Car reviews - Mazda - CX-9 - GT FWD
Linear powerplant, connectivity options, cabin space and quality feel, chassis poise
Room for improvement
Rear vents for third row, no auto-locking function, infotainment quirks, kerb weight reduced but still lardy
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28 Nov 2016
Price and equipment
SLOTTING in beneath the top-spec Toyota Kluger, the GT wears a $57,390 pricetag, which is a $4000 slice from the price of the GT all-wheel drive.
The penultimate model in the CX-9 range has a head-up display, an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen (that also has a knob setup between the front seats for control once underway), a total of four USB sockets (two in the rear armrest console that are power-supply only), keyless entry and ignition, tri-zone climate control with middle row vents (but none for the third row), 12-volt power outlets front and rear, an electric park brake, conventional cruise control (adaptive cruise control is only on the top-spec Azami), trip computer and power-adjustable and heated front seats with a memory function for the driver.
The Bose audio system is equipped with 12 speakers, and the infotainment system features digital radio reception, as well as Pandora, aHa and Stitcher internet radio app integration, Bluetooth and USB inputs for the sound system, but for some reason the Mazda infotainment systems still argue with some Apple products.
Plugging a power-hungry iPhone into a USB port after the car has been started may well charge the device but any music offering will have to be played through the Bluetooth, which limits search options once up and running, the sound system does generate admirable amounts of quality noise.
Mazda claims the cabin of the new-gen model offers comparable space for occupants despite being – at 5075mm long – 31mm shorter than the superseded model, thanks in part to a 55mm increase in wheelbase and a 33mm increase in width.
The seatbacks have been slimmed down for less legroom intrusion for middle-row passengers and that allows a tall driver to sit behind their own driving position.
The test car had the optional light-coloured leather interior instead of the black trim for the comfortable cabin and it’s a pleasant change to the eye the overall appeal of the cabin is strong, with a quality feel.
The sliding second and third row (which folds into the boot floor) both offer ample space, with limber adults able to occupy the third row, provided AFL ruck or NBL basketball isn’t their profession cup, bottle and knick-knack door pocket storage across all three rows is decent and only the absence of ventilation will be a complaint.
There is a small but useful amount of luggage space behind them, although the change in wheelbase and shorter rear overhang has reduced that to 230 litres, a 37 litre decrease.
Luggage space with the third row folded has also dropped – 810 litres down from 928 – but its still a decent cargo bay for the family hound or a stack of school bags.
The driver gets a sharp three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel and a comprehensive instrument panel, aided by an adjustable head-up display that even pops up a blind spot warning icon when required.
One of the few cabin complaints is the touchscreen’s reflection in the windscreen at night, which is inconveniently placed and something of a distraction.
Middle-row passengers are well catered for, with their own climate controls and two USB slots for power supply only, as well as manual sunblinds to keep the sun from obscuring the power-hungry devices plugged into the USBs.
Engine and transmission
Following the tyre tracks of its smaller SUV sibling, the CX-5, the 9 is now powered by a SkyActiv powerplant, a new 2.5-litre direct-injection 16-valve (with variable control) turbo-petrol four-cylinder which lays claim to useable torque equivalent to a four-litre V8.
Peak power is 170kW at 5000rpm and torque of 420Nm at 2000rpm, fed in this case to the front wheels by the SkyActiv six-speed auto, which continues to impress with its direct feel and decent decision-making in Normal or Sport mode.
The official fuel economy figure of 8.4 litres per 100km for the front-driver (or 8.8L if you went for the AWD model), thanks in part to a quick and clever idle-stop fuel-saver system, would result in a decent touring range from the 72-litre tank, which grows by two litres in the all-wheel-drive model.
Our time in the car yielded a thirst of 12.2L/100km, which reflected the hefty 1858kg kerb weight (down 90kg in the front drive and 130kg in the AWD model thanks to more high tensile steel and aluminium bonnet and guards) but it’s a lightweight compared to the likes of Toyota’s two-tonne Kluger.
The linear power delivery of the turbo four offers low-down torque but it has a preference for higher engine revolutions to get underway at anything other than a genteel pace.
