It’s one thing to look at a map and say “hey, that’s just a few inches, it won’t be that long a drive” and actually get behind the wheel for a substantial road trip. Fortunately, I have lots of experience with long haul drives and have actually hit all of the lower 48 states of the United States by car. Not on the same trip, however. Yeesh!
When I learned I needed to drive from Boulder, Colorado to Kalispell, Montana to take my son’s bike up to him, I reached out to Mazda and asked if I could borrow one of their CX-9 SUVs for the adventure. Not only is it comfortable and fuel efficient for its class, there’s plenty of space that I could put the bike in the vehicle for the drive and ensure its safety on my overnight stop. They indeed offered up a beautiful 2017 Mazda CX-9 AWD for the drive. About 2000 miles, all told.
First off, here’s my route:
I always plan to go about 60% of the way on the first day since there’s not much point to arriving at an overnight hotel stop at 4pm and being bored. So heading up, I planned on stopping in XX but ended up adding a few hours and staying in Bozeman, Montana instead. A lovely town, very SUV friendly. On the drive back, I made it to Sheridan, Wyoming, so that actually worked out to be almost exactly 60% of the drive.
The CX-9 drove wonderfully, a perfect car for the long haul. It’s a 2017 CX-9 Signature AWD in Machine Gray Metallic with an Auburn interior. Here it is, ready for action:
For a long drive, cruise control is a must, and just like my own Mazda CX-5, the CX-9 features the fantastic Mazda Radar Cruise Control. If you’ve never used an adaptive cruise control, oh, you are really missing out: By using a forward looking radar, the car automatically slows down and speeds up based on the vehicle in front of you. Even if you’re drifting off a bit, not paying close attention. I just set my speed to 3mph or 4mph over the posted speed limit and let it do all the work. Excellent tech!
As I got into Montana, the air quality started to decrease due to the many wildfires throughout the state. By now things have eased off a lot due to some rainy weather and cooler temperatures, but at points it was really bad, so smoky I could taste the smoke in the air. Check out this photo:
It’s not haze. It’s smoke. And yes, the visibility was a fraction of normal on this otherwise beautiful drive through the prairies of Wyoming and mountains of Montana. Even recycling the air in the vehicle didn’t protect me because it’s just not designed to scrub the air as it comes in and you certainly don’t want to run out of oxygen, right?
The interior is quite similar to my own Mazda so I was instantly at home. Bright, easy to read gauges behind the steering wheel, a simple and well-designed entertainment control system, and all the controls necessary by my right hand makes it an easy drive:
Notice the interior color. A plush and comfortable leather finish in “Auburn” made for a vehicle that looked more like a high-end luxury car than an SUV. More importantly, not only does the Mazda CX-9 have a third row of seats, but they all fold flat to offer up cargo space for the bike. Once we got the bike out (and yes, my son was ecstatic to see his bike!) there were many options for seat configuration:
Tons of space in a vehicle that doesn’t feel like a tank. In fact, it’s a comfortable size and if you have it in the standard interior configuration of the third row folded down, it’s comfortable for five adults and there’s an oodle of storage space!
Back to the drive, though. Lots of interesting things to see, and one of my favorites is this animal crossing bridge [called Animals’ Trail or Akma’is Tuqeqamnanintik in the local dialect] on the road between Missoula and Kalispell, Montana:
Look closely at the photo and you can see one of the other things I really like with the 2017 Mazda lineup: a heads up display. On the above it shows that I’m driving 73mph, my cruise control is set to 73mph and that the posted speed is 70mph. Like I said, 3mph over the limit!
On the drive back, after a lovely visit, I couldn’t resist stopping at the beautiful rocky area just north of scenic Chugwater, Wyoming, for a quick photo shoot:
Cool rock outcropping, eh? And, yes, a really lovely car that worked fantastically, was super comfortable, plenty quiet enough at high speeds so I could enjoy my Audible audio books, and averaged about 24.9mpg on the route.
Huge thanks to Mazda for making this vehicle available for my road trip. If I hadn’t already just bought a 2017 Mazda CX-5, I would definitely be more than interested in this vehicle!
AS DRIVEN: 2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD in Machine Gray Metallic and Auburn interior, Skyactiv 2.5L turbocharged engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. As configured: $45,855.00.
Disclosure: Mazda loaned me the CX-9 for my road trip. Which was really nice of them!