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Mazda CX-9, 2008: Belew's Car Buzz

Mazda CX-9, 2008: Belew's Car Buzz 1I’ve often thought if a car can’t be made to operate more economically, it could at least be made to be safer. Japanese automakers have heard me thinking. And Mazda heard me thinking, particularly when I recently drove the CX-9 a few hundred miles during a week’s test drive.

The CX-9 The car gets an estimated 15 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. Good or bad for an SUV type? You decide. I reckoned it would be a great commuter car, if I were hauling seven people every time I took it out. The estimated fuel costs: $2,470 per year based on 15,000 miles per year at $2.80 per gallon. But fuel costs would be more like $4,000 per year. Divide that by seven non-family members and maybe.

But safe? Indeed, I felt safe and very comfortable behind the wheel of the CX-9. The SUV’s exterior was crystal white, the interior sand and the seats leather trimmed, with individual three-zone temperature controls and a rear DVD player with two sets of headphones.

The CX-9 had a three-spoked telescopic steering wheel with blue-tooth capability. In short, the car had all things you might expect in a $41,180 car to have and more. And it can make all seven passengers comfortable.

Mazda CX-9, 2008: Belew's Car Buzz 2

And did I say the car made me feel safe? It was a bit hard to see out the back and sides. But Mazda had figured that into the design. Upon shifting into reverse, a camera kicked in to show me what’s behind. It took a bit of time to get used to what it was I was actually seeing but once I did, I was good to go . . . backward.

Two little yellow indicators shaped like cars appeared in my side mirrors when I used my turn signal to change lanes if a car was in my blind spot. Just in case, I were blind, too there was an audible alarm as well. The CX-9 is a car that cares if its passengers are safe.

The ignition key to the car, however, caused me grief. It was shaped like a credit card and about the thickness of 3-4 credit cards stacked together. The problem? I took the key with me to the local gym for a treadmill workout. My car key fell off the treadmill shelf that held my  towel onto the treadmill.

Any other key would go flying off the back, but not this one. It got stuck in the treadmill and took a couple of laps before coming out cracked and useless. The battery was history or the connections to the battery were exhausted after about an .002-mile jaunt. I couldn’t get the key to open the car door. And even if I could, how would the car know it was supposed to drive?

Mazda thought somebody might want to use a normal key or that the battery might die at some inopportune time, so a key could be pulled from the credit card key, if you know how to solve a perplexing puzzle. When I got the key out, it was bent. Days in gym paid off as I could bend it straight enough to use. But, from then on out, I could only get into the car through the driver’s door.

I couldn’t let my wife in the car on the passenger’s side — something very important to a chauvinist like me. I could even put baby stuff in the rear without going through the driver’s door. In short, the car needs a different key or Mazda needs to put on a warning, “Keep Away from Treadmills.”

At our home, every test car is ultimately judged by whether or not it’s baby friendly. The Mazda CX-9 was easy enough to get the car seat in, but the seat would not sit back far enough so that the baby could sit comfortably. She’d fall asleep then slump forward, like a drunk on a train.

All in all, the Mazda CX-9 is great car if you have seven paying passengers or maybe at least five.

Power — 3.7L, V6, 273 horsepower.

Mileage Estimates — 15 mpg (city), 21 mpg (highway).

Standard Features — 6-speed automatic and manual shift, anti-lock brakes, fog lamps and tail lights, rain sensing wipers.

Warranty — Powertrain – 5 years/60,000 miles; Bumper-to-bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Free roadside assistance.

Price — $41,180.

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