The 2021 Mazda CX-8 has patiently waited in line for its turn at Mazda’s annual round of updates, and the result is a new CX-8 Touring SP variant.
The new Touring SP, as the name alludes to, is spun from the regular CX-8 Touring and sits just above it in the CX-8 range. Pricing starts from $47,790 plus on-road costs for the petrol front-wheel-drive model you see here, but an all-wheel-drive diesel is also available from $54,790. The only cost options are the Polymetal Grey pain shown here, otherwise the Machine Grey or Soul Red Crystal options, at $495.
The SP suffix adds $1000 to the regular Touring’s bottom line, and brings with it black 19-inch alloy wheels, black mirrors and a black grille insert on the outside. Interior changes include black honeycomb-pattern interior decor, black Maztex synthetic leather and synthetic suede, red contrast stitching on the seats and steering wheel, and second-row outer seat heating.
That’s over and above the regular CX-8 Touring haul of tri-zone climate control, auto LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding heated side mirrors, LED fog lights, front and rear parking sensors, power-adjustable front seats with heating, keyless entry and start, and one-touch walk-in access to the third row.
The regular Touring’s leather trim and 17-inch wheels are also swapped out with the upgrade.
While SP may have hinted at sportier models in Mazda’s past, it’s now firmly an appearance package, and one that tends to work pretty well with Mazda’s fairly handsome styling.
The CX-8 Touring SP also sticks with Mazda’s older-style 8.0-inch touchscreen with inbuilt navigation, Bluetooth, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability, a clickwheel console controller and six-speaker audio. High-grade models move to a more modern 10.25-inch widescreen infotainment system, but lose the sometimes handy touchscreen of the smaller unit.
|2021 Mazda CX-8 Touring SP petrol|
|Engine||2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||140kW at 6000rpm, 242Nm at 4000rpm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim, combined||8.1L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||9.7L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||209L / 775L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five-star (tested 2018)|
|Warranty||Five years, unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-9|
|Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)||$48,285|
Under the bonnet, the CX-8 continues with a non-turbo 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder engine, the same as it’s had since launch, with 140kW and 252Nm. Regular 91-octane petrol is all the CX-8 asks for, with official consumption rated at 8.1 litres per 100km, though on test we returned 9.7L/100km.
With seven seats' worth of space, an overall length of 4.9m on the dot, and a kerb weight of 1799kg before adding passengers, Mazda’s petrol engine may seem a little light on for outright grunt. In reality, it’s just fine for slinking around town.
In fact, the CX-8’s smooth six-speed torque converter auto, very linear engine performance, and well-insulated cabin work really well at keeping the cabin serene and passengers comfortable. It’s a very likeable package.
There are some sharper-shifting autos available, like the dual-clutch in a Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace or Skoda Kodiaq, or a more seamless CVT in something like a Mitsubishi Outlander or Nissan Pathfinder. The balance of user-friendliness and responsiveness in the CX-8 feels just right, though.
The big Mazda does have a bit of a battle on its hands. Most of its class rivals come with either a turbocharged four-cylinder or V6 petrol engine, which can leave the CX-8 feeling outgunned.
It still musters some energy when you need it to, but as you add bodies to seats, performance can be dulled right down. There is, at least, the more torquey (albeit expensive) option of a turbo diesel for those seeking more grunt.
Highway road noise is not as well managed as it is at commuter speeds. There’s no shortage of rear tyre roar that seeps into the cabin. Mazda has made great inroads into building quieter and calmer passenger spaces, but for long hours on the road, the rear roar can grate.
The same goes for the light and easy steering. It’s an absolute joy to pilot around town, and makes the CX-8 easy to park and dart through tight spaces in.
On the other hand, the steering on the open road can feel over-assisted. That lightness makes it easy to overestimate small line corrections, exaggerated by an on-centre alertness that’s a bit too lively for an SUV of this size and purpose.
Inside, the SP treatment delivers a dark and moody cabin that looks simultaneously inviting and ready for action. The suede-look seat coverings break up the blackness just enough, and the little glimpses of red stitching provide a touch of visual interest.
Mazda’s interior plushness holds up inside the CX-8. For something with a sub-$50K price, the CX-8 Touring SP looks and feels more like it could be from a prestige brand. Solid-feeling construction, nice consistent controls, and a very pleasing and logical layout help here.
As something that’s likely to find favour with families, it would be tremendous if Mazda could work in a touch more storage and versatility. That high centre console covers the basics between cupholders and console space. Underneath is all dead space, though – not storage, not a pass-through, and maybe not as useful as it really ought to be.
Still, the driver and front passenger will feel pretty luxe with a commanding view and broad, comfy seats.
The second-row seats might be the stars. Although, the CX-8 Touring SP keeps a three-person bench, unlike the glamorous captain’s chairs in the Asaki LE range-topper. With lots of leg room, the seats can slide back or forward to bring your little ones closer if needed, or keep their distance as they grow. Seat-heating switches and rear USB points are hidden in the armrest – handy for reducing clutter, but less ideal with a full complement of passengers.
There’s a reclining backrest and easy one-touch access to the third row with a flip-forward function to speed up loading.
The third-row seats are kid-sized. Adults can make them work – and to prove the point, I even squeezed a couple of six-foot-and-up passengers in each row behind each other – but by row three head room is a limiting factor.
The lightly raked rear of the CX-8 means short trips are easy to do in the back-back, but teens and tweens should have a much easier time of it. Top-tether child seat mounts can be found in the second and third rows.
Behind the tailgate there’s 209L of boot space with the third row up. Not the largest space, but good for up to three or four backpacks or grocery bags.
Fold the third row and there’s up to 775L of space, low-set bag hooks, but no cargo blind. There is a sliver of underfloor space, though, for keeping valuables from view.
At the SP level, safety and assist features cover a reversing camera with fixed guidelines, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, auto high-beams, traffic sign recognition, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and speed limiter linked to traffic sign recognition, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian recognition, and six airbags including head airbags that cover all three rows.
Owners are supported with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, plus five years of included roadside assistance.
Servicing is available under Mazda’s capped-price program at 12-month or 10,000km intervals. The first five visits run to $2071, but owners who travel more than 10,000km per year may have to add in an extra service to their tally.
With one or two extra features into the deal as a sweetener, the Touring SP doesn’t dramatically change things up alongside the regular CX-8 Touring. It adds in some of the more upscale appearance features that make it more appealing, though.
Interestingly, by being based on the Touring model, and not the GT in the way CX-5 and CX-9 SPs are, the meaner-looking CX-8 sits almost side-by-side with the five-seat CX-5 GT SP on price – $47,490 plus on-road costs for the AWD CX-5 against $47,790 for the front-wheel-drive CX-8.
The only way into a more powerful and slightly larger CX-9 for under $50,000 is the base-model Sport, which might be just a touch short on convenience features and added features for an aspirational SP buyer.
It’s a busy slice of the market for Mazda right there. Each of those sub-$50K models has its own little niche carved out, though, and it’s nice to see Mazda bestow some of the good-looking bits on a seven-seat model without busting the budget for family buyers.
All the while, the 2021 Mazda CX-8 Touring SP maintains a plush and comfy interior – especially in the first two rows – and a solid level of standard specifications, with enough versatility baked in to suit busy families.