All-Star: 2008 Mazda CX-9

Don Sherman
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Trucks seldom earn a berth on our All-Stars list, because most of them are preoccupied with the banal side of motoring: toting cargo, towing boats, transporting brood to tap lessons and soccer practice. But every now and then, there's a deviant, an outlier that ventures beyond the obligatory nine-to-five routine to play party animal in the off-hours.

Chief designer Hideki Suzuki made this full-figured family hauler appear almost svelte, with a sleek windshield, a sinuous waistline, and buff haunches. The interior provides a wealth of split-folding seats and storage spots, lifting the mood with plush leather, slack-free controls, and cool blue lighting.

When Mazda says that there's the soul of a sports car built into the CX-9, what they mean is that the driver isn't demoted to a chauffeur. The development team taught the CX-9 proper road etiquette. Adhesives were used to maximize the unibody's structural stiffness. Stout antiroll bars and dampers keep body motion in check. Rubber-isolated crossmembers support both ends so that ride and handling can peacefully coexist.

The effort invested in the CX-9's driving dynamics paid off. Hard-to-please Automobile Magazine critics have been moved to paroxysms of joy when discussing the CX-9. One called the V-6 engine charming, the six-speed manu-matic transmission silky. Another praised the way the powertrain hustles the 4620-pound curb weight. But the ultimate kudos came from the editor who rated the steering feedback and feel superior to that of BMW's new M3. After a bouquet like that, it's amazing that the CX-9's tires still maintain touch with the pavement.

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