The 2013 Mazda CX-9 has had the company's new family face pasted on, new standard equipment added in, and a fresh suite of blind-spot, lane departure, auto-braking and auto high beam active safety technologies offered on the flagship model – all designed to revitalise the five year old, seven-seat large SUV.
The Mazda CX-9 first arrived in Australia in late 2007 and is currently capturing 4.5 percent of the large SUV market. Yet the new-look model remains limited by a relatively thirsty V6 (11-11.2L/100km), and a lack of diesel-engine availability - this update really is just a 'new look'.
Mechanically, the 2013 Mazda CX-9 is no different to the 2007-2012 model. It’s powered by the same 3.7-litre V6 engine with 204kW and 367Nm, transferring outputs to the same six-speed automatic transmission, with the same availability of front-wheel drive (FWD) and all-wheel drive (AWD). However the previously six-strong spec range has now been simplified to just a pair of FWD and AWD variants each.
The entry-level $44,525 Mazda CX-9 Classic FWD costs just $100 more than the old model, while the $52,980 Luxury FWD variant, which now gets satellite navigation as standard, has come down in price by $1,345 compared with the model it replaces.
The AWD range starts with the $57,480 Luxury, $4,500 more than the FWD equivalent, while the flagship $63,828 CX-9 GT AWD has been raised by $2,200, mainly due to the addition of new active safety technologies.
From the outside the facelifted Mazda CX-9 presents a cleaner and more modern look, a design language that Mazda refers to as Kodo (soul of motion), which the company has already showcased on the Mazda CX-5 and new Mazda6. But where those are all-new models, the CX-9 has simply had its Kodo bits grafted onto the existing body...
The front bumper grill, headlights, rear bumper and tail lamps, and exhaust extensions are the most obvious exterior changes. The LED daytime running lights (GT) and 20-inch alloys (Luxury and GT) also set the new CX-9 apart.
Mazda has also slightly updated the interior with a completely black instrument panel with white meter illumination. Metal, dark red decorative panels and suede inserts for the black leather interior have been added, successfully achieving a more upmarket look. Nonetheless, there’s still an abundance of hard plastics on the dashboard (but the contact points on the door remain soft) and the 5.8-inch colour LCD screen looks too small for a cabin its size.
Inside, the CX-9 remains a proper seven-seater with enough room to carry five adults in the first two rows, and two children or smaller adults in the third. We found adequate legroom for all three rows with the seats in realistic positions but access into the third row can prove a challenge for some.
The Mazda CX-9’s driving dynamics differ significantly depending on drivetrain. The AWD models make good use of the V6’s high power and torque output with smooth acceleration and power delivery in nearly all situations while the FWD variants can feel unsettled when pushed.
We drove an AWD CX-9 on both bitumen and dirt roads and it behaved amicably with excellent front and rear power transitions for optimal grip. The FWD model, though, which has the exact same amount of power and torque but with drive going to the front wheels only, kicks back with torque steer out of corners and even going uphill when maximum power and torque is demanded.
The torque-steer is basically unnoticeable for everyday suburban commuting, but if you tend to be an aggressive or enthusiastic driver, the AWD variants would be the pick of the bunch.
The steering feel itself is pretty much what you’d expect from a large family-orientated SUV, slightly over-assisted with limited feedback, which is ideal for the target audience.
Ride quality is surprisingly good for an SUV that has had no real localisation tuning for our roads, unlike its Australian (Ford Territory) and Korean (Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe) competitors. It absorbs the bumps and potholes well and doesn’t present much lean in and out of corners. The V6 engine tends to make a bit of noise when pushed, but other than that, cabin noise and vibration levels are reasonably low.
Mazda has added a USB port and upgraded the Bluetooth system, which can wirelessly connect to your smartphone for calls and streaming music. The satellite navigation system has been renewed with the latest maps by TomTom, which can be updated with a simple SD card; a good thing because when we asked it to help us find Melbourne airport it instructed us to use a closed-off restricted road which would’ve led us on to a runway. The Mazda's handling isn't quite sharp enough to dodge an incoming Airbus A380...
Coincidentally, TomTom also provides the core maps used by Apple’s new iPhone 5, which have been getting more than a few people lost.
The system itself is also a little counter-intuitive in its user interface design and we found ourselves pressing far too many buttons to get a simple destination programmed in. But at least the 277-watt amplifier and 10 speaker Boss sound system (including subwoofer) make up for it.
All variants include dual front, side and curtain airbags, 18-inch alloy wheels, three-zone climate control air-conditioning, auto headlamps and rain-sensing wipers, plus a reversing camera, but unfortunately only the GT gets parking sensors.
Mazda anticipates that 60 percent of buyers will go for the Luxury variant, which is well-kitted with satellite navigation, sunroof, leather seats with electric adjustment for the front pews, 20-inch alloy wheels, Bose sound system and power and heated mirrors that tilt down to make reversing easier.
The GT gains daytime running lamps (LED), Bi-Xenon headlights, power tailgate (open/close), proximity keyless entry and engine start, in addition to a new array of active safety features.
These include blind spot monitoring (BSM), which can detect and warn the driver if another vehicle is driving in the CX-9’s blindspot and the driver has indicated to merge in their direction. Forward obstruction warning (FOW), which sees the Mazda’s computers detect a potential collision with a vehicle or object in front and audibly and visually warn the driver.
There’s also high beam control (HBC), which can automatically turn the high beam on and off when another vehicle comes in sight and Mazda’s lane departure warning (LDW), which will beep if you leave a marked lane without indicating (helping prevent unintended drifting).
Overall, the 2013 Mazda CX-9 range remains a strong and competitive force in the seven-seat large SUV segment. The updated styling, the availability of satellite navigation as standard on the mid-spec models and the genuine third-row practicality are all benefits which outweigh the lack of a diesel power plant.