It is summer time and that means road trips, this summer my adventures have taken me across 8 states and to some amazing destinations. While you can take a trip in just about anything, some vehicles are just better suited to the highways and byways of America, like the 2018 Mazda CX-9 that I recently took on a trip from Austin to Dallas. 

The CX-9 is Mazda's three-row crossover SUV with seating for seven the CX-9 offers a lot of versatility, but it would best be enjoyed with four total passengers and using the cargo area with the third row folded flat into the floor. Touring Premium Package that I was driving featured top-notch luxury and technology meaning this was going to be a very comfortable road trip. 

Heading north from Austin I took the back roads towards College Station/Bryan two cities that have grown together around the world famous Texas A&M University. The back roads of Texas Hill Country are amazing, two-lane blacktop as far as you can see, over gently rolling hills, crossing over rivers and passing through small towns. Driving along you see little bits of history everywhere, classic cars rest in fields, old train bridges from a bygone era, and cities once built during a boom that has long since faded away. Looking out my window I see a Scimitar Oryx, an antelope from North Africa which went extinct in the wild sometime in the 1980s. But Texas has over 11,000 of these amazing antelope on ranches throughout the state.  

Pulling over to snap some pictures of the Orynx and other animals at the exotic ranch was a good excuse to stretch my legs a bit and walk around the CX-9. Mazda has really stepped up their style game, the proportions of the CX-9 really make it look smaller than it inside, in fact, I was surprised when I opened the back for the first time to see the third row of seats. The Texas sun is beating down and I feel myself being called to the air conditioning again. The interior of the CX-9 is a nice place to be, the two-tone leather, wood, and chrome accents are balanced nicely, the large touch screen and easy to use controls take the stress out of driving, the only thing I wish the car had in the 101-degree heat of Texas, air conditioned seats.

Back on the road, I am headed to my destination of downtown Bryan, Texas where I have a room reserved at the historic La Salle Hotel that is right in the center of a newly revitalized historic city center. My room was just $140 for the night, and the hotel features a great restaurant and bar, plus in the basement is an old-school speakeasy. In the last few years the city of Bryan has put in a major effort to turn around their historic downtown, today, it is a great place for both locals and tourists like me alike with destinations like the Queen Theater, the Palace outdoor performance venue, and dozens of great restaurants, bars, coffee shops and boutiques.   

On tonight's agenda was watching the classic Steve McQueen film Bullit on the big screen at the Queen Theater, just a short walk from my hotel, the Queen only shows classic movies and all tickets are just $5 each. There is nothing like seeing films like Bullit, Easyrider, The Searchers, or Blues Brothers on the big screen, and they don't even gouge you on the snacks. Check out the current movie schedule on their site HERE, it is a great time if you are looking for a great night out in Bryan.

After a great night in downtown Bryan it was time to head up to Waco, Texas which most people know for just two things, the standoff, and HGTV's Fixer Upper. While the city is happy to be known for the show, there is a lot more going on than just what Chip and Joanna have done, even if "the Fixer Upper effect" is very real. Like all Texas towns, Waco is obsessed with their local sports teams these being the Baylor Bears. So depending on when you plan your visit, accommodations may be hard to come by, the obsession with local sports is so strong I learned that some people actually own "game day houses" in the city, that is just used a few times a year during home games.

But outside of the Silos and football, you will find Waco has a lot to offer, from a great selection of restaurants and food trucks. Waco also has one of the largest urban public parks in Texas, the over four-hundred-acre Cameron Park offers amazing trails, picnic grounds, and it is even home to the city zoo. Part of the attraction of Waco is the big city conveniences, like shopping, restaurants, and even a regional airport, with small town charm and an almost Mayberry vibe.

Escaping the city isn't hard, a short drive in any direction finds you once again the countryside, the winding roads, and small towns. The Waco is such a popular location it has even captured my sister and brother-in-law, who recently relocated to Waco from California. They love it for all the same reasons everyone else does, people are friendly, there are plenty of activities and events if you want to stay busy and active, and if you don't plenty of open space and quiet to enjoy a lazy afternoon relaxing. 

 I finish up my time in Waco and head east for a short diversion before driving a few hours north to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to fly back to California. I head out to Groesbeck about 40 miles east of Waco, to meet with a contractor who is giving me a bid on my own little bit of Texas. My building which should be underway soon will be my own little escape from the hustle and bustle. As I pull into my new hometown the locals have already gotten used to me, driving different cars and trucks, but the Mazda draws a lot of attention. One lady asked if it was an Audi or a Mercedes when I said Mazda she says "That's a Japanese car, right?" I assure her it is Japanese and it is as nice as anything the Germans have to offer, just a better value. The contractor arrives and we go over some of the ideas on what we can do with the new live/work space. Before I have to hit the road and head to Dallas.

The drive up to Dallas goes smoothly, the Mazda CX-9 is great for around town, but is perfect on the highway, with adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and a heads-up display that not only shows you your directions, but also the posted speed limit which, when you are driving on California plates in Texas, is a good thing to be aware of. Overall I have to say the CX-9 is a lot of car for the money, starting at just over $32,000 and topping at around $48,000 it has a lot of technology, impressive fit and finish, and for an SUV is still dynamic and fun to drive. Compared to other SUV's in the segment, the Mazda is by far the most car-like when it comes to handling and driving comfort.

Over the week I put the Mazda to the test, it was my road trip warrior, date night ride, family dinner shuttle, and daily driver. I have to say that Mazda has hit this one out of the park, if a 7-passenger SUV is on your list and you don't need true 4X4 offroad capability, you need to do yourself a favor and check out the new CX-9, from style and comfort to performance and functionality it's hard to beat.

Quick Specs:
- Turbocharged SKYACTIV-G 2.5T engine
- 310 lb-ft torque at 2,000 rpm
- 250 horsepower at 5,000 rpm (93 AKI)
- 227 horsepower at 5,000 rpm (87 AKI)
- SKYACTIV-DRIVE 6-speed automatic
- G-Vectoring Control vehicle dynamics enhancement
- Front-wheel drive or available predictive i-ACTIV
All-Wheel Drive

New Equipment for 2018:
- G-Vectoring Control
- Heated steering wheel***
- Driver’s seat tilt function*
- Power passenger seats add power seat lifter and
power lumbar support*
- Heated outboard, second-row seats***
- Revised second-row sliding mechanism
- Traffic Sign Recognition***
- Front parking sensors**

Accolades Highlights:
* CX-9 Touring trim level and above
** Touring Premium Package and above
*** CX-9 Grand Touring trim level and above

 1MSRP does not include $940 for destination and delivery ($985 in Alaska) or additional taxes or fees. Dealers set actual sale prices.

2IIHS Top Safety Pick+ designation applies to 2017 models manufactured after December 1, 2016.

Newly Standard for 2018:
- Smart City Brake Support is now standard on all CX-9 models
- Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert is now
standard on all CX-9 models
- Automatic on/off headlights on Touring*
- Rain-sensing windshield wipers on Touring*
- Newly available Soul Red Crystal paint color option
- Full i-ACTIVSENSE suite is now standard on CX-9 Touring
models: High Beam Control, Lane Departure Warning,
Lane-Keep Assist, Mazda Radar Cruise Control with new Stop
and Go function and Smart Brake Support*

Updated Packages:
- Sport Package now includes automatic on/off headlights,
rain-sensing windshield wipers, High Beam Control, LaneKeep
Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Mazda Radar Cruise
Control with new Stop and Go function and Smart Brake
- Touring Premium Package now includes front parking sensors