What’s the first thing you do when sliding behind the wheel of a new car? If you’re Mike, you’ll cop a feel of the dash—soft is good, hard not so good.
The Insider will run his hands around the steering wheel and peer over his left shoulder, we still have no idea why. Me, I check out the instrument cluster and then see how quickly I can make myself comfortable—and that’s exactly what I did when I climbed into the Mazda CX-9 last week.
The CX-9’s instrument cluster is sexy and permanently lit, day and night, a great idea. The leather pews with seat warmers offer a good level of support and looking over the left shoulder, Insider style, there is loads of space - the CX-9 is big. But why, given all of that space was my left knee hard up against the centre console?
My ‘male’ legs-askance driving position has never been an issue before. Don’t get me wrong, it was never really uncomfortable, but there is so much room in this car you could lose your kids and not find them for a week, so how is it possible that there isn’t enough room for a bloke’s left knee?
I suspect it is an issue that came about in the conversion from left to right-hand-drive, as the CX-9 was primarily designed for North America.
Another initial concern was the CX-9’s steering, which I must confess took some getting used to. First impressions were that the familiar Mazda steering wheel was a touch on the small side and that the steering was twitchy, light and overly direct: an unusual feeling in a 2080kg car. However, in fairness to the CX-9, give it time and you do get used to it.
I have a little theory about the steering (no really). There is no denying that the CX-9 is a lot of car and fitting it with unusually responsive steering (for an SUV) is as unexpected as it is clever.
Leave your preconceived notion of big-car steering at the door, spend some time behind the wheel and you’ll appreciate how Mazda has managed to imbue the CX-9 with a surprisingly agile and nimble ‘feel’ that belies its heft.
The smooth 3.7-litre V6 is an accomplished performer, with a healthy 204kW tucked up its sleeve. Mazda claims the CX-9 will handle the 0-100km/h dash in a very tidy 8.5 seconds.
Wind the V6 up to its 4500rpm sweet-spot and the CX-9 will lift its skirt and lope away. Kick-down under full throttle will induce a noticeable tug on the steering wheel, before the AWD system with Active Torque Split (ATS) sorts it out by directing up to 50 percent of the drive to the rear wheels. But quick really isn't the CX-9's forte.
The CX-9’s forte is ‘smooth’. In fact smooth is the word to describe the CX-9. The impressive V6 is coupled to an equally polished 6-speed auto. Its ability to change almost imperceptibly up and down the ratios is comparable to the accomplished ZF auto (as used in our local Falcon).
The CX-9’s brakes were well up to the task of hauling down all two-and-a-bit tonnes of SUV. They felt strong and well modulated which bodes well for those buyers with their eye on the CX-9 and towing duties on the agenda. Rated to tow 2000kgs (braked), the CX-9 is capable of towing the average ski-boat, caravan or trailer.
The 20-inch alloys with 50 series tyres that are standard fare on the Luxury, look the goods but catch the suspension out over pock-marked bitumen and short, sharp bumps and potholes.
Realistically, the 18-inch alloys found on the Classic would be likely to offer the best ride, they just won’t look as cool. Big wheels are like boob jobs, they look great but usually feel wrong – or so I’ve been told.
An Australian ANCAP rating is not available, but the CX-9 has received five stars (the highest possible rating) from the U.S. government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for frontal and side impact crashes. In addition the CX-9 received a four-star rollover resistance rating.
With fuel prices on the rise, the 15.4 L/100 fuel economy figure achieved on test (the majority of which was suburban commuting with a few highway kilometres) is going to cause some heartache at the pump.
Although, it could be argued that hauling a large family around is never going to be cheap, it seems to me that it would make plenty of sense to offer SUV’s the size of the CX-9 with a high-tech turbo ‘clean’ diesel as an option.
I’m even thinking that Ford is likely to have just the diesel engine the CX-9 needs, tucked away in their Duratorq range.
Paying the price at the pump is offset somewhat by the CX-9’s clever and cavernous interior. When it comes to space and versatility, the CX-9 notches up a couple of ‘best in class’ gongs, leaving the likes of Territory, Kluger and Tribeca in its wake on both counts. Not only is it the best looking of this posse, it’s also the most useable.
