The Mazda CX-9 may not be the newest seven-seat SUV in the sales race, and it’s fortunes in the Australian car market are starting to wane.
A quick glance at the busy large SUV market makes it easy to see why buyers could consider one of its many and varied alternatives. The Holden Captiva 7 offers unbeatably low pricing (from $29,990), while the aforementioned Kluger ($40,990) and Pathfinder (from $39,990) both undercut the entry-price of the Mazda, too.
The base model front-wheel drive Classic tested here, priced at $44,525, asks buyers to find extra cash, but with that comes a decent whack of standard equipment.
The CX-9 has cloth seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear-knob, tri-zone climate control air-conditioning, a 5.6-inch touchscreen media system with six speakers, and a reverse-view camera, 18-inch alloy wheels and fog-lights. Notable omissions include satellite navigation and parking sensors (none front or rear).
Spend more and you’ll get more – the Luxury variant (priced from $52,980 in 2WD and $57,480 in AWD) has plenty of extra kit over the Classic, such as satellite navigation, leather trim, a Bose 10-speaker stereo, heated folding side mirrors, electronic front seat adjustment, heated front seats and 20-inch wheels.
The range-topping Grand Touring version (priced from $63,003) has most of the goodies available in the class, such as daytime running lights, bi-xenon headlights with automated high-beam, blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning, rear parking sensors, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, electronic tailgate and smart key entry with push-button start.
As with the majority of Mazdas, the CX-9 is available with metallic or mica paint at no extra cost, something that could save buyers $1000.
While the CX-9 does have tri-zone climate control – with separate temperature selection for the driver, front passenger and rear seat occupants – it does miss out on rear seat air-vents, which can cause things to get stuffy in the third row.
The space in the third row is adequate for children but falls short of its newer rivals when adults are taken into the equation, with minimal headroom but reasonable leg- and toe-room. Accessing the rear row is more difficult in the CX-9 than in any other SUV in this class. The tilt-and-slide second row seat is heavy and not as intuitive as it could be, and clambering up into the back over the high floor is anything but flattering.
If the rearmost seats aren’t in use – which we’d suggest they won’t be for the majority of the time – the boot is a decent 928 litres. With all seven seats up the space drops to a less impressive 267L – competitive for the class, but not exemplary. As with most SUVs the boot lip is high, which can make loading lumpy items difficult. Under the floor is a space-saver spare wheel.
Second-row space is also a bit short, with rivals easily bettering the legroom on offer from the Mazda. Not many can better it for seat comfort, though, with nicely contoured outer pews and enough width to cope with three adults at a pinch. There are threechild seat anchor points across the second row.
The front seats are decent, with good support and comfort. The cabin ambience isn’t quite as fresh as newer Mazdas, with some old looking instruments and mismatched design elements, but it is one of the more enjoyable SUVs in this class to sit in, with a nice leather-wrapped steering wheel and splashes of chrome. It also feels well put together, and the switches and buttons offer a high-quality feel.
The CX-9 has USB connectivity as well as Bluetooth phone and audio streaming. During our test the system worked well once the setup was established, but we noted the connection could be slow to boot-up.
On the road, the Mazda’s 3.7-litre V6 petrol engine makes easy work of city commuting or highway runs. With 204kW of power at 6250rpm and 367Nm at a high 4250rpm, the engine does like to rev – and as a result, it’s one of the thirstier SUVs in this class. Mazda claims fuel use of 11.0 litres per 100km, while all-wheel drive models use 11.2L/100km. On our varied test loop of more than 300 kilometres, we saw an average of 11.8L.
The engine is a strong thing, and feels more gutsy than many of its competitors despite its desire to require more right-foot pressure than rival models with lower peak torque levels. That it is front-wheel drive means the front tyres will spin under hard acceleration, too.
However, for a large front-driver, the Mazda is extremely competent when it comes to handling. Despite weighing more than almost all of its rival family SUVs at 1939 kilograms, it is nimble and pointy through corners.
While the CX-9’s steering is sporty and direct on the open road, it is heavy, doughy and slow in the urban environment, making it hard to turn around in tight streets and a bit of a pain to pilot into a spot at the shops. Reversing sensors would help in this regard, too, given the length of the car (5.1 metres).
The ride quality is on the firm side, too, which could be off-putting for owners who don’t plan to get out of town much.
The six-speed automatic transmission is quick-shifting and nicely responsive around town, though it is eager to drop down a gear at the slightest of inclines.
As is the case with Mazdas of all shapes and sizes, the CX-9 isn’t the quietest vehicle when on the move. There is notable road noise from the wheel arches, particularly in the rear, though the engine is relatively muted.
Being a front-drive SUV, the CX-9 Classic isn’t meant for off-road adventures. But for those who need to tow, the maximum braked towing capacity is 2000 kilograms, which is reasonable in this segment.
Mazda offers a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty for all of its models, and while it has instituted a capped-price servicing plan for the new Mazda 3 small car, there’s no such program in place for the CX-9. Owners will need to visit the dealership regularly, with services required every six months or 10,000km. That makes the CX-9 one of the dearest cars to service in this segment, with an average annual fee of $738 over three years.
The CX-9 isn’t the cheapest SUV in the segment, nor is it the most practical or the best equipped. However, it drives well, has a high-quality feel, is comfortable to be in, and is ageing gracefully despite newer competitors shining brighter on many fronts.