That naturally-aspirated engine feel comes from the dynamic pressure turbo system – claimed as a world first by Mazda – which tailors the exhaust pressure flow depending on the engine speed to offset lag and produce linear power delivery, although the sharpish throttle could be dampened down a little.
Once into its stride the CX-9 is swift and almost enthusiastic (particularly if Sport mode is selected) on tight and twisty roads, although the front-drive model requires judicious throttle use if the electronic nursemaids are to left undisturbed.
The turbo four quietens down nicely once up and cruising on the open road and will deliver strong in-gear acceleration, thanks in no small part to the ‘hooked-up’ nature of the automatic.
Ride and handling
The zoom-zoom mantra is top of mind for Mazda engineers it seems, as the suspension is clearly tailored to keep the bodyroll in check – which it does reasonably well – without impacting spinal bone structure on sullied road surfaces.
Firm ride with a level of compliance is the order of the day, so the larger intrusions are dealt with well, leaving smaller imperfections to disturb a little but not beyond the segment norms.
Steering is well-connected and remains mostly unruffled, at least until bigger bumps and throttle conspire mid-corner to spark some disturbance through the wheel, but for the most part the CX-9 points with more poise than something this size should.
Tighter bends do test the resistance to understeer and it can be coaxed wide, but not at a pace that’s going to please any passengers along for the ride.
While the electronics do keep the drive civilised, there’s a personal preference for all-wheel drive with rear-wheel involvement in bends – torque vectoring as rolled out to other Mazda models is likely to be added to the CX-9 down the track.
The change in dimensions has brought about an increase in the turning circle and while it’s not the worst in the segment at 11.8 it’s not the best either, so tight U-turns need to be contemplated with caution.
Safety and servicing
While the GT misses out on the adaptive function for the standard automatic LED headlights, as well as driver attention alert, lane keep-assist and departure warning systems, forward obstruction warning and smart brake support, the list of standard safety features does have a forward collision warning and what Mazda calls Smart City Brake Support (forward and reverse), blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert – which shows up on a head-up display that is still visible through sunglasses equipped with polarised lenses.
Standard fare also includes six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability (including traction and trailer sway function) control, blind spot monitoring, two ISOFIX and four tether anchor points (three on the middle row and one on the third row LH side seat), front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, roll stability control, seat belt warnings front and rear.
The GT’s daytime running lights are halogen (not LEDs like the Azami) but it gets LEDs for the front fog and rear tail-lights also on the list are rain sensing wipers and an auto-dimming centre mirror.
The Mazda falls short of some of the key opposition in terms of warranty and service – three years and unlimited kilometres is the factory warranty (the Kia offers seven years) and service intervals (although covered by a capped-price service schedule) are 12 months or 10,000km.
The absence of a diesel in the CX-9 range won’t see too many crying in the streets and the new SkyActiv drivetrain is a flexible and appealing setup, qualities reflected in the rest of the vehicle.
The Mazda’s road manners score it plenty of points and the bolder snout gives it road presence it can carry a large crew without comfort complaints and wears a pricetag that puts it within sight of the Koreans and below its Japanese competition.
Toyota Kluger Grande 2WD from $64,075 plus on-road costs
The segment yardstick for those not looking to get off the beaten track from the brand that built its reputation in that very realm, the Kluger is a large, well-equipped kid-carter that delivers refined cruising and space, but it’s now under siege from the rest of the rivals here as well as the Mazda, all of which offer plenty for less cash.
Kia Sorento Platinum CRDi from $55,990 plus on-road costs
One of the more impressive offerings from the fast-improving Korean brand, the Sorento has shed some (but not all) of its 4WD-ing credentials in favour of the school run but has done so with good results. Well-featured and backed by a class-leading warranty and service schedule, the diesel-only drivetrain might lose it some favour but it should be on any shopping list in this segment.
Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander from $57,090 plus on-road costs
The other side of the Korean coin is also a diesel-only proposition in this price bracket, but the Santa Fe has retained some small semblance of an AWD “dirt-track cowboy.” Also well-priced, the Santa Fe is not short on gear and scores well with a five-year warranty.
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