Mazda CX-9 2021 sport (fwd)

2021 Mazda CX-9 launch review

Rating: 8.2
$45,990 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
  • Engine Power
  • CO2 Emissions
  • ANCAP Rating
Sport-styled SP or luxurious LE? The 2021 Mazda CX-9 adds some new variants to help it fend off some of the newest large-SUV rivals.
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Since mid 2016, the Mazda CX-9 has stood as the brand’s flagship. A stand-up example of both Mazda’s premium aspirations, and its technical merit in terms of engine and platform flexibility.

While there have been no major-change updates since launch, the 2021 Mazda CX-9 shows the brand’s knack for rolling out incremental annual improvements that keep the product fresh and the tech contemporary.

This year's revision sees two new models join the range, offering Australian families a broader choice depending on what they’re after.

The CX-9 GT SP sees the seven-seat SUV slip into activewear with a ‘sport-styled’ black pack.

The range-topping Azami LE takes a different path. Not a new addition, per se, but offered in a new format. This year’s LE swaps the traditional seven-seat layout for a six-seat capacity, with a pair of swanky captain’s chairs in the second row.

The model range can look a little daunting. Starting with Sport and Touring models, on to GT and the new GT SP, then topping out with Azami and Azami LE. Oh, then there’s the limited-edition 100th Anniversary commemorative model, but you’ll have to be quick with only 110 of those for Australia.

All except Azami LE and 100th Anniversary offer a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. The LE and 100th Anniversary both come as AWD only.

With all those variants, there’s something to suit a broad range of budgets. The Sport FWD starts from $45,990, the Touring FWD is $53,490, mid-range GT kicks off from $62,990, or the GT SP is $63,490. All prices are for front-wheel-drive models and before on-road costs. Opting for all-wheel drive steps up $4000.

Towards the top of the range, an Azami FWD lists from $66,190 or AWD from $70,625. The CX-9 Azami LE AWD asks for $73,875, while the CX-9 100th Anniversary AWD carries a $72,575 sticker. More info on price and specifications for the 2021 CX-9 range can be found here.

Mazda invited us for a quick spin around the block – well, Melbourne to Flowerdale and back – less to spruik the CX-9’s already well familiar on-road behaviour, and more to soak in the ambience of its latest revisions.

The headline changes for the CX-9 are somewhat minor. Along with the new range additions, all models except the entry-level Sport now come with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

On the inside, the GT and above move to Mazda’s newest infotainment platform shown on a larger 10.25-inch display. The Sport keeps the older 7.0-inch system and the Touring a 9.0-inch version.

While the new system offers sharper graphics, an easier to follow menu layout, and much snappier loading times, it loses its touchscreen functionality, which can be handy when stopped. Inputs are all via the console controller instead.

2021 Mazda CX-9
Engine2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Power and torque170kW at 5000rpm, 420Nm at 2000rpm
TransmissionSix-speed automatic
Drive typeAll-wheel-drive on-demand or front-wheel drive
Kerb weight1881-2010kg
Fuel claim, combined9.0L/100km
Boot volume230L / 810L
Turning circle11.8m
ANCAP safety ratingFive-star, tested in 2016
WarrantyFive-year, unlimited-kilometre
Main competitorsToyota Kluger | Kia Sorento | Hyundai Santa Fe & Palisade
Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)From $45,990 (Sport FWD) to $73,875 (Azami LE AWD)

No matter which version or model you choose, all come loaded with AM/FM/DAB radio, embedded navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility (via wired connections), Internet radio integration for Stitcher and Aha, and Bluetooth. Sport and Touring come with six-speaker sound, while a Bose 12-speaker stereo and wireless charging are fitted to GT and above.

A quick glance at the range sees the CX-9 Sport fitted with cloth trim and manual front seats, LED headlights, but halogen running lights, a manual open-close tailgate, no keyless access (but remote entry and push-button start), adaptive cruise control, 18-inch alloy wheels, heated exterior mirrors, auto-dimming interior mirror, three-zone climate control, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel.

Touring adds in keyless entry, LED fog lights, leather trim, power-adjustable front seats, front seat heating, front park sensors, and a pair of USB charge ports in the second-row armrest.

