Australians love SUVs. Fortunately, when it comes to shopping down the large-SUV aisle, consumers are spoiled for choice. It's a booming and ever-growing segment with brands constantly having to refresh their models to remain competitive.
Mazda, like many, accounts for two models in this category in the CX-8 and CX-9. We tested the CX-8 – one of the more stylish options in the saturated segment, and a nameplate that's come a long way since it debuted in 2018 with only two specs on offer, both packing diesel engines. Fast-forward to 2021 and the range is endless, offering a total of 11 variants.
Our model on test is the 2021 Mazda CX-8 Asaki LE, which sits atop the CX-8 line-up. It's packed with a 2.2-litre turbocharged diesel engine paired to a six-speed automatic transmission and drives all four wheels. This range-topper starts at $69,290 excluding on-road costs. Our CX-8 included floor mats at $303.45, with a total on-test cost of $69,593.
The Asaki scores plenty of standard features, such as a 7.0-inch driver display, nappa leather interior, cooled front seats and a heated steering wheel, while the Asaki LE swaps out the second-row bench seat for two heated captain’s chairs and a bespoke centre console with cupholders and USB.
Reviewing rivals in this segment, it may come as no surprise that the Toyota Prado leads the pack. However, there are perhaps more fitting competitors in the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace and Hyundai Santa Fe. The Volkswagen will leave some extra money in your pocket by coming in considerably lower than the CX-8 at $54,690 (140TDI diesel, all-wheel drive).
The Hyundai Santa Fe's pricepoint sits in the middle of the two, with the range-topping Highlander costing $61,660 – also diesel and all-wheel drive. These prices exclude on-roads.
|2021 Mazda CX-8 Asaki LE|
|Engine||2.2-litre turbo diesel engine|
|Power||140kW at 4500rpm|
|Torque||450Nm at 2000rpm|
Jumping into the Mazda CX-8, the first thing you'll notice is its comfort. All elements are at a perfect height, including the driving position – entering and exiting are effortless, and the gear lever sits within perfect reach.
Under the bonnet lies that hero 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine that punches out 140kW at 4500rpm of power and 450Nm at 2000rpm of torque. Unlike many diesels I've driven in the past, the Mazda is pleasantly on the quiet side. Hitting the road, it doesn't feel chunky or like a large SUV in the slightest, being that it's the same width as the CX-5 (1840mm) – this simply assists with manoeuvring in and out of tighter turns.
The CX-8 can be commended for its steering that weights up nicely. What's more, its handling feels poised and precise making turns undemanding, while there's plenty of grip around corners, especially with the 19-inch wheels. You may notice some sharper bumps in the road, but overall it absorbs imperfections with ease.
Pedal response is immediate, and the turbo provides ample power that we only had to go searching for on a few occasions. Click it over to Sport mode and you'll notice that extra spring in its step. This Mazda is torquey and compliant right up into the outer edges of the rev range.
The ride along freeways was smooth, with the ride height, nappa leather seats and head-up display all adding to the overall driving experience. Visibility is near perfect assisted by its large mirrors, and worthy of a mention is the CX-8's impressive reversing camera with surround-view monitor that was clear and super convenient while parking – one of the best I've come across.
The diesel option is obviously the more efficient choice with Mazda claiming 6.0L/100km combined, while we weren't far off recording 6.6L/100km on test.
|Fuel use, claimed||6.0L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||6.6L/100km|
|Towing capacity (braked)||2000kg|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars|
Step inside and you get the range-topping treatment. The first thing that may catch your eye is that soft and luscious-looking nappa leather. Ours was kitted out in Chroma Brown, while the remainder of the cabin is mainly black with chrome accents that worked well. The overall feel in the interior is plush and exceeded my expectations.
Storage is generous. The centre console is flip-open, which I liked, so if you have a larger item you can leave one side open. There are two cupholders up front with door bins big enough to fit larger drink bottles, and you score a wireless charger plus two USB ports up front.
The infotainment is a 10.25-inch widescreen infotainment system that is not a touchscreen. I didn't mind this at all. I personally have become quite accustomed to tools such as BMW iDrive controllers, even Lexus's touch interface that I find rather nifty. The Mazda offers a large scroller in the console and a volume button to the left, which I found rather convenient, but each to their own. There's always the bank of buttons on the steering wheel if that isn't your cup of tea.
The second row looks super chic with the clever addition of the stylish captain's chairs. The room and the feel are first-class. That's the best way to explain it – imagine being upgraded from economy to first class, and this is exactly how you feel as a passenger in the second row. Leg room is exceptional and the recline on the seats is a step above. Everyone I showed this to was impressed and sat in the back feeling like, I'll use the word, a 'baller'. The addition of these chairs is genius.
Passengers get door maps and door bins, which are unfortunately rather narrow but they do have cupholders. The centre console is enormous and offers a surprise slide-out compartment. The second-row passengers are also treated to a dedicated air-conditioner and two USB ports. If you get a choice, ride here.
Access to the third row is easy, and as there is a centre console rather than that extra seat, the space feels a lot larger. The back row acquires some storage on either side, a cupholder and a USB port each. However, you feel like you've been bumped to economy back here with toe and leg room a little squishy. Like all six- and seven-seaters, it's not somewhere you'd put your hand up to sit for long trips, but it's doable.
Boot space in the Mazda CX-8 is 209L, but fold the third row flat and you get a whole 775L, which is huge.
One thing to note is the sunroof that comes standard, but is small in size. It's a shame that only those up front really get to enjoy it and other occupants are left in the dark, so to speak.
In the way of safety, the CX-8 is fitted with plenty and it's all standard, such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking, a reversing camera, traffic sign recognition and rear parking sensors.
The Mazda CX-8 has a five-star ANCAP safety rating and has been awarded a 10/10 by How Safe is Your Car.
This Mazda comes with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Mazda’s capped-price program provides services at 12-month or 10,000km intervals. The first five visits cost a total of $2071, but owners who travel more than 10,000km per year may have to add in an extra service to their count.
I've been racking my brain wondering where this car fits and why people would purchase this over the popular CX-9. It's a tricky one. It's pricey, and is really not that much cheaper than its older sibling. In theory, you'd say that this Mazda is a more expensive version, long-wheelbase CX-5.
The way I see it, it's niche, yes, but this Mazda answers the brief if you want a car with more leg room, an extra-urban tourer with a great engine, and can't afford those European luxury SUVs – this is it.
This middle child works really well as a four-seater with a large boot, but is perhaps not the greatest choice for cramming in kids on the daily. If that's on your wish list, then you're better off with the CX-9.