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Car reviews - Mazda - CX-9

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Fresh Azami LE flagship and minor updates keep Mazda CX-9 at pointy end of its class

7 Sep 2018

IN OUR minds there is no doubt that the CX-9 is the best of the current SkyActiv range of passenger cars and SUVs, offering segment-leading comfort, performance, dynamics and design, wrapped in a value-focused package. 
Now Mazda has introduced a small array of improvements as well as a new flagship LE version of the Azami, broadening the appeal of an already likeable seven-seater large SUV. 
Drive impressions
Since its launch two years ago, the second-generation CX-9 has been widely acknowledged as both the greatest of the latest SkyActiv-era Mazdas as well as the best large seven-seater SUV on the market.
A far cry from the heavy and thirsty Ford-based predecessor launched in 2007, it’s a bit unexpected to learn that the Hiroshima-based company has seen fit to improve its class leader so soon, but fettle Mazda has.
Frankly, the changes are pretty minor – extra sound deadening to make the big SUV quieter, slight suspension changes to improve handling and ride qualities, more standard equipment including a significant safety upgrade and a fresh LE ‘Luxury Edition’ version of the range-topping Azami.
We’ll get to the LE in a moment, but for some people, the fact that the CX-9 is the first Mazda to adopt Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech is perhaps the most exciting news. Most other models will follow suit over the next 18 months.
Not huge changes then, just mild massaging of an already impressive machine. So, how does it feel and drive?
Mazda flew us to Tasmania to try the CX-9 on some of the state’s most beautiful roads, so we jumped into an Azami LE and were immediately struck by how much difference the newly-installed hand-stitched leather upholstery, natural wood inserts and aluminium trim make. 
While not everybody’s cup of tea, they do lift the ambience considerably, helping justify the reasonable $2500 premium it commands. You’ll never confuse the Japanese seven-seater for an Audi Q7 or Volvo XC90, but the quality and craftsmanship – as well as the ventilated seating and heated wheel that come with the LE is obvious.
Pretty much everything else is how we remember the Japanese seven-seater SUV to be – handsome styling, an attractive and sensible interior layout, involving steering and surprisingly gutsy performance. It’s also quiet and refined.
About the only other observation we can make is that the standard Sport 2WD felt significantly lighter and more agile than the Azami LE AWD. Was it because the former rode on 18-inch instead of 20-inch wheels? The steering felt more responsive and featured better feedback, the ride was suppler and it simply felt a bit smaller around the driver.
Other than that, it’s more of the same as far as this second-gen CX-9 is concerned. Given how many awards and accolades the series has won since July 2016, that’s no bad thing at all.

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