So does an SUV need to look beautiful — well, at least stylish — when its raison d’être is to crawl up the side of a mountain or plug through waist-high mud?
With so many dull, lose-it-in-a-parking-lot SUVs out there — yes, I’m talking about you Mr. and Mrs. Volkswagen Atlas and Honda Pilot — standing out from the crowd is a good thing, right?
And that doesn’t mean bolting some huge, over-sized chromium grille on the snout to grab attention. BMW’s look-at-me swollen kidneys and Lexus’s spindle still have me shaking my head in disbelief.
But feast your peepers on the restrained elegance and cool classiness of Mazda’s CX-9 three-row sport-ute. Catherine Zeta-Jones in Zegna doesn’t look this stylish.
From that distinctive yet understated shield-like grille, to the slender LED headlights, to the long hood and swept-back windshield, to those arch-filling 20-inch rims — just gorgeous.
And Mazda’s designers have excelled at giving the rear end a distinctive style without resorting to a swoopy, coupe-like rear window.
IMHO, this may be the best-looking SUV out there, in the same class as the Range Rover Velar, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Volvo XC90 and Lincoln’s new Aviator.
What’s also impressive is that it’s just as stylish on the inside. Admittedly I’m driving the top-of-the-line CX-9 Signature version — completely loaded at $47,855 — but the fit and finish, the materials, the quality are all outstanding.
And with the Signature, you get lovely perforated nappa leather seats with contrast piping, gorgeous matte-finished rosewood timber on the center console, sleek, satin-finished metal accents, and slivers of chrome to add a soupçon of bling.
There’s style and quality, too, in the way the switches operate, the solid bank-vault thunk of the doors closing, the clarity of the instrument displays.
Of course, something that doesn’t look like one of those PODS storage units is going to have compromises when it comes to interior space.
While front seat room is generous and there’s a ton of legroom and headroom in the second row, the third row is definitely a tight squeeze.
Start folding down seats and the available cubic footage is also far from par. Even with the third row folded flat — which is how most owners will likely use the CX — those jumbo packs of Brawny will need some squishing to squeeze in.
For a Walker two-wheel adventure, I folded the second and third rows to load-in a couple of bikes, but gave up. The tailgate opening is just too small, the roof too low.
But as you’d expect of any “Zoom Zoom” Mazda these days, the latest CX-9 is a delight to drive.
There’s only one engine on offer, and that’s Mazda’s Skyactiv 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. While its peak power output of 250-horsepower seems marginal, its tuning focuses more on low- and mid-range torque.
Punch the throttle from standstill and the CX leaps away like a spooked squirrel and never feels anything less than eager and lively. Zero to 60 comes up in around seven seconds.
While the standard transmission is a six-speed automatic — positively neanderthal in these days of eight, nine and 10-speed autos — it actually works flawlessly. Shifts are quick, responsive and Teflon-smooth.
With all-wheel drive standard on the CX-9 Signature, this cute-ute is a fun drive through the curves. Mazda’s focus on nimble, agile handling — they say there’s a little bit of Miata in every Mazda — shows through with precise, nicely weighted steering and balanced, low-roll cornering with the bonus of a smooth ride.
If you need more space, buy a minivan. If you want a classy-looking seven-seater that stands out from the crowd, this 2020 CX-9 is definitely worth a look.
Take a spin in the latest CX-9 at Westshore Mazda in Tampa, Tyrone Square Mazda in St. Pete, Ferman Mazda of Brandon, Ed Morse Mazda of Port Richey.