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    Auto: Crossover Popularity Expressed in Two Ways

    By Philip Ruth

    Crossovers are like the popular crowd. In human terms, they’re the ones grabbing eyes with their intellects and physiques. Seen as the complete packages, they’re the ones people fix on first. Sedans and hatchbacks are nice and all, but the crossover is the one today’s buyer wants on their arm.

    The two we’re examining this week play different parts of the crossover field, but they conceivably could be considered by the same buyer because there’s some overlap in their base prices. The Honda CR-V is a compact crossover that starts at $25K and can be equipped to being just under $35K. The Mazda CX-9 is larger, with three rows of seats standard in all trims, as opposed to two rows for the CR-V. The CX-9 has accordingly higher base prices, starting under $33K and ending up at $46K. So if you had somewhere in the mid-$30K range to spend, you could get either a loaded CR-V or a basic CX-9.

    Each has its own flavor of popularity. The CR-V is the top seller and has been for some time. When competitors are fired off from Toyota, Nissan, Chevrolet, Ford and other mainstream brands, the CR-V is their target. The Mazda, on the other hand, has had a much lower profile; the CX-9 hasn’t had the market presence to be much more than an outlier on the scene.

    That changed with the CX-9’s redesign, which clicked in for 2016. My tester got many positive comments wherever it went, with one onlooker mistaking the CX-9’s elegant detailing for that of an Infiniti. The CX-9’s interior is a knockout, with delicate shaping and tactile richness throughout. The smooth curves and plainspoken controls are the sort that inspire a sigh of relief when you open the door.

    Honda took a different tack with the CR-V. When you’re on top you want to stay there, and the CR-V’s design has that calculation in mind. Inside and out, my top-level Touring tester was a riot of visual grabs, from its curvy and layered grille to its blocky and formal door-panel wood trim. Like an all-you-can-eat buffet, the CR-V is not a visual feast, but there is something for everybody.

    Both the CR-V and CX-9 shine on the road, and they fall in line with the reputations of their makers. The CR-V Touring’s turbo engine and CVT transmission give it that old Honda spryness, and it scooted through curves with no slack from the steering. There are times when the CR-V can feel blandly competent, but mostly it was simply relaxed and content in its work.

    Mazda focuses on driving fun, and the CX-9 delivers. I did miss the previous CX-9’s brawny V6, but this CX-9 Signature’s turbo four was ample enough. The real fun was the nimbleness Mazda imbued in this three-row cruiser, as the CX-9 has none of the ponderousness that can bedevil crossovers of this size.

    In the popular crowd, the CR-V and CX-9 still manage to stand out, each in its own way.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant at Check out his automotive staging service at