Buyers have a choice of black or beige upholstery, and the latter made the interior seem brighter and roomier.
Carrying seven people means two up front, three in the second row and two in the hind quarters.
Mazda says there is 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row upright.
One thing the very tall person (6-foot 4-inch, in my case) will quickly learn is that the tailgate when open does not have a 6-foot 4-inch clearance.
The second row can also be folded down easily.
Then, without moving the second-row seat, we climbed into the third row and found adequate head and legroom there, too.
Up front all the driving controls are simple and easy to use.
But with a wiggle and a twist an adult can reach the third row without a severe loss of dignity.
Getting the seat back up requires pulling the same strap, something my 5-foot 6-inch wife found easy to do.
Gravity does the work.
However, it doesn't create a completely flat cargo area.
Nevertheless 17.2 cubic feet gives the CX-9 a significant advantage over, say, the Toyota Highlander, which has 10.3 cubic feet behind its third row, and 2.5 inches less legroom in the third row.
One finds a series of surprises upon first entering the Mazda CX-9.
One tester, at 6 feet 4 inches, could be comfortable in the driver's seat, then move back to the second row and still find enough legroom.
That allows a nice amount of flexibility in carrying people and cargo of different sizes.
That releases the seat and slides it forward.
That second row, incidentally, is split 60/40, and either side moves fore and aft almost five inches.
That's not much more than the trunk of a mid-size sedan, and to use it all would require piling luggage up to the roof, blocking the rearward view.
The comments above regarding legroom apply with the seat set halfway through its range.
The first is that it is so easy to climb into the front seats.
The look is upscale, and nothing about it says boring family transportation.
The opening is smallish, in part because the wheel arch intrudes.
The second is that one sits as high as in most SUVs, enjoying a good look down the road.
The third is the amount of room inside.
There is a slight uphill slant.
There is a small storage bin between the front seats and relatively thin storage compartments on the front doors.
There is nothing like a good rap on the forehead to brighten the day.
To carry more stuff and fewer people, the Mazda's third row ( a 50/50 split) can be lowered by pulling a strap.
To get to the third row one grabs a handle built into the top of the second-row seat and pulls.
With both sides down the result is 48.4 cubic feet of space.
(This is with the gas pedal slammed down, so it may not even be noticeable in most situations.) Torque steer is eliminated in the all-wheel-drive models because some of the power is being sent to the rear, reducing the demand on the front tires.
For the driver who wants to be a bit more involved, on mountain roads, for example, the transmission shift lever can be moved to one side, which then allows the driver to manually shift gears by tapping the lever.
Fussy drivers might notice a difference in steering feel between the front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models.
One downside of the front-drive model is what is called torque steer: Push hard on the gas pedal, and the steering wheel tugs to one side as the front wheels scramble for traction.
The AWD model sends most of the power to the front wheels in normal driving.
The Blind Spot Monitoring system monitors both rear corners of the CX-9 while underway and notifies the driver of vehicles in the detection areas by illuminating the BSM warning light located in the appropriate side mirror.
The CX-9 comes with a 3.7-liter V6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission.
The CX-9 has anti-lock brakes to help in an emergency.
The CX-9 is surprisingly fun to drive for a large vehicle with so much weight up front.
Additionally, the light flashes and a beeper sounds if the driver signals a turn into the path of a detected vehicle.
Best of all, the CX-9 runs on 87-octane regular unleaded gas, despite a sporty compression ratio of 10.3:1.
But under hard acceleration, or if the front wheels begin to slip, as much as 50 percent of that power can be sent to the rear wheels.
Intake valve timing is variable.
It is a system that works well with the transmission-control computer doing a good job of blending the upshifts and downshifts to avoid any jerks or stumbles.
It is an automatic system and does not require the driver to do anything.
It's rated at 273 horsepower.
Mazda's place within the Ford Motor Company family is to provide the sporty vehicles, those with the zoom-zoom, as Mazda likes to say.
Meanwhile, the CX-9 felt strong and tight on rough roads, refusing to quiver even when striking potholes.
Still, it is a challenge that Mazda engineers have met quite nicely, based on the Touring models we drove, one with front-wheel drive and the other with all-wheel drive.
That is no small accomplishment for such a large, practical package.
That's easy to do with a two-seater like the MX-5 roadster, but it becomes a challenge with a seven-passenger vehicle that weighs over 4,500 pounds in its all-wheel-drive version.
The 60-degree V6 is state-of-the-art throughout, featuring a die-cast aluminum block with cast-in iron cylinder liners and aluminum heads for minimal weight.
The passengers will just have to suffer quietly while Mom or Dad has fun at the wheel.
The price for the responsive handling, however, is a relatively stiff ride on anything but a smooth surface.
The steering in our AWD test vehicle had a feel that could be called rubbery, weakening the connection between the vehicle and the driver.
The steering is tuned a bit differently on FWD and AWD chassis.
The steering on our FWD model was much better.
The torque curve surges from 3000 to 6000 rpm and peaks with 270 pound-feet at 4500 rpm.
The valve train includes chain-driven dual overhead camshafts operating four valves-per-cylinder through easily adjusted bucket tappets.
This requires the driver to make minor steering corrections to keep the CX-9 going straight.
We found the brake pedal felt slightly soft but overall feedback was reassuring, and it was easy to trim a little or a lot of speed.
(The B-pillar is the second roof pillar back from the windshield, which uses the A-pillar.).
It's worth noting the CX-9 is not a longer version of the five-seat CX-7.
Safety researchers say the strength of the vehicle's body is also crucial in providing protection in a side-impact crash.
The CX-9's nose features a huge Mazda insignia and prominent, flared fenders that lead a character line heading back and slightly upward just below the windows.
The Mazda CX-9 shares its basic structure with the five-passenger Ford Edge, although the Mazda is longer, by 2 inches of wheelbase and 14 inches overall.
In fact, the CX-9 is the largest Mazda ever.
It is a neat trick that adds a little extra storage capacity.
Its overall length of almost 200 inches makes it nearly a foot longer than the Toyota Highlander or Nissan Murano.
Mazda took this into consideration, providing B-pillars that are extra wide and strong.
One surprise is a pronounced bulge in the tailgate, like an old-fashioned bustle.
The Mazda CX-9 is presented as a substitute for a sport utility vehicle or a minivan, and Mazda has made sure it looks like neither.
The mechanical underpinnings are different and the structures of the two vehicles are not related.
The roof arches, crests and then slides back and down.
What is perhaps most surprising about the CX-9 is that it doesn't look big from the outside.
Christopher Jensen filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from his home base in New England.
It's enjoyable to drive, offering sporting road manners, though with a stiffer ride.
The Mazda CX-9 is an impressively well-rounded package offering practicality, good standard safety equipment, and style.