Driving Mazda CX-9 in the Blue Ridge Mountains

The folks at DriveShop were nice enough to lend my wife and me a Mazda CX-9 for our drive from Florida to the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina where I taught a photography workshop at Ringling College of Art and Design’s Wildacres retreat.

Driving Mazda CX-9 in the Blue Ridge Mountains

© Phillippe Diederich

I had owned a few Mazda’s before. A 626 back in the 1980’s and a 323 in the 1990’s. I loved both cars. They were comfortable and were tight and responsive. That 323 took me to Chiapas, Mexico and back to Miami in the summer of 1990.

But when Mazda delivered the CX-9 I was surprised. The CX-9 is Mazda’s full-size SUV. It has a 6-cylinder engine and sits seven passengers. At first I thought this was too much for just my wife and me, but when I saw how much she packed, we folded down the two rear seats. We even had room to bring my old guitar. Our vehicle was top-of-the-line. It came equipped with leather seats, navigation, and best of all, a sound system with Bose speakers. We had two days of driving ahead of us. Good tunes were a must!

The first leg of our trip took us to Lake Lanier north of Atlanta where we stayed with an old friend. That was a long trip. But thanks to the CX-9, the drive was a joy. The power seats have just about every adjustable control known to man. I took my time finding the perfect position for the 7-hour drive. Then I adjusted the steering wheel (which tilts and telescopes), logged our destination in the GPS and pre-set a few stations on the satellite radio. When we arrived at the lake house, we did not suffer from road fatigue. This allowed us a fun evening, fajita dinner and charades with the kids.

Also read: Are walking tours the best way to travel?

Driving Mazda CX-9 in the Blue Ridge Mountains

© Phillippe Diederich

The next part of our trip was to Wildacres which is nestled in up in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The Mazda was a pleasure to drive through the tight winding mountain roads of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. I am not generally a fan of SUVs because of the way they handle. But the CX-9 was quite different. I didn’t feel any of the top heavy pull of other large SUVs. The vehicle was tight and the shock absorbers didn’t bounce us around like some luxury SUVs do. Mazda has done a great job of building a large vehicle that handles almost like a midsize sedan. On the inclines up, our Mazda pulled us up with ease. On the way down, it actually down-shifted on its own, so I didn’t have to keep my foot on the brake. The CX-9 has a display on the dash that tells me what gear we’re on. Nice touch.

After a week teaching in the isolated mountains, we drove back via Savannah, and then back to Sarasota. Both were long drives (7 hours and 6 hours) that didn’t feel so long. When I got home, I had enough energy left to go grocery shopping, cook dinner, and deal with what happens when you’re gone for ten days: stacks of mail, bills, a green pool and overgrown lawn. I only wish the CX-9 could help me with those chores. But cars are made for driving!

Phillippe Diederich

Phillippe Diederich is a bilingual author and photographer born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Mexico City and Miami. His photography has appeared in The New York Times, Time magazine, U.S. News and World Report and other national publications. Phillippe's novels Sofrito and Playing for the Devil's Fire are both published by Cinco Puntos Press. He is the recipient of a PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship and the Editor-in-Chief of Viva Fifty!