MAZDA HAS NEVER BEEN AFRAID TO DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY. That's why the 2016 Mazda CX-9 comes with a turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine instead of the diesel or V6 petrol engines favoured by competitors.
That clever SkyActiv engineering keeps fuel use down and power up. But, of course, none of that amounts to much if the CX-9 isn’t a good family SUV where it matters most: in the cabin.
Roomy, well-equipped, and oozing showroom appeal - the Mazda CX-9 offers all the practicality any family might wish for, and all nicely wrapped in a well-presented package.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $52,890 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 170kW/420Nm 2.5 litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 8.8 l/100km | tested: 10.2 l/100km
Mazda’s four-model CX-9 range is fairly simple to decipher - there are four trim levels (models), and all are powered by the same turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine, matched to a six-speed automatic.
You can have any model with either front, or all wheel drive, but that’s as complex as the order sheet gets.
This week we’re behind the wheel of the mid-spec Touring model with all-wheel-drive, although "mid-spec" sells it short - the high-level of standard equipment and impressively well-finished interior could easily come from a more premium vehicle.
At almost $53k before on-roads, the CX-9 won’t fit every family budget - but the price is still friendly enough to suit a wide scope of buyers looking for the flexibility and space to suit a growing family.
- Standard Equipment: Leather seat trim, electrically adjustable heated front seats, cruise control, tri-zone climate control, power windows, rear parking sensors, reversing camera, auto lights and wipers, 18-inch alloys
- Infotainment: 8-inch colour touchscreen with satellite navigation, AM/FM/USB audio, Bluetooth phone/audio integration, App integration for Pandora, Stitcher, Aha, six-speaker audio.
- Cargo Volume: Behind third row: 230 litres. Behind second row: 810 litres. Second and third row folded: 1641 litres
From inside, you could be easily fooled into thinking the CX-9 Touring carries a premium badge. The CX-9 hosts the plushest feeling interior of any model in the Mazda range.
Standard features for the Touring include auto lights and wipers, electrically-adjustable heated front seats, leather seat trim, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen. That’s on top of the three-zone climate control, satellite navigation, and Bluetooth that come standard on the entry-level Sport model.
Space is plentiful too. By the measuring tape the new CX-9 is a fraction smaller than the model it replaces, but a clever use of interior space results in more useable room for passengers.
First and second row occupants will (rightfully) feel like they’re in a big car. The second row can also be slid backwards and forwards, with limo-like legroom in its rearmost position.
Unlike some large SUVs which only offer ‘occasional use’ third-row seating, the CX-9 is a little more generous in its rearmost seats. And, if second row occupants are kind enough to move forward slightly there’s even enough legroom for adults.
Getting to the third row is easy enough too, with a light fold-forward seat release in the second row, positioned correctly on the kerb side for safer loading and unloading of passengers.
Boot space with all three rows up is enough to carry a full compliment of school bags with 230 litres of space available.
Drop the third row and there’s as much as 810 litres, or enough for schoolbags and all the awkwardly shaped sporting equipment you can think of. Although both measurements are smaller than before, they are slightly ahead of the Toyota Kluger.
Not only that but the interior oozes comfort and quality, with smart finishes and soft-touch surfaces, and plenty of piano-black highlights and chrome embellishments. (The more car-like dash does without the expansive open shelving of the Kluger, however.)
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 170kW/420Nm 2.5 litre turbocharged petrol inline four
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, all wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: Ventilated discs front, solid discs rear, sliding calipers
- Steering: Electrically assisted, 11.8m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 750 unbraked, 2000kg braked
Fuelled by petrol, but designed to provide diesel-like torque down low, it's a very flexible and impressive unit and has no trouble moving the big SUV.
And why no diesel option? The CX-9 is predominantly designed for the North American market, where diesel options are largely ignored.
