Car reviews - Mazda - CX-9 - Touring
Smooth and quiet performance, great ride and handling blend, very spacious cabin, feels premium but for a mainstream price
Room for improvement
Petrol engine can be thirsty, third-row lacks air vents, missing active safety technology, getting expensive
As the Mazda SUV family expands, does the CX-9 Touring feel the squeeze?
29 Aug 2018
OPEN the automotive equivalent of a Babushka doll family, and something like the Mazda SUV breed would emerge. This makes no reference to styling sameness, but these days this CX-9 Touring could swallow the CX-3, CX-5 and CX-8 inside with space to spare.
Growing pains have therefore afflicted this seven-seat petrol-only CX-9, only two years old but already revised last year with reduced noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) measures, a new torque vectoring system for the chassis, plus more equipment all for a higher price. The changes are all there in order to, in particular, make room for the also-seven-seat, diesel-only CX-8.
Perhaps a smaller family looking for ultimate economy wants the latter, which is narrower and more affordable, but should a larger brood still cop the larger dimensions and higher fuel consumption of this larger Mazda SUV, tested here as a CX-9 Touring all-wheel drive middle model grade?
A new addition to the family certainly makes for renewed context and, possibly, a revised answer.
Mazda tickled up CX-9 pricing by $1400 last year, resulting in a $43,890 Sport, $50,290 Touring, $58,490 GT and $60,790 Azami quartet (all plus on-road costs). Both a digital radio and electric-fold door mirrors were added to the Sport, keyless auto-entry with push-button start and tilt for the electrically adjustable driver’s seat to the Touring, while all versions upgrade to autonomous emergency braking (AEB) that now detects pedestrians and works to 80km/h, up from 30km/h.
In each case all-wheel drive adds a further $4000, as-tested with this CX-9 Touring and which resulted in a $54,290 total.
However, a head-up display and electric tailgate are reserved for the CX-9 GT, while adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assistance are reserved for the CX-9 Azami, although this is expected to change with yet another imminent update to Mazda’s large SUV.
While the front seats are bulky and extremely cushy, there is still ample centre-row legroom when the 60:40 split-bench is positioned at its furthermost position. Yet this also provides the opportunity to slide each portion forward and increase third-row legroom, and both rear benches are nicely tilted upwards to aid under-thigh support. Headroom, too, is impressive, even for taller occupants.
Although all model grades get tri-zone climate control air-conditioning, however, none get third-row air vents, which proves the greatest disappointment. And considering how much smaller a (4.8m-long) Kia Sorento is, which does get them, the extra bulk of this Mazda does not ultimately result in a wholly larger cabin.
Australia is a curious country. On the one hand we like large SUVs that Europe rejects, but we want them with diesel engines that the US dislikes. And so the States-based CX-9 only scores a 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 170kW of power at 5000rpm and 420Nm of torque at 2000rpm.
The same is true with the petrol-only Toyota Kluger, which most aligns with this Mazda dimensionally, but at least its old-school naturally aspirated V6 engine is traded for a modern, downsized turbo here. The upshot is claimed combined cycle fuel consumption of 8.8 litres per 100 kilometres, 0.4L/100km higher than the front-wheel drive CX-9 but 0.7L/100km under the Toyota.
Allied with a smart and slick six-speed automatic transmission, this 2.5-litre petrol is indeed a smooth and sonorous engine that blends in well with Mazda’s finest overall NVH effort yet.
Ride and handling
The CX-9 is most harmonious on the 60-aspect 18-inch tyres of the Sport and Touring, rather than the 50-aspect, 20-inch rubber of the GT and Azami, enhancing ride quality to a level that can only be considered premium, not mainstream.
The new G-Vectoring control, which lightly brakes a particular wheel through corners to keep the vehicle neutrally balanced, cannot really be felt and that is a good thing. Instead, it simply feels staggeringly neutral where other large SUVs such as Kluger are pushy and lurchy.
Where the CX-9 most outpoints the CX-8, however, is not in terms of ride and handling that are mostly mirror-imaged over, but rather refinement. Even across coarse-chip surfaces, the hushed demeanour of this Touring helps makes it feel more sophisticated than its smaller diesel sibling.
Safety and servicing
Six airbags (including dual front, front-side and full-length curtain), ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), blind-spot monitor, forward and reverse autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, rear parking sensors, reversing camera and rear cross-traffic alert.
ANCAP has tested the Mazda CX-9 and it achieved five stars with 35.87 out of 37 points in 2017.
Below-average annual or 10,000km servicing intervals are capped-price at $332 for the first, third and fifth, and $375 for the second and fourth up until five years or 50,000km.
Where the CX-8 can feel just like an enlarged CX-5, the CX-9 continues to feel like its own thing and it is all the better for it. Ultimately it feels its size around town, and that does not entirely translate to the most efficient use of space and smarts, something the smaller Sorento excels at.
Mazda really needs to add third-row ventilation to all model grades, and an electric tailgate and adaptive cruise control to this Touring, while a nice-to-have would be diesel power because even this intelligently engineered turbo-petrol can still turn thirsty.
Otherwise, though, this is a staggeringly complete seven-seater that deserves both its place as the top Babushka doll of the Mazda SUV family, and a place on any large SUV shopping list.
Kia Sorento SLi diesel AWD from $50,490 plus on-road costs
Slightly smaller than CX-9, but brilliantly space-efficient inside and on-road thanks to smart diesel.
Toyota Kluger GXL from $58,890 plus on-road costs
Gargantuan interior, but lacks ride comfort, fuel efficiency and value of money.
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