Moving up to the GT brings memory front seats, additional driver’s seat adjustments, seat heating for the second row, 20-inch alloy wheels, rear door sunshades, powered tailgate and LED interior lighting. The GT SP takes that spec list and adds black finishes to the wheels, grille and mirror caps, plus available burgundy leather instead of the black or stone options of the regular GT.

Things start to get seriously plush for the Azami with a heated steering wheel, LED running lights and adaptive LED headlights, a 7.0-inch digital instrument display, nappa leather trim with a quilted finish in the first two rows, and front seat ventilation. Trim choices are walnut brown and pure white.

From there, the Azami LE swaps out the second-row bench seat with a pair of individual captain’s chairs and a centre console with cupholders. The seats are heated and cooled, with electric slide, recline, and one-touch third-row access.

Usually the reserve of prestige brands, a more premium second row has also recently been made available on the Hyundai Palisade in Australia, despite being a fairly common option in North America.

Speaking of new models, along with the Palisade, the CX-9 has to face off against the new Kia Sorento, heavily updated Hyundai Santa Fe, and soon an all-new Toyota Kluger, too. Tough gig.

Of course, there was no way to review the updated range without time in the rear, and the experience was impressive. Those captain’s chairs are shaped much like the front seats, making them comfortable and supportive.

There’s no fold-out leg rest or lumbar support, and while they’re not really needed, it would be great to see a complete package. Still, the stadium-style raised seating and extra lateral support are highlights. The console is nice to have to secure your carry-on bits and pieces, though it does mean there’s no walk-through to the third row, like you get in the Palisade.

Accessing the third row via the one-touch buttons can be slow. If you’re waiting to fill the third and then second rows in the rain, you’ll rue the lack of a quick click-clack manual slide. Plush, sure, but perhaps not always premium if you’re not under cover.

If your heart is instead set on one of the 100th Anniversary cars, you get three-tone trim with burgundy seats and carpet (how very retro), pure white door bands and black upper trims. The quilted leather of the regular Azami does go missing, though.

You’ll likely never forget what you’re in, though, with 100th Anniversary logos on the wheel caps, key fob, front guards, and front headrests.

With all of the interior poking and prodding out of the way, it was time to hit the road.

Without any changes to engine, suspension or transmission, there’s not a lot to report. Certainly nothing bad or troubling. Mazda’s 2.5-litre turbo engine retains the same 170kW and 420Nm peak outputs as before, and tied to the same six-speed automatic.

It’s an engine designed more for effortless torque with a big body to lug around. Still, if you do find you need to swiftly overtake or duck into a gap in traffic, it’s happy to oblige.

The engine is smooth and rarely noisy, the transmission is fluid and changes gears pretty calmly, If you plan to go rural, and cover gravel roads or wet areas often, the AWD would be the way to go, but FWD does the job in most situations, especially if you stay urban.

Inside the cabin is as serene as you’ll find. Road and wind noise are well managed, so long trips should be hassle- and fatigue-free.

The ride is comfy, even on the 20-inch wheels of all the cars along for the launch. There are still a few jiggly moments on rough roads, but for the most part, the ability to shrug off choppy rural roads and smooth out speed humps in town is pretty impressive.

All this in a package that, although obviously large, still doesn’t instantly feel like a soulless bus. There’s not really any sporting verve, but the handling is tidy, and its performance is up to the task with a little room to spare.

By Mazda’s reckoning, the CX-9 should use 8.4–9.0L/100km of fuel on the combined cycle. At launch, and with a variety of drivers behind the wheel, and a few stops with the AC left running, the cars showed between 10.9 and 11.4L/100km – still solid for the size and weight category.

On the safety front, all models include six airbags (including full-length curtain airbags), blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, tyre pressure monitoring, front and rear autonomous emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, rear-view camera, rear park sensors, and rear cross-traffic alert.

Above that list, the Azami and LE add in 360-degree cameras, but otherwise the range comes fairly comprehensively equipped. Seven-seat models feature three top-tether seat mounts, six-seaters have two, but either configuration offers a pair of ISOFIX points.

A carryover five-star ANCAP safety rating from 2016 remains in place. As does a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and capped-price servicing.

At the end of the day, Mazda hasn’t rewritten the rule book with the CX-9. A lick of black paint and a revised seating layout don’t mark segment-shifting changes.

Already a solid effort in the segment, spacious inside, well presented in and out, and with a strong equipment list that covers everything from safety to luxuries, the 2021 additions serve as enticing icing atop an already rich cake.