driver), aluminum interior trim, second-row sunshades, radar cruise control, electronic parking brake, keyless entry, pushbutton start, three-zone climate control, a Bose audio system, an eight-inch color display with rear camera, navigation, tire pressure monitoring, dynamic stability control, traction control, roll stability control, trailer stability assist, a full complement of airbags, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear backup sensors, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, smart brake support and smart city brake support.

Again, that's all included at $40,470.  The only extra-cost options on our tester were the Soul Red Metallic paint ($300) and a cargo mat ($100).  With $940 delivery, processing and handling fee, the bottom line was $41,810.  Tremendous value.

I was blessed with two perfect traveling companions for the best vacation of my life (so far): Mrs. TireKicker and the Mazda CX-9.  I married one.  The other shoots to the top of the TireKicker's Best Cars list on the right hand side of this page.


(NOTE: Apart from Mazda's loan of the vehicle for three weeks, with one tank of gas and insurance, none of the places, businesses or companies mentioned in this review provided any consideration.  We don't know them, they don't know us and had no idea we'd write about them.  They're included, along with links where available because we enjoyed them and thought you might too. ---Ed)

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