Mazda, the car company that gave the world the nimble, two-seat Miata roadster, makes a commendable seven-seat crossover sport utility vehicle, too.
And like the Miata, the 2014 Mazda CX-9 is a nimble handler that drives as if it's smaller than it is.
The nearly 17-foot-long CX-9 also is attractively styled with a raked windshield and well-proportioned shape and comes with strong V-6 power and comfortable interior room. The five-door CX-9 is rated by Consumer Reports magazine as above average in reliability as well.
Additionally, pricing is competitive with better known family SUVs.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2014 CX-9 with 270-horsepower V-6, six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive is $30,815. The lowest starting retail price, including destination charge, for a 2014 CX-9 with all-wheel drive is $32,405.
Among the standard features on every CX-9 are three-zone climate control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel with cruise control and audio buttons on the wheel, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, three 12-volt power outlets and 5.8-inch color display touchscreen.
The CX-9 prices compare with the starting retail price of $30,775 for a front-wheel drive, 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe that has a 290-horsepower V-6, six-speed automatic and three rows of seats.
Meantime, the base, 2014 Toyota Highlander with front-wheel drive, a 185-horsepower four cylinder and six-speed automatic starts at $30,075. A 2014 Highlander with uplevel, 270-horsepower V-6 has a starting retail price of $31,380, or $565 more than the starting price of the V-6-powered CX-9.
Japan-based Mazda doesn't have the advertising budget that bigger car companies do, so many shoppers aren't aware of the CX-9.
CX-9 sales in the United States through the first five months of this calendar year total just 7,812 compared with 60,583 Highlanders and 43,075 Santa Fe vehicles.
But the CX-9 is worth a look, especially for families that would prefer something a bit different than what the neighbors have.
The test CX-9 — an all-wheel drive model in top, Grand Touring trim — was a stalwart people carrier. Both front and second-row seats moved forward and back on tracks easily, so tall and short passengers always found a way to apportion legroom to make everyone comfortable. Plus, the large and right-height lever on each side of the second-row seats that quickly unlocked them and moved them out of the way for quick entry to the third row was simpler to use than those in some other SUVs.
Even the two seats in the third row of the test CX-9 could accommodate adults if the second-row seats were moved up a ways on their tracks, though third-row seats sat close to the floor.
Indeed, Mazda reports the CX-9 has more second- and third-row legroom than the Highlander, Honda Pilot and even the luxury Acura MDX.