Car reviews - Mazda - CX-8 - Sport AWD
Doesn’t look or feel as big as it is, amazing level of standard equipment, rides and handles beautifully, smooth and powerful engine, one of the safest cars you can buy today
Room for improvement
Questionable upholstery choice, poor front seat comfort and adjustment, third row lacks headroom and ventilation, gloomy black headlining
Trading in a Ford Territory? Mazda’s splendid CX-8 might be the seven-seater for you
1 Oct 2018
IT’S well known that Mazda is the brand Aussies head for when spending their own hard-earned cash, and that Aussies are in love with the SUV right now.
Enter the CX-8, which joins the critically acclaimed CX-3, CX-5 and CX-9 – sitting just below the latter in both size and price.
Like the CX-9, the newcomer offers seven seats but unlike its larger, petrol-only showroom stablemate, the CX-8 is powered by a diesel engine.
It’s a funny thing, the CX-8, like a stretched CX-5 with a few CX-9 bits thrown in for good measure.
But it has a distinct character, and one we like very much.
Price and equipment
The CX-8 range is pretty simple, opening at $42,490 plus on-road costs for the Sport in front-wheel-drive guise, while the all-wheel-drive Sport tested here is $4000 extra. Then there is a huge $15,000 leap to the Asaki range-topper, at $61,490 plus on-roads.
We were pretty stunned by the value-for-money packed into the Sport when we first climbed in. There’s a head-up display, tri-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring and intelligent road sign recognition for starters.
The 7.0-inch multimedia screen has in-built satellite navigation and DAB+ digital radio reception plus the usual Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary inputs plus visuals from the reversing camera. No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto yet, though. The wipers and headlights are automatic, the door mirrors fold automatically and there are rear parking sensors and push-button start.
Marking out the Sport as a base variant are the too-small 17-inch alloy wheels, cloth upholstery of questionable design and a so-so six-speaker audio set-up.
For your extra $15,000, the Asaki comes with Nappa leather interior (in brown), a 10-speaker Bose premium sound system, electric front seat adjustment, heated front- and second-row seating (plus a heated steering wheel), a 360-degree camera system, front parking sensors, sun blinds in the rear doors, a powered tailgate, adaptive headlights and LED daytime running lights, and more proportional-looking 19-inch alloys.
In addition to the standard driver assist tech already mentioned, all CX-8 variants pack forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning and Intelligent Speed Assistance, which Mazda claims is unique to the Australian market and combines live traffic data with the traffic sign recognition system to alert the driver of temporary speed restrictions.
Premium paint finishes comprise our car’s stunning Soul Red Crystal and Machine Grey, at a reasonable $300 extra.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: Mazda’s choice of upholstery in the CX-8 Sport sucks. It’s almost bad enough to make you go away and save the extra $15K for an Asaki and its Nappa leather. Perhaps that’s the point.
Another reason to consider the hefty upgrade is seat comfort. The ratchet-style manual adjustment in the Sport, like so many similar systems in other cars, forced us to sit either too reclined or too upright. The front seats felt oddly narrow and they lacked thigh support. This could not be addressed by adjusting the squab angle as there is no seat tilt function on the Sport.
But the Asaki shares the black headlining of the Sport, which lends a gloominess to the cabin. At least you can have light-coloured leather, although this selection might be asking for trouble if you fill your CX-8 with children.
That’s the limit of our interior whinge, really. Unsurprisingly the CX-8 shares a similar lack of rear-row headroom with the CX-9 but we thought headroom in the middle row was a bit better in the CX-8 compared with the oddly high-set seats in the CX-9.
Another similarity is the lack of dedicated air-con vents for rearmost passengers, who must rely on airflow from the knee-height vents in the middle, or whatever reaches them from the dashboard vents up front.
Both seven-seat Mazda models provide enough legroom for six-footers to sit in tandem in all three rows, provided the sliding middle row is perfectly positioned and not reclined too much. The humped middle seat in the central row eats into headroom somewhat and is not the most comfortable – but this if far from unusual. There is no recline function at the very back, and toe room is limited there too.
But thanks to five child seat anchorages and two sets of Isofix you can fill this family wagon with five infants if you are prolific at procreation.
Small glovebox aside, storage in the CX-8 is pretty good. A big centre console box that is similar in appearance and function to the CX-9 contributes a lot to that, while a roomy tray under the climate control panel is handy for phones and sunglasses. The USB sockets are under the central armrest, though, leading to trailing wires if you keep the phones up front.
There is a dedicated sunglasses case in the ceiling, but unlike several seven-seaters on the market it does not double as a conversation mirror for keeping an eye on puny passengers.
Door bins are well-sized all round and capable of holding 750ml bottles. There are two cupholders per row – provided nobody is sitting in the middle position of the central bench and preventing the armrest from folding down. In the armrest are two 2.1A USB charging outlets with enough grunt to keep tablets topped up.
