MAZDA Australia has a strong line-up when it comes to its crossover offerings, with the CX-3 playing in the small space, the fan-favourite CX-5 dominating the mid-size segment and the petrol-only CX-9 available to large SUV buyers.
Australia’s second-most popular car-maker has introduced a new player to the game, with the all-new CX-8 sitting between the CX-5 and CX-9 in size and price, and offering the former’s 2.2-litre diesel engine and the latter’s seven-seat capacity.
Now better able to take the fight to the likes of the Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento and Peugeot 5008 – which all offer diesel alternatives next to petrol variants – Mazda is aiming for about 3000 CX-8 sales in the first 12 months on sale, but is the smaller large SUV a compelling enough substitute for the excellent CX-9?
Available in three flavours at launch, Mazda’s CX-8 kicks off at $42,490 before on-roads for the front-wheel-drive Sport, with all-wheel-drive adding another $4000 to the price.
Moving up to the flagship AWD Asaki however, Mazda asks for an additional $15,000 at $61,490, quite a stretch for a variant with the same powertrain and it’s not like the entry-level versions lose out on any major features either.
Sport versions come loaded with gear, with a list including high-end equipment such as a head-up display, 7.0-inch MZD infotainment touchscreen, satellite navigation, and automatic headlights and wipers.
Mazda hasn’t skimped on the safety stuff either, with blind-spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic-sign recognition, and high-beam and lane-keep assist all as standard.
What do you get for the extra $15,000-$19,000 spend in the top-spec Asaki then? 19-inch wheels replace 17-inch hoops, Nappa leather interior finished in white or brown instead of black cloth, a power-operated tailgate, a 10-speaker sound system up from six, in-cabin wood trim, front parking sensors, keyless entry, a 360-degree surround-view monitor, rear door sunshades, heated seats for the front and second rows, heated steering wheel, front foglights and LED daytime running lights.
We’ll leave it up to you whether you think the price of a Mazda2 is worth the extra equipment, but it’s great to see such a long list of equipment included at no extra cost in a range-opening Sport grades. Kudos to Mazda.
However, the smaller 17-inch wheels perceptibly improved ride comfort and reduced road noise, making for a more cosseting driving experience.
Mazda however, hasn’t quite solved the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) issues, despite unique damping components in the CX-8. Maybe it’s the noisier diesel engine or Australia’s often unforgiving road surfaces, but on more than one occasion we found our three-hour drive through Queensland less than serene.
Its good news then that the interior is absolutely top-notch, if somewhat indistinguishable from its smaller CX-5 sibling.
High-quality, soft-touch materials abound across both model grades, while Mazda has nailed the seating position, building controls ergonomically around the driver without sacrificing functionality or aesthetics.
The third row is useable, at least for people 170cm and under. Our taller 186cm frame found headroom a little cramped with our cranium fouling the roofline, but legroom was more than enough for our lanky pins. Of course, this space is for kids, not 30-year olds.
There is a bit of practicality back there too, with cupholders and storage nook, however the lack of third-row venting does compromise comfort.
We imagine as a part-time seven-seater – which is what Mazda is pitching the CX-8 as – the occasional third-row use will offer great flexibility and adaptability for small or growing families.
With all seats in place, the CX-8 will swallow 209 litres of luggage space, about enough for a few large duffle bags, but Mazda offers a clever underfloor storage cubby for items that may be prone to roll around while on the move (we’re looking at you apples!).
Fold seats six and seven flat and the capacious rear end will happily take a 747L load, while the second row can also be stowed nearly flat for an even greater capacity.
All versions are powered by the same 140kW/450Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine and six-speed torque converter automatic, which is a little more frugal in front-drive form returning a fuel economy figure of 5.7 litres per 100km, instead of the all-paw’s 6.0L/100km.
The engine, which is also offered in the CX-5 crossover and Mazda6 mid-sizer, is a real gem, offering smooth power delivery and a level of refinement rarely seen in mainstream diesels.
Although on-paper performance seems tepid with 0-100km/h times nearing 10 seconds, for general around town use, the CX-8 zips about with urgency and eagerness.
The six-speed transmission is also brilliant, holding gears when necessary and not afraid to kick down when you bury the right foot. A manual shifting option is also offered, but even in twisty country roads, we found it unnecessary.
Although it’s true that you could have a CX-9 if you really wanted a Mazda seven seater, the smaller dimensions of the CX-8 make it a less intimidating to drive, while introducing a diesel-powered large SUV into a segment dominated by oil burners is also a smart move.
With a look and feel that’s similar to the CX-5 and CX-9, the CX-8 will not change your mind if you are not a fan of Mazda SUVs, but overall it delivers an astoundingly likeable package.
Mazda has really honed its formula of well-built, driver-focused, semi-premium vehicles for a competitive price, and the CX-8 is certainly no exception, giving buyers more choice in the ever-expanding SUV space.
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