Mazda's CX-9 is the kind of crossover that either makes you despair that your life should ever get so dull to need seven seats in a car. Or, if you like to travel with a braying brood of children, will make you sashay up to this SUV and mutter "ding dong" in the style of Leslie Phillips, that archetypal ageing lothario, every time you've got the keys in your hand. Yes, the CX-9 is not for everyone. But Mazda knows how to pitch a car to the right demographic and any growing family will appreciate its good-looking, well-built functionality, its three rows of seats, its high specification and the price, too.
Indeed, on the subject of looks, the Japanese car maker has long been able to deliver a coherent design statement. Mazda does so here, once more, with aplomb. In the CX-9 this means a chrome-accented happy-face front grille, a steeply raked bonnet with lines that flow pleasingly from front to high-waisted rear. Further back, attractive trapezoid-shaped chrome tailpipes suggest a touch of aggression, while upmarket LED rear light clusters lend a hint of urban warrior. And with 20-inch alloys to finish off that look in the mid-specification GT on test here, the SUV has just the presence it needs to pull the Prado, Pathfinder and Pilot crowd in its direction.
Inside, the cabin benefits from what Mazda calls indirect illumination, with the front two rows of seats being bathed in soft blue light when night closes in. It's hardly an original idea. Indeed, other midmarket manufacturers have also been experimenting recently with similar mood lighting. But, when combined with attractive instrument binnacles and a multi-function leather steering wheel, it gives the Mazda the right sort of executive feel, especially when you also factor in beige leather seats and a bunch of no-cost extras.
To complete this look, the centre instrument console is encased in huge slabs of "wood-like" decoration, which sounds vaguely ugly but is, instead, surprisingly tasteful. What immediately strikes you though about the CX-9 is the amount of cabin space on offer. In Europe, Mazda sells the CX-7, a smaller seven-seater that's been programmed for more compact driving conditions. Its more petite dimensions mean third row passengers will feel cramped for space on all but the shortest of shopping trips.
There are no such problems in the CX-9. At more than five metres long it is fully 40cm bigger than its smaller cousin and, crucially, is longer than all but one of its direct competitors in the GCC - the exception being the GMC Acadia. Even then, GMC's softroader only trumps the Mazda by a couple of centimetres. These dimensions translate to impressive legroom in all three rows of the CX-9's seats and room enough behind the back row for 267 litres of storage. Those rearmost seats can fold flat into the floor and, with the middle row also stowed, the CX-9's storage capacity expands to more than 1,900 litres. Enough space to transport more flatpack furniture than even the most competitive dad could put together in one weekend.
It's this sort of journey, and indeed the school run, that is likely to be the CX-9's daily fodder, so Mazda has been savvy enough to equip this SUV with all-wheel-drive, knowing that likely buyers will expect to feel planted on the road and secure when they traverse the dusty outcrops of the school car park. The standard-for-all-specs 3.7L engine delivers power gradually and will happily move through the six-speed gearbox at relatively low revs. Put your foot down and there is some grunt to be extracted from this V6 powerplant, but with the CX-9 weighing in at over 2,000kg don't expect too many high-speed thrills. No matter though, as most buyers will be more interested in the interior room-room than zoom-zooming too fast around town.
All that weight also means the V6 drinks petrol at a staggering rate. Official figures suggest you should only need around 13 litres of fuel to travel 100km. Of course, that's a rolling road, rather than a real world figure. The CX-9's consumption of more than 26L/100km on our test was a simply startling return. This conspicuous consumption aside, the CX-9 attracts plenty of families to its territory, with its acres of space inside, good looks and decent spec. A note of caution though: those who prefer the thrill of the chase to an even pace should apply elsewhere. firstname.lastname@example.org