That shouldn’t really make a difference to Australian buyers though. The turbocharged four-cylinder matches Mazda’s claims, with strong torque from low down, but higher levels of refinement than most diesels can offer.
The result, we think, for that extra refinement and clean operation, is a better family fit.
Fuel use is a claimed 8.8 l/100km on the combined cycle. Our week of testing was predominently city-based, resulting in a higher 10.2 l/100km for the week - still quite decent for the size of the vehicle and the way we used it.
The engine is only part of the story though. A large family rig like the CX-9 should be comfortable; it should offer a settled ride for driver and passengers, but should also come with a 'feel for the road'.
With 18-inch wheels, and generous side-walled tyres underneath the CX-9 can handle road scars, potholes, and patchy surfaces with ease and comfort.
More than just wheel and tyre choice though, the suspension is well-tuned for Australian roads and conditions. The new CX-9 is resistant to the kind of rocking and bobbing that can make some SUVs a queasy experience on dips and hollows, but is also supple enough to absorb speed bumps and driveway guttering.
Further, in a big turnaround for Mazda products (which haven’t always been synonymous with refinement), wind and road noise intrusion into the cabin is minimal.
Engine noise too is nicel attenuated; it's only when pressed hard that it makes itself known - and then is neither harsh nor thrashy. This is a very good drivetrain combination.
On-road manners that mimic Mazda’s road cars also mean that the CX-9 is one of the more dynamic offerings in its segment. It feels quite a bit more alive and more sporting than the Kluger, for instance, and, when cornering, there is an edge to the handling that is unexpected for a family SUV.
On-demand all-wheel-drive shuffles power to the rear wheels as grip levels decrease, but the system is so seamless in its operation that you won’t pick it at work.
It’s also quick enough to eliminate torque steer (or tugging at the wheel) under firm acceleration.
The only real on-road difficulty we uncovered comes courtesy of the thick front and rear pillars.
These can reduce visibility from the wheel at some angles, which is an annoyance, but thanks to blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, that burden is reduced slightly.
ANCAP Rating: 5-Stars - the CX9 range scored 35.87 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2016
Safety Features: Six airbags (dual front, front side, and curtain including third row) ABS brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, 2x ISOFIX child seat mounts, Electronic stability control including roll stability control, trailer sway control, and traction control, front and rear autonomous braking, reversing camera, rear park sensors, and blind spot monitoring.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/Unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Service intervals are set at every 12 months or 10,000km Whichever occurs first, service pricing varies from $353 for every odd-numbered service, up to $395 for even-numbered intervals, with extra charges (and a separate interval) for items like brake fluid, spark plugs, cabin filter, air filter, fuel filter, and spark plugs. Consult your local dealer for full details.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The closest competitors to the CX-9 include the Toyota Kluger and Nissan Pathfinder, both modelled to fit the American market, and both petrol-powered only - although Pathfinder does offer a hybrid option.
The new CX-9 has a more dynamic and settled feel at the wheel, and, arguably, a more upmarket interior feel, than each of these.
Kia's Sorento is definitely a worthy contender and worth consideration - it's one of the better segment offerings.
So too is Hyundai's Santa Fe; though not the newest in the segment, it is still very good buying - and both Kia and Hyundai are available with a diesel engine.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Is the CX-9 another smash-hit for Mazda? Already the smaller CX-3 and CX-5 hold best-seller status in their respective small and medium SUV categories, and there’s no reason why CX-9 couldn’t do something similar.
Of course, no manufacturer will be able to topple the might of Toyota, which offers the combined might of Kluger, Fortuner and Prado in the same segment.
But, after an extended wait, the new Mazda CX-9 gets things very, very right.
A roomy interior, powerful enough and comfortable enough to handle family duties, yet with a dynamic feel that sets it apart from its closest competitors. Plus, even in mid-spec Touring trim, a plush, premium-feeling interior.
Not only that, but thanks to its striking design, the CX-9 allow you to park a style-statement in your driveway, and not just another SUV.