Given our guerilla coverage of the Mazda CX-8 has included various single, twin and whopping mega testing in the 12 months since we brought you its local range release, I’ll spare you the well-trodden ‘what is it?’ path with this flagship 2019 Mazda CX-8 Asaki garage review and instead focus on ‘what’s new?’.
Well, there’s a mild update for a start. Some of the changes are conspicuous, such as addressing the often-maligned absence of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto in infotainment, and a new 7.0-inch digital display central to the driver’s instrumentation. Other stuff, such as the frameless rear-view mirror and LED rego plate lighting, is more ‘blink and miss it’.
There are also changes for the better, such as a 'Plus' update to the handling- and stability-enhancing G-Vectoring Control system, which you may never notice at all. But what you’ll feel is that the full suite of changes has added $1100 to the bottom line. At $62,590 before on-roads, the Asaki wants for a pretty penny.
To date, in review in pre-updated form, the Asaki’s hip pocket sting has been a regular topic of discussion. Against the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace, we found the longer-than-medium-but-not-properly-large family hauler to be loaded with features, to offer consummate ride comfort and impressive drivability… While reminding ourselves it’s a whopping $12K step up from the top-spec diesel CX-5 Akera with which it shares power and much DNA, a $14K premium above the next-rung-down CX-8 Sport AWD, and – hello, elephant – similar money to a high-spec petrol all-paw CX-9; a range that continues to outsell its smaller diesel sibling two to one.
You sense the CX-8 struggles to escape the cast of familiar shadows. Fact is, the Asaki measured up on price and value admirably against segment rivals in mega testing – a victim, perhaps, of being tarred with a lesser-of-both-worlds brush and not having been considered fairly on singular merit. And having arrived at this single review with brush in hand, I came away being more impressed with Mazda’s ‘Japanese large’ SUV than I’d estimated.
Firstly, I don’t mind the size. Offering CX-5 width yet ostensibly CX-9 length is very handy if you want oodles of cabin space, but you’re faced with the seemingly ever-shrinking and increasingly overcrowded environment of Australia’s big smoke. We don’t live in the USA, home to open-air shopping centre parking lots and strip malls where the sheer width of the CX-9 – in its naturally intended habitat – isn’t so much an issue. The narrower CX-8 is much friendlier faced with the confines of multi-storey car parks, be it parking or opening doors.
Of course, there’s a trade-off: it’s a seven-seater, but you’re really going to struggle shoehorning three adults across that second row, let alone consider the CX-8 fit for seven adults. The 60:40-split row-two seating does have handy slide and tilt that allows leg room tuning to taste, but there’s only realistically enough overall cabin length to comfortably fit adults in two of the three available rows.
This is less a specific CX-8 issue and more an indictment on the notion that medium-sized SUVs – even stretched ones like this – are real-world seven-seat propositions. Indeed, the often quoted ‘five plus two’ arrangement is more accurate.
That high-set, so-called ‘stadium’ seating position in row two is a mixed bag. The plus is excellent forward and side window visibility for kids, but seat contours really favour the outboard positions and the hump in the middle position base makes it – for adults, for kids in booster seats – almost useless.
It really is a great cabin and convincingly upmarket… In most respects. The seats in all three rows are excellent, the quality of the leather seat and mixed-material door and dash trims is first rate – the wood trim and stitching in particular – and the general design is clean and nicely upmarket, if short on the sort of wow factor you’ll find in the new Mazda 3.
Elsewhere, be it the wheel, centre stack or control, it’s mostly familiar and unremarkable Mazda by numbers. There are A-pillars as thick as tree trunks that obscure your peripheral vision, but on the plus side, entry and egress are very good thanks to exceptionally wide door openings and impressive clearance once row two is folded forward.
But what’s going on with the tiny 7.0-inch infotainment screen that’s dwarfed by the expanse of the dash fascia, and appears as if it’s been lifted from a low-spec Mazda 2? Nor does it impress with content: the MZD Connect software looks old hat and is clunky to use, the touchscreen lock-out annoys, the Bose-branded sound is quite muddy for supposedly high-end audio, and as we’ve banged on about prior, it features just about the most terribly distorted and grainy rear and surround parking camera views we’ve experienced on a 2019-spec vehicle.
