Heading East on I-20 just outside of Atlanta, it’s like someone pulls one of those fake movie backgrounds away, instantly turning a modern cityscape into a Mayberry-like ribbon of highway dotted with Waffle Houses, truck stops and Texaco gas stations. I’m not complaining, I actually like the kind of sleepy little towns you find on the outskirts of Atlanta, Boston, Dallas and Portland. Plus, I was in the 2018 Mazda CX-9, and I was guessing it would be an open-road champ. I was right.
Adulting in an SUV
For the first time in a very long time, this road trip included just two adults. Usually, we have two kids with us. We’ve pressed virtually every sedan and SUV, from the Cadillac Escalade to the Ford Fusion, into family duty of some kind. Now, the kids were away at an overnight church camp, and I had three days to get to Charleston.
The Mazda CX-9 is a 3-row crossover SUV, so we know it handles families fairly well. The top of the line Signature version feels more like a car you get when you don’t have to worry about kids. Still, the third row, side sunshades, rear heating and A/C vents make a good family car regardless.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in this Mazda, and for good reason — I just like it. It requires nearly no compromises and just does what you ask every day without inconvenience or complaint (remember, I said "nearly").
Out on the interstate, the CX-9’s turbocharged engine is good for 250 horsepower. Getting that full 250 hp required 93 Octane fuel. Essentially, you have to buy premium gas — and we’ve been doing exactly that. There’s more than enough power for passing, and the Mazda never feels underpowered or taxed. Acceleration from a stop or while at highway speed is instant, which makes it really fun.
If you use 87 Octane fuel, the horsepower is 227; 93 Octane and Mazda says the number is 250. We’ve been running 93 Octane exclusively for the past month. There seems to be a noticeable change. It’s not that the car seems so much quicker, it’s powerful enough no matter what gas you use, but it feels like you just need less pressure on the gas pedal to keep the car moving at highway speeds. Plus, I averaged just a little over 25 miles per gallon on one stretch that was at least 80 percent highway driving.
Then again, I used the adaptive cruise control quite a bit on this trip, and it’s a very good system. Sometimes the braking can be a little abrupt, but, overall, very smooth and very predictable.
Our final destination was Charleston, SC. I had been to Charleston once before, many years ago, but I think I was sick the whole time. This time I was able to really see the city. The architecture is great and the layout of the city is perfect for horse-drawn carriages, but maybe not modern cars. It wasn’t one of my favorite places to visit. It was mind-numbingly hot and humid — you know you’re in a different world when you start thinking, "I can’t wait to get back to Atlanta where the climate is more comfortable." Also, there seemed to be a vague scent of trash nearly everywhere in the downtown area. Sullivan’s Island is worth visiting if you like some high-dollar homes mixed in with a good dose of "charming small town." Of course, charming sometimes means popular, so maybe try to hit this on a weekday rather than a weekend.
The hotel proved why the Mazda CX-9 has the perfect footprint. Parking in Charleston is at a premium, even the drive up to the entrance of the Belmond Charleston Place is fairly narrow. Still, the CX-9 felt about right in terms of interior space and overall exterior size. I wouldn’t want to be driving a Tahoe in this environment.
We’ve stayed at another Belmond property, the El Encanto in Santa Barbara — it was an amazing experience. The California location is simply on another level compared to the Charleston Place — staff and service are excellent at both places, but the grounds in Charleston feel a little on the older side.
You might be thinking Mazda is a bit of a mismatch for a luxury hotel. I get it, but the 2018 Mazda CX-9 in Signature trim is good fit. It looks and feels like it’s been in the valet lane plenty of times. As a side note, there are the other SUVs other motorists mistook the Mazda for on our road trip: the BMW X5, the Acura MDX and the Volvo XC60. Think about that before you spend $60,000 your next plush, high-riding family vehicle. Find a Mazda CX-9 for sale
Check out our 2018 Mazda CX-9 New Car Review