With all three rows of seats in use, the boot is a little small at 209 litres, but there are three handy underfloor compartments to extend that a little. With the third row stowed there is a decent 742L of room (packed to the ceiling) and while Mazda does not quote capacity with all rear seats folded, we deployed this option to carry some large items of flat-pack furniture and were amazed at how long the load bay was. The CX-8 pretty much turned into a van in this configuration.
A 12V power outlet is situated in the front passenger footwell and another is located in the boot. The CX-8, then, should cater well for device-dependent families.
Less device-friendly is the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – for now – and the 7.0-inch media screen looks puny on the CX-8’s big dashboard, especially when screens of at least 8.0-inches seem to be de rigeur these days.
If you’re used to Mazda’s MZD Connect control software you’ll be fine, but newcomers to the brand will take a week or two of acclimatisation. The system is pretty full-featured and responsive enough, just the layout, interface and combination of rotary controller and touchscreen operation can be a bit baffling – especially when trying to stream music or podcasts via Bluetooth or USB.
Mazda’s head-up display, however, is excellent and we noticed the Intelligent Speed Assistance system at work, providing updates around roadworks and even school zones during 40km/h hours. The adaptive cruise control also works brilliantly, even in stop-start traffic. Lane-keep assist is reactive to drifting toward lane markings rather than proactively keeping the car centred, but pretty effective overall.
Apart from dark ceiling and dodgy velour/streaky-looking synthetic cloth combo on the seats, the CX-8 cabin is as pleasant as any Mazda. And by that we mean very. Quality plastics, a great-feeling steering wheel, lots of stitched-effect squidgy surfaces and switchgear that is satisfyingly tactile. Everything looks and feels consistent, too. We can’t say that about many Japanese car interiors, but Mazda gets this stuff spot on.
We were also mightily impressed with how quiet the CX-8 was on the move. Granted, from cold start there is no mistaking this for anything other than a diesel vehicle, but road noise even on the coarsest of coarse-chip bitumen roads on our test circuit was impressively well-suppressed. You’d struggle to hear the engine at a cruise, either, and even when revved it never gets offensively loud.
Engine and transmission
All CX-8s have a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine under the bonnet, sending drive via a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. Our example, and the top-spec Asaki, send power to all four wheels.
Peak power of 140kW comes in at 4500rpm and maximum torque of 450Nm is delivered at 2000rpm. It’s not a 0-100km/h scorcher – it weighs almost two tonnes after all – but roll-on acceleration is gutsy and responsive, with hills, overtakes or motorway on-ramps dispatched in a way that feels muscular and relaxed. Round town, it’s really easy-going.
As mentioned in the interior section, noise from the engine is well-suppressed to a distant gravelly tone. In this sense it is superior to the disappointingly noisy Hyundai Santa Fe.
We enjoyed the engine’s smoothness and it is perfectly complimented by the six-speed auto that was as brilliantly effective as in any other Mazda we have tested, with quick ratio changes and a responsive kick-down.
During our dynamic test we used the manual gate and found the torquey diesel enabled us to maintain a higher gear through bends than expected, but left to its own devices the auto tended select one ratio higher than we would have done manually. But for 99 per cent of usage this automatic is best left alone in drive and there’s no sport mode.
Is the eight-speed unit in the Santa Fe and Kia Sorento better? Marginally, with the main advantages on motorways or twisty roads.
Combined fuel consumption is officially rated at 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres, but we got 8.0L/100km. That said our test vehicle had less than 600km on the clock when we collected it and we know cars tend to get more efficient when run in a bit.
Ride and handling
Is your Ford Territory getting a bit long in the tooth, but you love the way it drives and can’t find anything that comes close? The search is over. As soon as we pointed the CX-8 along a twisty stretch of road, those good Territory memories came flooding back.
The CX-8 doesn’t try to corner flat, it leans – initially more than anticipated – into a bend and then just soaks it up, exactly following the driver’s intended path. It is very controlled, confidence-inspiring and utterly unperturbed mid-corner by the worst excesses of Australia’s crappy road surfaces. Just like a Territory.
Something about the way it breathes and ever-so-gently rebounds over undulations, the weight, accuracy and smoothness of the steering, that initial but controlled body-roll, the well-judged interplay between throttle and steering inputs. It’s lovely. Did someone from Ford Australia’s chassis tuning department get a job at Mazda? The two companies were pretty tight-knit for several years…
Although it doesn’t look it, the CX-8 is a big car and it certainly looks under-wheeled on the Sport’s 17-inch alloys. But their chubby 65-section tyres no doubt contribute greatly to the delightful compliance we enjoyed during our week with this car. And probably the impressive lack of road noise.