Seating seven in comfort (kids only in the third row seat), the middle row seating features a 60/40 split with the 40 split section folding and sliding to allow access to the two seats in the rear. Access to the rear seats is gained from the passenger side of the vehicle ensuring that kids are not exposed to traffic.
The rear seats fold flat providing ample room for the week’s groceries. Folding the middle row seat flat opens up the entire area behind the front seats for load carrying duty (928 litres all up) – turning the CX-9 into a luxury van of sorts. It’s not hard to see why the humble station wagon is rapidly fading from the Australian automotive landscape.
The CX-9 is available in two guises, Classic and Luxury (as tested). Even the ‘base-model’ Classic is loaded with kit, including six airbags, stability control, rollover stability control, three-zone automatic air conditioning, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, 18 inch alloys, cruise control, in-dash six stack MP3 compatible CD player, reversing camera, tinted windows and the requisite trip computer.
The Luxury - which is proving the most popular amongst buyers - adds 20 inch alloys, a 10-speaker Bose audio system, leather trim, heated power adjustable front seats, a driver’s seat memory function and heated rear view mirrors to the mix.
There is plenty to like about the CX-9. Fully imported from Japan, the build quality is (as expected) excellent and, in the eyes of this reviewer, it is easily one of the classiest looking large SUV’s out there.
The CX-9 can comfortably hold its head high in the presence of some big name European SUVs costing tens of thousands more. It may not have the brand cache but from a value perspective it wins hands down.
The CX-9, like all SUVs is destined for a life of being taken for granted by families - large families, small families with dogs, or any family that just likes acres of space and parents who like a commanding driving position.
It will be taken for granted because it will handle its intended functions so well that it will simply blend into family life: more a tool than a classy auto.
The seat warmers will keep ‘the old’s’ bums warm and the kids will be far enough away in the second and third row seating that the Bose stereo will drown out their constant chatter with a Rolling Stone’s riff or two – family nirvana on wheels – it could well be.
[Photos courtesy of Mazda]
The Last Word
“Did I say it was big? Well it is; it’s also imminently practical, versatile and features a commendably polished drivetrain. If you have a large family, or just plenty of friends, then the CX-9 is a lot of car for under 60 large.”
- Fit and finish
- Smooth, refined drivetrain
- Performance (for a vehicle of this type)
- Bose stereo on Luxury Model
- Practical and well thought out interior
- Load carrying versatility
- Family friendly entry and exit from third row seat
- Permanently lit instruments
- 20 inch wheels (fitted to the Luxury)
- Value for money when compared to Euro rivals
- Lack of room for driver’s left knee
- Fuel consumption
- Ride over broken surfaces thanks to the 20inch wheels (fitted to the Luxury)
RRP: CX-9 Classic ($49,990) CX-9 Luxury ($57,265)
Price as tested: $57,265
|Engine:||3.7-litre V6 DOHC|
|Valve system:||DOHC, VVT|
|Maximum power:||204kW @ 6250rpm|
|Maximum torque:||366Nm @ 4250rpm|
|Fuel System:||Multi-point electronic fuel injection|
|Bore x stroke:||95.5mm x 86.7mm|
|0 – 100 km/h:||8.5 seconds (claimed)|
|Differential:||Locking rear diff|
|Wheels:||16” x 7.5”|
|Tyres:||245/60R18 104H (Classic)|
|Steering:||Power assisted rack and pinion (3.1 turns lock to lock, 11.4 metre turning circle)|
|Suspension:|| Front: MacPherson struts |
|Brakes:|| Front: 320mm ventilated discs |
Rear: 325mm ventilated discs
|Consumption:||13.0L /100km combined cycle (claimed)|
|Towing capacity:|| 2,000kg (braked) |
|Fuel tank volume:||76 litres|
|Dimensions:|| Overall length: 5,074mm |
Overall width: 1,936mm
Overall height: 1,728mm