Interior

For its exterior size, the CX-9's cabin is a bit snug. Its passenger volume is 139 cubic feet, which is smaller than the seven-seat Highlander (146 cubic feet), the Traverse (154 cubic feet), the Flex (156 cubic feet) and the Honda Pilot (154 cubic feet), the last of which is shorter from bumper to bumper than the CX-9 but wider and taller. The CX-9 just edges out a couple of other seven-seaters that are smaller on the outside: the Hyundai Veracruz (137 cubic feet) and Subaru Tribeca (133 cubic feet).

Where I feel the difference between the CX-9 and its larger competitors listed above is in the second- and third-row seats. By the numbers, the second-row seat has generous legroom, thanks in part to roughly five inches of fore/aft adjustability in the seat. In practice, I found myself sitting closer to the floor than I like, with my knees raised considerably.

The third-row seat is more typical in this regard, and its legroom measurement is average. It all depends on how far forward the second row is. Headroom, however, is limited: It's lower than its competitors by about a half-inch to three inches, depending on which model you compare it with. At 6 feet tall, I barely fit back there even when slouching. Third rows are generally intended for kids; just be aware — if you have a large brood, a generous growth spurt could put your wayback out of commission.

The geometry of all the seats might not have worked well for me, but the front seats themselves are very comfortable — appropriately padded for short or long trips. We made a run from Chicago to Detroit with minimal fatigue. The interior quality is definitely above average in this model. You might attribute this to the high trim level we tested, but just because a vehicle has leather upholstery (as the Touring and Grand Touring do) doesn't mean it's high-quality. We've criticized the Flex Limited for exactly this problem.

I wasn't wild about our test model's faux-wood trim, but the materials are generally high-quality. I prefer the piano-black accents that are standard on the Sport and Touring trim levels. Though we didn't test the base trim level, Mazda says 2010 versions have new cloth upholstery. Also new are chrome accents on some of the knobs, door handles and trim. The storage console between the front seats is reasonably roomy, but I don't like the new barn-door lid design. I suppose in theory your passenger can keep an arm rested on one side while you open the other, but in practice the raised door blocks your access, and you'll probably end up opening both anyway. Some might find this design less cumbersome than a single, flip-back lid. Not I.

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