For a vehicle nudging 70-large on-road, it’s not good enough… Even given the smartphone mirroring ‘fix’.
Features-wise, it’s pretty decent: front seat cooling and two-row heating, steering wheel heating, dual USBs in the console bin and twin 2.1-amp USBs in the row-two armrest, LED reading lights, and excellent full-feature climate controls in the back of the console for rear passengers. There’s no digital speedo in the instrumentation, but thankfully you do get it in the head-up display.
Boot space isn’t too bad. It’s a smidge over 200L above the flat floor (or 242L counting the underfloor compartment), with row three in play it's spacious enough for a proper grocery shop and, rear seats folded to liberate 742L, there’s ample ‘wagon’ space for prams, a bike or suitcases. A temporary spare, 12V outlet, bag hooks and powered tailgate round out the luggage department.
At 450Nm, the (140kW) 2.2-litre twin-turbocharged diesel produces one of the highest torque peaks in the segment, though it does work hard for its keep: as the AWD flagship, the Asaki isn’t far off the two-tonne mark. As a result, it can feel a little blunted at times, especially when overtaking at pace. Yet it’s not slow, as the Asaki was second quickest in the field for our recent mega test.
But on balance, it’s an impressive engine – smooth and relatively quite balanced for 90 per cent of the on-road experience. It’s mated nicely to the slick, keen-shifting auto with only six forward ratios, though it certainly doesn’t suffer for it. Combined, the powertrain is keenly responsive and hesitation free, with none of that lethargy that afflicts so many of today’s vehicles where drivability is traded for outright fuel economy. On this, the CX-8 Asaki’s mid to high seven litres per hundred consumption across mixed driving is decent, if quite short of its glowing 6.0L/100km claim.
There’s also plenty of depth in quality with ride comfort. There’s an innate compliance to the suspension that keeps the body settled and virtually smothers sharp hits quietly and confidently. And yet, the impressive isolation doesn't adversely impact support: the CX-8 maintains a sense of faithful connection to the road, and remains planted and settled over big dips and strong undulations when carrying speed on crook country roads.
In fact, the only time the CX-8 came close to becoming unruly was on a heavily rutted dirt track well off the beaten path, and only really because it lacked the wheel articulation of a proper off-roader.
Why venture there? Well, to assess the all-wheel-drive system traction. Sure, mild soft-roading is the upper limit of its flexibility, but I'm not sure whether its all-paw traction is really going to pay tangible dividends on-road anywhere outside of, say, the Snowy Mountains in winter. If there are dividends to the updated G-Vectoring Control Plus smarts, it's really difficult to feel them from behind the wheel during normal driving conditions.
In terms of safety and conveniences, the systems you do notice execute their roles with reasonable faith: the rear-cross traffic system works a treat – as you'd hope given the terrible parking cameras – and the active lane keep is functional without excessive intrusion, though the speed sign advice is accurate only most of the time rather than all of the time, occasionally displaying speeds over or under what's actually signposted.
At launch last year, we were compelled to put the boot in for the lack-lustre three-year warranty. Twelve months later, the surety has extended to a more desirable five years (with no kilometre cap). Servicing is every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first, at between $325 and $397 per service, though this excludes a number of periodic additions (filters, fluids, et cetera).
The CX-8 acquits itself as impressively in isolation as it did nabbing top-three honours in our mega test. While it’s easy to come at it thinking $62,590 list is steep for a Mazda, its measure of worth impresses more in how it goes than necessarily what it’s got. Put it this way: if you’d invested more in a premium Euro, you'd hope it would demonstrate as much comfort and refinement as this Japanese SUV.
Equally, the made-do infotainment and frankly terrible camera system as fitted here are inexcusable. And while a smattering of upgrades is always welcome, the rise in price pretty much cancels out any modest hike in value for money.
It is, however, a huge chunk pricier than the front-drive ($43,410) or all-paw ($47,410) Sport versions, and the jury is out as to whether the Asaki is that much more comfy or refined than its stablemates. Our advice is to check out the wider range before committing too quickly to the flagship.