At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the 2020 Mazda CX-8 Touring.
There’s nothing particularly confounding about it, except that originally the CX-9 was for petrol purchasers and the CX-8 catered to the diesel audience. Now that’s changed.
Now, the CX-8 Touring is available with either a 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine or a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol, like the version tested here. If you’d like the added punch of a turbo petrol engine, or perhaps a little extra space, that’s what the CX-9 is for.
In some ways, the CX-8 is the just-right fit. It’s based on the CX-5, so isn’t too cumbersome in an urban setting, but adds in the flexibility of a third row of seats for families that might need to accommodate an extra pair of school friends or grandparents at short notice.
The diesel car wasn’t a bad one, by any means, but not everyone needed or wanted a diesel. Some just liked the size and form factor of the CX-8 but wanted a petrol engine, so here it is.
The CX-8 range offers four trim levels starting with the base Sport, up to the Touring tested here, then on to the high-end GT and Asaki trim levels. Only the Sport and Touring are available with a petrol engine, and then only with front-wheel drive. Diesel and two- or all-wheel drive is available across the range.
From $39,910 before on-road costs for the CX-8 Sport petrol starts the range off. Opt for the Touring model as seen here and pricing starts from $46,590, but also steps up features and equipment fairly substantially.
Current drive-away pricing puts those variants at $41,490 and $46,890 respectively, making the CX-8 Touring slightly sharper value.
|Engine||2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||140kW at 6000rpm, 242Nm at 4000rpm|
|Drive type (FWD, etc)||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||8.1L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||9.1L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||209L / 775L|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||5 (tested 2018)|
|Warranty (years / km)||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-9|
|Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)||$46,590|
Externally, the two appear almost identical – same grille, same chrome trims and same wheels. The upgrades are nearly all inside.
The Touring adds in niceties like plush leather seat trim instead of cloth, power-adjustable front seats, one-touch ‘walk-in’ entry for the second row, front and rear park sensors (instead of just rear), front LED fog lights, proximity key entry, and additional second-row USB charge points.
That’s on top of a basic equipment list that includes auto lights and wipers, LED head and tail-lights, heated auto-folding mirrors, a driver’s head-up display, all-speed adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, three-zone climate control, push-button start, plus 8.0-inch infotainment with navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and AM/FM/DAB+ radio.
The interior itself has quite a flash look and feel to it. While leather trim is often provided as a luxury that falls short on expectations, Mazda’s leather is soft, supple, and actually somewhat luxurious.
The design of the dash is largely shared with the CX-5, and follows a fairly clean design with nice-feeling switchgear and dials. Ahead of the driver there’s a traditional speedo and tacho, with a multi-function panel to the right of the cluster instead of a full digital display, but the head-up display provides all the essential functions you could need.
The front seats are, really, very comfortable. There’s a cushy armchair-ness to them that makes long trips comfortable.
Storage isn’t all-out practical, though. There’s a moderately sized centre console with a split lid, and a tray at the bottom of the centre stack for keys or wallet, but no wireless charge pad. The console is so tall you’d think it would hide some innovative storage solutions, but sadly it's all just wasted space.
Aside from the door bins, there are no open storage slots for the kids' bits and pieces like you might find in a Toyota Kluger, and no big bottle/handbag/wipes and snacks storage bay like that of a Peugeot 5008.
In the second row, the seats sit a little higher than the fronts for stadium-style visibility. Again, the outboard seats are fantastically comfortable, and head and leg room pose no problem at all. There's full-sized space for full-sized adults, especially with the second row in its rearmost position.
Lengthwise, the CX-9 is 175mm longer overall than the CX-8, but the two share the same 2930mm wheelbase measurement, meaning there’s not much space missing from the first two rows of seats. Crucially, the CX-8 is 129mm narrower, so if the middle is going to be filled often, particularly with child seats, the extra width could be crucial.
The third row is also a little less generous, as you’d expect. It certainly isn't impractical, but it’s really there for shorter trips with shorter occupants thanks to slim head room.
Easy one-touch access to the third row and a sliding middle row make loading up and finding the balance of space pretty simple. Row three offers good leg room if row two can scoot forward a little, and there's enough space to allow for this.
Handily, there are also top-tether child seat mounts for all second- and third-row seats, plus two ISOFIX points in the outboard positions of the middle row.
