Car reviews - Mazda - CX-9 - range
Steering, handling, design, cabin, packaging, economy, refinement, ride, value, affordability
Room for improvement
No diesel option, no third-row airvents
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7 Jul 2016
WHO would have believed that a big and heavy SUV developed primarily for the US and Canadian markets would be arguably the most impressive of the post-Ford new-generation Mazda passenger cars?Engineered from the super-successful and competent CX-5 launched in 2012, the TC-series CX-9 benefits from nearly half a decade of extra gestation, and so it is a better vehicle as a result.
If that is hard to believe, consider that the 2018 next-gen CX-5 will leverage many of the learnings garnered from Hiroshima’s answer to the Toyota Kluger.
Though visually very similar to the preceding TB launched in late 2007, the newcomer is actually slightly shorter, and benefits aesthetically from a cab-forward silhouette with shorter overhangs and a wider track. This is one good-looking seven-seat SUV.
Pleasingly, there is no downside to the downsizing, since a lower floor and some packaging smarts ensure that there is ample space for an average-sized Australian male in the two-person third row. Mazda says it has worked diligently to improve entry and egress back there, and that, too, has come to pass.
More impressive is how roomy and inviting the second and first rows are, thanks to a very-MX-5 like dashboard, sidestepping the unnecessary bulk and complication inflicting many similar types of vehicles.
Sporty analogue instruments (with optional head-up display that at last reflects off the windscreen rather than a bitsy little piece of flappy Perspex), a great driving position, excellent ventilation, plenty of storage, and supportive front seats further boost our respect for the family-orientated Mazda. Only a rather crude glovebox fitment mars an otherwise lovely cabin ambience. Again, one of the brand’s best on offer.
However, all pale into the background when you consider how much quieter the CX-9 is on coarse bitumen. Finally, that constant, boomy drone that has been the companion of every modern Mazda has been banished, or at the very least, slashed, thanks to a thicker floorpan, three times as much sound deadening, and a general tightening up of gaps, seals, and structures. The company hints that this will be applied to every future model too, and for that we can all be grateful.
A welcome upshot is that the company’s long-desired premium aspirations can at last be realised, backed up by one of the most enjoyable and involving driving experiences in something resembling a seven-seater family bus.
For starters, the 2.5-litre four-pot turbo petrol is a peach, stepping off the line smartly, pulling forward eagerly, and leaving plenty in reserve for safe overtaking. In real-world, around-town commuting situations, the performance is as sparkling as it is refined. Mazda also promises the CX-9 is the most economical non-diesel or hybrid vehicle of its type in its class, placing a very delicious cherry on top of a sporty powertrain experience.
Just as heartening is the sharp steering, offering precision and feedback without feeling nervous or unsure. We drove both the front-drive and all-wheel drive variants in teeming rain, and felt that the chassis’ roadholding grip and composure were first class.
No longer does the Ford Territory monopolise the driving enthusiast in this segment.
Finally, something about the ride quality. Even on the 20-inch wheel and tyre combo, the short, sharp harshness that defines, say, the biggest-wheeled Mazda6 has been banished yes, the suspension is firm, but it is never punishing or uncomfortable, soaking up the bumps and irregularities like a well-engineered set-up should. That said, the standard 18-inch tyre spec is even better, gaining a suppleness that virtually every other seven-seater SUV (except, perhaps, the Territory) could never match without optional air suspension or trick electronic dampers. Our Japanese contender has neither and doesn’t suffer for it.
Our only real disappointment is that no manual is available – nobody would buy one of course, but this excellent crossover cries out for one. Oh, and Mazda’s beaut little 2.2-litre turbo-diesel would have made it complete. Oh well, we can’t have it all…So there you go – the latest CX-9 meets brand expectations for quality, value, economy, and practicality, and then smashes them to pieces with exceptional driver enjoyment, refinement, comfort, and design.
Of course, we now crave to spend more time in what we believe is the best modern Mazda passenger vehicle on sale, but until then, we implore you not to buy a Toyota Kluger, Nissan Pathfinder, Kia Sorrento, Hyundai Santa Fe, or Holden Captiva before sampling the latest CX-9 first. It is Hiroshima at its fiercest as well as finest.
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