Mazda reckons customer service is all about super servicing the customer. That’s in terms of interaction with the customer directly, but also in the range of models it offers.
So, it’s little surprise that Mazda has hit the ground running with the new 2018 Mazda CX-8.
Launching with the availability of two grades – Sport and Asaki – pricing kicks off from $42,490 (plus on-road costs) for the front-wheel drive Sport and $61,490 for the all-wheel drive Asaki. All-wheel drive is also available in Sport trim for an additional $4000.
One engine services the CX-8 range – it’s a 2.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder Diesel engine that produces 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and claims just 5.7 litres of fuel use per 100km in front-wheel drive and 6.0L/100km in all-wheel drive trim.
CX-8 is certainly a logical standalone model, but when viewed alongside its other Mazda SUV siblings, things can get a little confusing.
Measuring in at 4900mm, the CX-8 is 175mm shorter than the CX-9 (but shares the same 2930mm wheelbase) and 350mm longer than the CX-5. At 1840mm width, it’s 129mm narrower than the CX-9, but the same width as the CX-5 with which it shares its platform. Indeed, from around the A-pillar forward, it’s actually the same car as the CX-5.
Cargo volume is impressive for this segment, with 209 litres available behind the third row and an additional 33 litres beneath the boot floor. Fold the third row away and that space increases to 742 litres, while with the second row folded forward the overall cargo capacity increases to 1727 litres.
Mazda claims that there’s ample room in the third row for an adult up to 170cm tall. I tried climbing in there and it’s a fairly cramped space for adults (I’m 185cm tall and built for comfort), but offers ample room for kids or young teenagers. There’s storage on either side of the third row for cups and odds and ends.
The second row slides and reclines, retracting in a 60/40 split folding configuration. ISOFIX points are located on the two outboard seats, while a centre armrest contains two cup holders and a closing bin. Within the bin are two high-current USB charging ports that will keep devices topped up during the drive.
Both models pick up rear air vents and a third zone for the climate control, while the Asaki also gets manually raising window blinds and heated seats for the two outer seating positions.
The seating position in the second row is interesting. It’s elevated and feels like stadium seating, which offers great visibility out the side windows. It’s a shame there isn’t an option for a moon roof to add extra light to the cabin.
In the front row it's all about style and minimalism. Mazda's MZD Connect infotainment system is perched atop the dashboard and is driven by a central controller and shortcut buttons. It works okay, but the functionality really needs an overhaul. It can be confusing to use at times and the voice controls often won't do what you expect them to do.
And, the voice controls won't allow commands to be forwarded by Bluetooth to your phone's recognition system, which adds a layer of frustration. While Apple CarPlay and Android Auto isn't available at the moment, Mazda is working on a system that can be retrofitted to all Mazda vehicles with MZD Connect. It'll be available by the end of 2018, but expect to fork out cash for the experience.
Depending on the grade chosen, dash inlays can be made of real wood, while a heated steering wheel on the top specification Asaki helps in super cold climates. The top specification also joins the recently updated Mazda 6 by offering a 360-degree camera. Given the brand is so late to the party, you'd think it'll at least be good. Unfortunately it's one of the poorest implementations we've seen. It's almost impossible to make out objects around the car and when light drops it's virtually useless.
That aside, the head-up display provides clarity and helps stick to speed limits with traffic sign recognition, while visibility out the front, rear and sides is excellent. It doesn't actually feel like a big car from the driver's seat - it kind of shrinks around you and is easy to place on the road.
Safety features are crammed into the CX-8 with low and high speed Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) across the range, along with rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, radar cruise control with stop and go functionality, along with a host of other features to keep you and the family safe. You can also tow up to 2000kg with a braked trailer.
Out on the open the road, the CX-8's diesel really impresses on the torque and refinement front. We logged almost 300km behind the wheel over a mix of highway, country and gravel roads, comprehensively testing the CX-8 package.
That 450Nm punch from the engine really helps the CX-8 motor along. While it feels sporty in the much lighter CX-5, it feels more adequate than sporty in the CX-8. The six-speed automatic does a great job handling torque delivery and doesn't leave you longing for more.
Where it felt a bit underdone was with overtaking. Even with just me on board, I didn't feel entirely confident when setting up and then executing an overtake. It can run out of puff as you pull out to overtake. This type of thing would be even more evident with a car load of passengers and luggage.
To that end the all-wheel drive system does a remarkable job of keeping everything in check. On gravel, where cars this size can struggle to get torque to the ground, the system distributed torque where required and didn't surprise with sudden gaps of torque or surprising reactions to inputs.
The steering is great, but lacks a little bit of feel at times. It can feel slightly numb about centre and is most noticeable on narrow country roads at highway speeds where minor inputs are a little vague.
While the steering leaves a little to be desired, the ride more than makes up for it. It's not a 'sporty' tune like the CX-5, it's more soft and forgiving over sharp bumps and continuous undulations. It feels like it would be a comfortable place to be seated with a full load of family on board.
While there are seven exterior colours, the interior comes with the option of three interior packages that give the interior a bit of colour variety.
Mazda’s warranty offering remains unchanged and is beginning to lag behind the competition. The warranty covers the vehicle for three years/unlimited kilometres, while servicing occurs every 10,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first. There’s also no complimentary roadside assistance.
The new Mazda CX-8 is a compelling proposition for families that need the extra space of an occasional third row and the fuel economy of a Diesel engine. It’s let down by small things like road noise, a poor 360-degree camera and an interior that’s starting to date, but these things aside it really hits the competition for six on fuel economy and packaging.
It's fun to drive, loaded with kit and looks sensational in Soul Red Crystal. With over 15,000 expressions of interest in the lead up to its launch, it's bound to be a sales hit for the brand. But, is it a class leader? We look forward to benchmarking it against its peers in the coming months.
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