The 2016 Mazda CX-9 SUV has finally arrived, and here we have the model that the brand expects to be the volume seller in the range: the Touring.
With the all-new, second-generation Mazda CX-9 arriving powered only by a petrol engine – that’s right, there’s no diesel on offer here, or anywhere in the world for that matter – buyers may be a little suspicious as to how it stacks up as a family hauler.
Under the bonnet is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 170kW of power (at 5000rpm) and a diesel-like torque figure of 420Nm (at 2000rpm). It comes only with a six-speed automatic transmission, but you can choose between a front-wheel-drive model at $48,890 plus on-road costs, or the one you see here, which has all-wheel drive, and is priced at $52,890 plus on-roads.
And it’s an engine that certainly doesn’t leave you wanting for more, with easily enough urge to get the job done, whether you’re hauling six adults, or if you’re just getting from A to B around town on your own.
There’s great mid-range punch, so much so that it’s easy to find yourself going a little too quick, particularly when you’re on your lonesome. The engine revs freely, and there’s very little lag when you put your foot down from a standstill – provided the stop-start system isn’t operational, because it can be slow to fire.
The automatic gearbox has a lot to do with how swift the progress is, because it’s brilliant. For the most part it shifts seamlessly, and when you select the Sport mode for the transmission (yeah, this Mazda is more of a crossover than an SUV!), the drive experience goes to benchmark levels.
The 'box will hold gears beautifully, allowing you to drive it as you would a sports sedan – and then as you brake into the oncoming corner, it will cleverly blip the throttle on the downshift. It’s more fun, and more engaging, than a family SUV really ought to be at this price point.
The way it copes with corners is also commendable, with the steering offering precision and directness that betters pretty much everything else in this class in terms of involvement.
That isn’t to say that it’s perfect, though, because the Yokohama Geolandar H/T tyres, wrapped around 18-inch rims in this spec and the Sport model below, aren’t made for corner carving. Back-to-backed against three rivals in our recent comparison test, the Mazda showed up the most understeer – where the nose of the car feels like it wants to push straight despite the driver’s steering input – in damp conditions.
Further, if you hit a mid-corner bump, the steering wheel can jostle about in your hands. Still, it turns nicely enough to satisfy the vast majority of drivers at the speeds these sorts of SUVs will likely be doing through bends.
And it feels fairly flat on the road, too – the suspension is certainly tauter than most competitors, which can be a bit wobbly when you turn from side to side. That said, it's pretty well sorted over rougher surfaces, and on a wet gravel surface the suspension rounded off smaller corrugations decently and didn't buck around too much, but it was a little less controlled than the Kia Sorento we also drove on the same road just minutes later.
Indeed, the suspension is a bit firmer than most, and it picks up a lot of the little lumps and bumps at the front end, and that is even more noticeable the more weight you put in the back.
All said, it’s probably more fun to drive, if not as cushy, than the best SUV in the class, which by our reckoning remains the Kia Sorento (diesel). And while it’s not as hushed as the best in class at speed, it is arguably the quietest Mazda ever.
Shame, though, it is a bit of a guts on fuel. On test, we saw an average of 13.1 litres per 100 kilometres – well above the claimed figure of 8.8L/100km. That said, if you do a lot of highway and 80km/h arterial road driving, you'll see that drop to around 11.0L/100km.
But drive as it may, you might just think to yourself: “I want that Mazda CX-9 because of how it looks”.
Plenty of staff in the office described the CX-9 as a looker. And in the higher-spec models (on 20-inch wheels and with smatterings of chrome around the body) in certain colours, it really is a striking thing to lay eyes upon.
Even in this second-spec-up guise, the bold grille, small headlights and big bonnet mean it looks substantial, even when it’s parked. That’s despite the fact it’s actually shorter than the old model. It is wider and taller, though.
As we said at the start, Mazda reckons this Touring model will outsell the other three variants, and it seems to tick most of the boxes people would want in terms of equipment for the cash.
Some of the specification highlights include a load of safety kit, such as a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, and forward and rear collision warning alert with autonomous emergency braking – both when you’re going forward, and when you’re in reverse. That’s clever.
You also get six airbags (dual front, front side and full-length curtain), but there are no off-road modes like you get in a Toyota Kluger (it has a centre diff lock, snow mode and hill descent control).
Further, standard is satellite navigation controlled by way of an 8.0-inch central infotainment screen (the entry-grade Sport has a 7.0-inch screen), which is in turn menu-managed by the MZD Connect system. It is, we think, the best infotainment unit on the market at this price point, with the rotary dial and buttons making it simple to do stuff on the move.
It features Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and there is USB connectivity (one of thefour
USB points in the car – two in the front centre console between the seats, two in the rear flip-down armrest, also with cup holders, which is very clever for charge-conscious kids).
Storage is fine up front – that centre box is tiny compared to, say, a Toyota Kluger – and the small storage area in front of the gearshifter can be touch fiddly to get items in and out of. But there are cup holders between the seats, the doors have decent sized pockets with bottle holders front and rear, and the second row has clever dual seatback pockets on both chairs. The third row has cup holders and small storage caddies, too.
Speaking of the third row, there’s good space on offer, even for adults up to six-feet tall. And accessing the third row is pretty simple – the rear seat splits 60:40, with both sides sliding and folding, but the larger portion is, weirdly, located on the driver’s side and not the kerbside. That part tilts and slides using a flip-lever on the top of the seatback: it is a bit heavy to operate, and doesn’t reset all the way, but the clamber isn’t as difficult as you might think. Just watch your head, as the door aperture is quite sloped.
With the driver’s seat set to my position, I could easily sit in a comfortable position behind that seat, while also allowing easily enough room for a third clone of my frame behind. Only a couple of complaints about the setup: there are no third-row air vents, which could be a deal breaker for full-time family users, and the third-row head room is a little tight.
As for ownership, the Mazda CX-9 needs servicing every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first. The average visit will set you back $370, and the servicing costs are capped for up to 160,000km. It has a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty.
The new-generation Mazda CX-9 is a profound step forward for the Japanese brand’s big SUV. Look, the petrol engine is quite good – in fact, it's great – but we can’t help but feel a diesel would be such a good fit, that it’s a real shame it will never happen.
Still, if you can deal with the petrol drivetrain rather than diesel, this is a polished, practical SUV which will no doubt impress potential buyers.
And at this price point, it’s pretty hard to beat if you want a petrol seven-seater.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Sam Venn.