Mazda’s CX-9 threerow crossover hasn’t changed much since it was updated in 2010. It’s still just as luxurious, comfortable and happy-faced as ever. Mazda has added new wheels - 18 and 20- inchers - to what was already arguably the nicest vehicle in the Mazda showroom.

A fun-to-drive mid-size CUV, the CX-9 is big brother to the CX-7. Powered by a 3.7-liter V- 6 engine with 273 horsepower and 270 lb.-ft. of torque, the CX-9 has what it takes to move as many as seven passengers in comfort. You couldn’t get a baseball nine in the CX-9, nor the 11 players on a football team, but all seven starters on the U.S. Handball team could fit, thanks to a sliding second row seat. I found plenty of head and leg room for my 6-foot frame in this crossover, though the smaller handball players should volunteer for Row 3.

The mid-size crossover segment is quite crowded, with serious competition, but the CX-9 acquits itself well. It has smooth exterior lines and a crisp and clean luxury about its interior. And when you look at it from the front, the CX-9 just always looks happy – it’s an unmistakable Mazda frontend feature.

The CX-9 will get you 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, not bad for a 7-passenger peoplehauler. The CX-9 gets the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s top “Good” rating for frontal and side crashes, but 2010-11 models built after June 2010 don’t fare as well in the IIHS roof strength testing, earning a “Marginal” rating. Safety equipment includes 4 wheel anti-lock brakes with assist, a full complement of air bags including side curtains for all three rows, an advanced roll stability control system, traction and stability control systems, blind spot monitoring, active headrests, door beams and crumple zones.

The CX-9 really shines on the inside. The two-toned leather trimmed heated seats are comfortable and sharp-looking, and the interior color scheme is soothing and relaxing. Controls are intuitive, and the surfaces are soft in all the right spots. The 60/40 split second row seats three, and has about 5 inches of fore-and-aft travel, making entry to the 50/50 split third row a breeze. Even with the third row occupied, the CX- 9 has 17.2 cubic feet of cargo room. The second and third rows fold flat for more cargo room, all the way to the back of the front seats.

Behind the wheel, the CX- 9 has spirited performance via the front wheels through the 6-speed automatic transmission (AWD is available), better- than-expected acceleration and a comfortable ride. Mazda has done a good job of sound deadening, and the cabin was impressively quiet.

The base price for the FWD 2011 CX-9 Grand Touring is $33,145. Standard amenities include things like leather, remote keyless entry with keyless start, Bluetooth, intermittent wipers, power everything, three zones of automatic climate control, a trip computer, ventilated four-wheel anti-lock brakes, a rear step bumper and stainless exhaust outlets.

The test CX-9 had optional navigation with real-time traffic ($1,665), and a power moon roof and sound package ($2,255), bringing the out-thedoor price to $38,510