Crossovers are rarely exciting, invigorating family movers. They also don't offer much style, either. However, the 2013 Mazda CX-9 steps outside the generic mold with its new wheel designs and front and rear treatments. The high raked windshield also adds to the sleek lines, while the seemingly low slung roof resembles a sport wagon more than a crossover.

The 2013 CX-9 gets high marks for interior space. To start, the sliding second-row seats make third-row access easy for both kids and adults. Plus, with added legroom, the rear bench can actually accommodate adults.

For 2013, the Mazda CX-9 is offered in three trim packages, including Base Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. Technology is plentiful even in the base trim and includes a potent 6-speaker audio system, USB port and Pandora Internet radio connectivity. Upper trim levels include a rearview camera and blind spot monitoring, but you'll have to check that options list if you want Bose Surround Sound or a TomTom navigation system.

Only one engine and transmission combination is available: a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 273 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Standard drivetrain layout is front-wheel drive, but you can opt for Mazda's all-wheel-drive system on the higher trim models. Mazda's system delivers 100 percent of the power to the front wheels in normal driving conditions but automatically powers the rear wheels when extra traction is needed.

Fuel economy comes in at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway for the front-wheel-drive CX-9, while the all-wheel-drive version gets a bit less at 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy.

With a starting price of just under $30,000 for the Base Sport, the loaded Grand Touring with all-wheel drive seems a bargain at just $36,375. All trim levels come with a 5-year/60,000-mile warranty.

Rivals to consider include the GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot or Ford Explorer. The Acadia and Pilot both offer slightly more room but keep with a more traditional look. The updated Explorer matches the sporty look of the CX-9 and offers more engine choices, but it also gets more expensive in the upper trims.

With enough interior space for seven people, plenty of technology and three trim levels, the 2013 Mazda CX-9 is a modest SUV with the personality of a sport sedan. Just pack those bags economically and lower your fun-to-drive expectations when everyone's on board.


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