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  3. DRIVEN PREVIEW: 2007 Mazda CX-9


The CX-9 shares the same gaggle of parts as the Ford Edge, but it's been engineered as a seven-passenger vehicle, so the Mazda's wheelbase has been stretched 2.0 inches and the vehicle is 13.9 inches longer overall.

The CX-9 is a great people package. The second-row, 60/40-split bench seat slides back five inches and also reclines, and there's a single release lever to expedite access into the third-row, 50/50-split bench seat. An optional rear-seat DVD system keeps passengers entertained, while the air-conditioning is powerful enough to sustain a breeze all the way to the back. Both rear seats fold down flat when it's time to visit the Home Depot. Even better, the interior of the Grand Touring model mixes color and trim in a cool, sophisticated way that even the Lexus RX350 can't match.

Mazda's new people mover also meets carlike standards of safety. The canopy air bag protects all three rows of passengers from head injury, while ABS, electronic brake assist, and stability control are standard. Like the Edge, the CX-9 features Ford's Volvo-engineered, antirollover stability system with twin sensors to monitor body roll and yaw. Also like the Edge, all-wheel drive is optional.

Best of all, the CX-9 drives like a Mazda, not some soggy station wagon. The long, 113.2-inch wheelbase helps deliver a stable ride, firm suspension bushings produce surprisingly crisp steering response (although at the price of some thumping over bumps), and the Grand Touring model even gets twenty-inch wheels. Moreover, the six-speed automatic (from Aisin, not Ford) has such refinement that you feel only the 263 hp of the Ford-supplied 3.5-liter V-6, not the shifting.

The Mazda CX-9 is what the American car has become in the twenty-first century. It's in the middle of the fastest-growing segment in the car industry, and that's why there are some forty-three similar crossover utility vehicles on the market right now, with a total of seventy expected by 2009.