Swing up the manual rear tailgate (a little on the heavy side, but not too high to be out of reach), and with the rear row in use there’s enough space to line up four grocery bags or stack in a complement of backpacks.
Mazda lists 209L behind the third row, and an extra 33L under the boot floor. Fold the third row into the floor for 775L. There are bag hooks at the side of the boot, but no cargo blind if you’d like to hide things away beyond the under-floor space.
Under the bonnet, the CX-8 petrol uses a version of the 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol four-cylinder engine found in models like the CX-30, CX-5, Mazda 3 and Mazda 6. It’s rated to 140kW at 6000rpm and 252Nm at 4000rpm.
It’s here that the petrol-powered CX-8 distances itself from both the diesel CX-8 and the CX-9. Both of those cars develop more torque lower in the rev range and feel almost unflappable either empty or full of passengers.
The CX-8 is still calm, quiet and collected. It’ll roll about town in a refined way, but ask for even a hint of performance and the six-speed auto will quickly find a lower gear and jump to the 3000–4000rpm band to try and tap into the available grunt.
It does so smoothly, but the engine becomes a little buzzier. It isn’t wildly unrefined, but the weight of a full complement of passengers makes it just a bit noisier – the added strain knocking the wind from its sails. In truth, with the radio on or a carful of family chatter you’d probably not notice.
If you’re stepping out of something else in the Mazda range, like a CX-5 or Mazda 6, the bigger CX-8 will feel more ponderous. It can’t hide its weight, and misses that keen driving crispness of other Mazda models.
That’s okay, though. The ride is soft and spongy without feeling loose or wobbly, and the steering is nice and light for navigating car parks, but with enough settled confidence for the freeway. Mazda has configured a family SUV that’s big on comfort and dispenses with any kind of misplaced sporty pretentiousness.
It may look a little top-heavy or out of balance on dinky 17-inch wheels with fat sidewalls, but when it comes to comfort, they go a long way to keeping the worst road surface scars under control.
Official fuel consumption is rated at 8.1 litres per 100km, and after a week in Melbourne’s light post-lockdown traffic the trip computer settled on 9.1L/100km. Just doing commuter duty saw the average sail past the 10.5L/100km mark, which is hardly outrageous for a car of its size, plus the CX-8 will accept regular unleaded petrol.
Mazda sets service intervals at a slightly shorter 10,000km distance or 12 months, whichever comes first, and lays out pricing in two parts: basic servicing ($335 or $366 alternatively) and periodic extras (air and cabin filters, brake fluid and more). Over five years, the minimum cost adds up to $2057, but travel more than 10,000km per year and this will be slightly higher.
Mazda’s warranty term is for five years with no kilometre cap, along with five years' roadside assistance.
Safety and driver-assist systems, in typical Mazda style, are numerous, with forward and reverse AEB, front and rear park sensors, lane-keep assist with departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, auto lights, auto high beam and auto wipers, driver-attention monitoring, adaptive cruise control with speed limiter, traffic sign recognition linked to the cruise or limiter, and six airbags, including head bags for all three rows all bundled in as standard.
Of all the things conspiring against the CX-8, its own bigger sibling, the CX-9, really puts the pressure on. While there is a price step-up of just under $6K for a CX-9 Touring FWD compared to the same spec of CX-8, you get a lot for your spend.
Not only is the CX-9 more spacious inside, it comes with a more powerful (or realistically more flexible and relaxed) engine, a bigger boot, greater towing capacity (1.8 tonnes max for CX-8 FWD, 2.0 for CX-9 FWD), and perhaps most crucially more second-row width for kids' seats if you have multiple to accommodate.
Then again, if you think of the CX-8 as less of an in-house CX-9 rival, and more like a CX-5 with some added versatility – urban-friendly, a more manageable size, but with extra second-row space and the potential to carry two extra passengers in a pinch – it becomes a handy bridge between the CX-5 and CX-9.
While there may not be as many buyers for this in-betweener, it makes sense for Mazda to keep it in the range.
If the diesel engine was the thing keeping you out of a CX-8 previously, that’s been remedied. If the plush upmarket look and feel of a CX-9 enticed you, but the packaging didn't, here’s an alternative.
In many ways, the purpose and positioning of the CX-8 are still a little fuzzy, but that’s okay. Not everything about family life is clear-cut, and Mazda understands that those who need the petrol CX-8, need the petrol CX-8.