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Driven: Flagship Azami LE leads Mazda CX-9 update

Improved safety, refinement and kit denotes improved, but costlier, Mazda CX-9

7 Sep 2018

MAZDA Australia has introduced yet another round of tweaks to the petrol-powered CX-9 seven-seat SUV, with added safety and connectivity, a reduction in cabin noise, improved dynamics and a new Azami LE variant at the top of the range.
However, while some variants, such as the base Sport and mid-range Touring, gain more than $2500 of additional value, prices jump $1100, meaning the base front-drive Sport 2WD kicks off from $44,990 before on-road costs. 
Part of the extra cost is due to the addition of a head-up display digital instrumentation, the overdue arrival of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – a brand-first with MZD Connect – as well as adaptive cruise control on all variants. 
This is on top of more effective suspension dampers and more rigid steering components for improved steering, handling and ride characteristics, better engine mounts and thicker headlining for reduced vibration and noise in the cabin and auto-retracting exterior mirrors.
A more-complete suite of safety technology is now standard across the CX-9 range, including auto high beam and traffic-sign recognition, adding to the autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-keep and lane-departure warning, blind-spot alarm and rear-cross-traffic alert systems that rolled out in August 2017. 
The higher-grade Azami and the newly hatched Azami LE score a frameless interior mirror, ventilated front seats, a 360-degree multi-view camera as part of an upgraded 7.0-inch TFT LCD central screen and revised 20-inch alloy wheels. 
The Azami LE – which is loosely based on the US-market CX-9 Signature flagship – ushers in an overhead console, hand-stitched leather upholstery, real wood and unique aluminium trim inserts for what Mazda claims brings a softer and more tactile feel as well as more upmarket ambience to the cabin.
Mazda Australia marketing director Alastair Doak said the company introduced the Azami LE to provide a small but meaningful step up into the premium market without the cost of stretching to the more expensive European seven-seat SUVs such as the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90.
“The price gap to those (luxury European) cars is still significant,” he said. “When we first launched the current CX-9, we did get feedback from dealers that we saw a few of those customers coming in and buying, and that’s normal, so we may attract a few but we’re certainly not going out specifically targeting them.
“So, the fundamental target is the same as it always has been, so they will need to have a reasonable household income, and in Australia buying a seven-seater SUV is seen as something people need to do … falling in the more practical side of decision making, that people need seven seats. And some of those people may only need seven seats once or twice a month… but for them they say they still need seven seats.” 
Mr Doak said the changes to steering, suspension and refinement were not driven by customer concerns, rather, they were included because Mazda Motor Corporation (MMC) had set itself high internal goals.
“It’s more an internal thing, actually,” he said. “It’s something that MMC has decided to do, and they have been very keen to make these updates and they have done it for basically all of our cars across the range. As we’ve evolved safety and technology in particular, we’ve been keen to bring them to market as soon as possible and in as many models as possible.
“Also, things like changing philosophies around dynamics and suspension tuning we’ve been keen to bring to market … we like these updates coming out on a regular basis. It’s a good thing … it gets the stories out there, existing and new customers know that Mazda is doing things for them to consider during the purchase cycle.” 
Mr Doak also stressed that there was more than enough room in Mazda’s line-up for both the CX-9 and its closely related but slightly smaller and diesel-powered CX-8 seven-seat SUV sibling.
“We have CX-8 because of diesel engine, something that we don’t have on CX-9, and thus so far it’s working perfectly,” he said. “But CX-9 is still going to outsell the CX-8 – it has a much bigger range for a start, with many more models, while with the latter we are basically replicating what’s available with CX-8 in Japan that starts with a Sport and then up to a high-grade and nothing in between; when that happens, it minimises the appeal because there is a big walk between entry and high series.” 
Mazda is aiming for 6500 CX-9 sales in the next year, believing that the Azami duo will account for 38 per cent of total CX-9 volume, followed by the mid-range GT at 27 per cent.
The Touring is expected to snare around 25 per cent while the base Sport will make up just 10 per cent of registrations. All up, 57 per cent of sales will be of the 2WD versions.
Otherwise, the CX-9 remains the same as it has been since the second-generation TC-series launched in Australia in July 2016.
At 5075mm long, 1969mm wide and 1747mm high, the seven-seat SUV out of Japan is the largest vehicle to be built in Mazda’s SkyActiv chassis to date, and is closely related to the Mazda6 mid-sizer and CX-5 medium SUV, although only the former uses the CX-9’s powertrain, which remains unchanged for the MY19 update.
That means a transversely mounted 2.5-litre four-cylinder direct-injection turbo-petrol engine, delivering 170kW of power at 5000rpm and 420Nm of torque from 2000rpm to either the front or all four wheels via a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission.
The latter uses 0.4 litres per 100km more standard unleaded fuel than the 2WD, averaging 8.8L/100km. 
Steering is an electric rack and pinion set-up, the front axle employs the usual MacPherson struts, while the rear suspension consists of multi-links. Ground clearance is rated at 222mm.


2018 Mazda CX-9 pricing*

Sport FWD (a) $44,990
Sport AWD (a) $48,990
Touring FWD (a) $51,390
Touring AWD (a) $55,390
GT FWD (a) $59,390
GT AWD (a) $63,390
Azami FWD (a) $60,990
Azami AWD (a) $64,990
Azami LE AWD (a) $66,490

*Excludes on-road costs

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