Two years ago I wrote an Owner Review of my 2015 Mercedes C250d, ending by saying, “Maybe when it's time for an SUV (I think we all need to admit it's inevitable...), I'd be very happy for the updated C-Class sedan to replace my Lexus". Well fast-forward a year and here I am writing about my first SUV, a Mazda CX-9 Azami AWD, which ended up replacing my trusty Lexus IS250, whilst we kept the Merc.
Some context: A house move last year, which meant the kids could no longer walk or ride to their friends’ houses, necessitated transporting more than five people on an occasional basis. Plus, a planned road trip to Tasmania with extended family seemed like a perfect trigger to upgrade.
And I think what better way to review a large SUV than in the context of a 6 person, 3 state, 4000 kilometre road trip?
There have been lots of professional car reviews on the CX-9, and not surprisingly, what they say is what I’ve experienced in the first 6 months of ownership.
On the positive side: The car is indeed very refined, in fact surprisingly so given it’s been a Mazda bugbear over the last decade, and I’ve come from a Lexus. You can still tell it’s a 4-cylinder turbo lugging around 2 tonnes, but it goes well enough in the city and on the freeway. Inside, it is really spacious and I reckon the dash and materials are better than the Merc C-Class.
On the negative side, the rear-view camera is poor, the new digital display doesn’t really offer any better functionality, and for what is a family car, the oddment space in the front and centre console is too small – the lowly-placed air vents and climate controls are definitely a case of form over function.
Now to the roadtrip and some finer aspects of living with the car:
We seated 3 adults and 3 kids under 14 in a 2-2-2 arrangement, given we used a roof pod. That would have allowed easy access to the centre armrest, USB ports and air vents were it not for us cramming as much luggage as possible. B-pillar mounted air vents and third row vents should be standard fitments in a 7-seat SUV.
Fitting the roof rack is pretty easy, but I’ve seen cleaner solutions for other cars that don’t require drilling thru the plastic sill cover and replacing it with ill-fitting nodules when not in use.
Getting in an out is easy of the third row is easy, and the space in the back row is more than enough for 140cm kids when the middle row is all the way forward. Even then, adults are still comfortable enough in the second row because of the high set seats, which afford a great view ahead. The only improvement would be a full-length sunroof which would increase the airiness in all rows.
The keyless locking/unlocking is basic – no ability to lock/unlock from the rear doors, and you need to press the button on the front door handles to unlock. There is also no lock button on the auto-bootlid, so you can’t just hit the boot's close button and go. On the plus side, the auto-locking feature when you leave the vehicle is great, though like many of the Mazda’s clever features and settings, they could still be clever-er. Like having a setting to “not lock the car if GPS recognises you’re at home”.
Also, the over-speed warnings (which you can preset to 0, +5 and +10) are either a visual display in the Head-Up Display (HUD) speed limit, or an audible warning. The visual warning is too small, but the audible warning volume can’t be adjusted, so your passengers know every time you go through a school zone outside school hours (yet the school zone alert itself is smart enough to only play during school hours?!). The HUD is excellent, which makes the dash’s basic digital display functions even more disappointing and redundant.
Out on the road, the Active Cruise Control has been disappointing compared to the excellent Merc system – the CX-9 will increase speeds up to 5km/h downhills before braking, then drop to around 8km/h below the speed before accelerating again. I thought Mazda would have done better. From a positive perspective, it can be set with a single push, and there is the option to revert to a non-active setting if you’re on a sparse freeway for an extended period and don’t want to inadvertently slow down when approaching a car ahead.
Not that the cruise control got much use on Tasmania’s roads! Outside of the main Devonport-Launceston-Hobart highway, the roads are scenic, windy and well-sealed. Lots of fun, even in a 2-tonne SUV with six people aboard! Just watch out for the wildlife, especially after sunset. The Mazda’s LED headlights were well up to the task, and the auto-high beam works well, so fortunately we didn’t contribute to the massacre of possums, wombats and wallabies we saw everywhere.
In summary, I highly recommend the CX-9, and a roadtrip around Tasmania - and in light of the current environment - I’m sure there will be many more family road trips within Australia in the years to come.
NOTE: We have used CarAdvice review photos with this story.