It was dry during our test and while we got those tyres screeching, they held on remarkably well in keeping with the CX-8’s overall sense of surefootedness.
Talking of surefootedness, the all-wheel-drive system in this car was markedly better than that of the CX-9 we tested a few weeks prior. That car felt decidedly front-drive to the extent we questioned paying extra for the extra set of driven wheels, but the CX-8 felt almost Subaru-like in its levels of traction and drivetrain balance, including excellent performance on gravel.
Braking was excellent on both gravel and bitumen, too, with a pedal action so delightfully positive and feelsome – with some serious bite when hard deceleration was required – that we found ourselves enjoying the process of slowing the CX-8 down.
Mazda frequently gets all this enthusiast-friendly stuff right, which might seem irrelevant to most buyers of seven-seat SUVs. But it subtly makes the whole driving experience more enjoyable and makes you feel a bit better about what the hell happened to your younger self on the odd occasion that you get some alone time behind the wheel of your crumb-filled, chocolate-stained, slightly vomit-smelling family wagon.
Keep it up, Mazda. Love from Australia’s mums and dads.
Safety and servicing
The Mazda CX-8 can claim to be one of the safest cars you can buy in Australia today, having aced the latest and substantially toughened ANCAP crash tests with a five-star rating and impressive scores under each test criteria.
Under the new regime it scored 96 per cent for adult occupant protection, with 36.7 points out of 38. Child protection was rated as 87 per cent, while pedestrian protection was 72 per cent. It also got 73 per cent in the now more rigorous safety assistance category that tests detection and avoidance of collisions with other vehicle types, pedestrians and cyclists in various positions and situations both in day and night scenarios.
More good news comes in the form of a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty on new Mazdas sold from August 1, up from three years. Unlike a number of other brands, Mazda doesn’t include roadside assistance, charging from $99 per year for this cover.
Capped-price servicing is available on the CX-8, with maintenance required every 12 months or 10,000km and costing between $319 and $390 depending on interval. This does not include brake fluid (every 24 months or 40,000km at $69) or cabin air filter (every 40,000km at $91).
There is heaps to like about the Mazda CX-8, although to our eyes it looks a little ungainly with its hybrid CX-5/CX-9 looks and the tiny wheels of the Sport variant tested here. That mixture of medium and large SUV carries through to the interior as well, with too-small front seats either side of a chunky CX-9-style centre console. And the less said about that seat upholstery the better.
Still, the CX-8 is truly value-packed, especially now the warranty is five years, and it has meaningful levels of safety and driver assistance tech that distracted, frazzled parents will be ever grateful for. And in case the worst happens, there is the peace of mind that ANCAP rated this car so highly.
Parents will also be grateful for the quiet ride it provides – when kids are at school, daycare or even better, sleeping – as this is the most impressively hushed Mazda we’ve driven since time immemorial.
And when those child-free journeys happen to include a twisty road, the CX-8 doesn’t disappoint there either.
That’s a lot of boxes ticked, but make sure you can live with those front seats before you commit.
Kia Sorento Sport diesel ($48,490 plus on-road costs)
A brilliant combination of space, solidity and specification – plus that seven-year aftercare package. It is a couple of grand more expensive than the Mazda tested here but you get goodies such as leather, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, electric driver’s seat adjustment and keyless entry in lieu of the CX-8’s excellent head-up display.
Mazda CX-9 Sport FWD ($44,990 plus on-road costs)
Just putting it out there. If you’re not desperate for a diesel, the petrol-only CX-9 does feel more cohesive than the CX-8 and it now comes with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and adaptive cruise control across the range. We would save money and go for the front-drive variant – the AWD setup felt a bit useless during our test.
Hyundai Santa Fe Active diesel ($46,000 plus on-road costs)
All new and fresh on the market, the new Santa Fe promises a lot but has less space than the CX-8 for third-row passengers, a disappointingly noisy diesel engine and struggles in the value-for-money stakes as Hyundai pitches itself further and further upmarket.
Toyota Kluger GX 4WD ($48,500 plus on-road costs)
Compared with the sweet-steering CX-8, the Kluger’s roly-poly round-town ride is unacceptable. Toyota has recently added a heap of safety and driver assistance tech across the Kluger range but Mazda’s tech simply works better. Where the Toyota wins is space and practicality from its plush interior. The V6 is thirsty round town but surprisingly frugal on long open road journeys.
Nissan Pathfinder ST AWD ($45,490 plus on-road costs)
Another petrol-only affair (although a curious supercharged petrol-electric hybrid is available), the Pathfinder is generously sized with an epic cupholder count. An update did raise the rather low dynamic bar somewhat but it still lags behind the best in many areas, especially in terms of interior presentation and quality.
The Road to Recovery podcast series
All car reviews
Click to share