An SUV With Zoom-Zoom?

One of the best things about the CX-9 is its drivetrain. Every CX-9 comes with a 263-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine that teams with a six-speed automatic transmission with a clutchless-manual mode. Smooth is the defining word for this powertrain; the V-6 revs freely and the automatic changes gears without a hint of harshness. It's a level of refinement you'd expect on an expensive luxury car, not a SUV that goes for less than $40,000.

With two or three people onboard, the V-6 moves the CX-9 easily and doesn't feel taxed in the least, which bodes well for those who plan on filling this SUV with people and cargo. Compared to the Outlook, the CX-9 feels swifter when accelerating at highway speeds. Front-wheel-drive models get an EPA-estimated 18/24 mpg (city/highway), while all-wheel-drive versions are rated at 16/22 mpg.

All CX-9s have a four-wheel-independent suspension, and Sport and Touring trims have standard 18-inch wheels. The Grand Touring (the model I tested) gets 20-inch wheels and tires. The ride is definitely on the firm side, but it's not to the point where it punishes occupants. While large pavement ruts and bumps make themselves felt in the cabin, once you've passed over them, the suspension quickly recovers and settles itself. Buyers looking for a softer ride should consider a model with the 18-inch tires; their taller sidewalls should provide additional cushioning.

For the most part, the CX-9 does a good job of hiding its size from the driver (it's almost as long as a Chevrolet Tahoe). It's only when you throw it into a tight turn that you start to feel its true size as moderate body roll develops. It's stable on the highway, and overall offers a very carlike driving experience, albeit one from a higher vantage point.

The CX-9 has a variable-assist power steering system. It doesn't take much effort to turn the steering wheel — especially when starting a turn — and this trait seems out of place on a sporty crossover like this.

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