2011 MAZDA CX-9 REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Fuel consumption (claimed): 11.3 l/100km
Fuel consumption (on test): 12.3 l/100km
Once upon a time, there were four-wheel-drive SUVs and there were people movers. That was then.
These days, the line is blurred somewhat: family buyers who might once have had a mini-bus in their sights, now have an increasing selection of seven-seat SUVs in two and four-wheel-drive.
Like Mazda’s CX-9. Three parts SUV, one part people mover, it goes up against the likes of the Ford Territory, Toyota’s Kluger, Holden Captiva and the Korean cousins, Hyundai’s Santa Fe and Kia’s Sorento.
Now, with sharp pre-Christmas drive-away pricing deals in the offing, it’s worth a second look.
Listed manufacturer’s pricing kicks off at $44,425 for the entry-level Classic 2WD and tops out at $62,106 for the AWD Grand Touring. But you can do better than that at the moment.
For this review, the chosen model was the $56,225 mid-spec AWD Luxury.
Quality: Mazda vehicles have long been renowned for classy interiors and the CX-9 is no exception.
The dash is smart and clean-looking with easy-to-read dials and well-positioned switches and controls. Throughout, there is a pleasing mix of chrome-look and piano-black trim highlights.
Comfort: The seats – even in the third row – are well shaped and comfortable and the Luxury version’s leather adds a touch of … well, luxury.
Height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel and eight-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat means dialing-up the perfect behind-the-wheel position is a breeze.
The second-row seat with its 60/40 split fold can be adjusted for and aft, and for rake, and unlike third-row seats in some seven-seaters, the CX-9’s are reasonably comfortable for adults, not just kids. The third row has a 50/50 split.
Equipment: The CX-9 Luxury comes standard with a tilt-and-slide glass sunroof, 20-inch alloy wheels, power windows, and power exterior mirrors with heating and memory.
Also standard is three-zone climate-control air-con, foglights, a 10-speaker six-CD AM/FM MP3-compatible in-dash audio system, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, trip computer and rain-sensing wipers.
Storage: There are plenty of cup holders and other storage cubby holes throughout the cabin.
With the third row seats occupied, cargo space is a useful-enough 267 litres (ok for the shopping and school bags), but with both the second and third rows folded flat this rises to a cavernous 1911 litres. Braked towing capacity is 2000kg.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: While the 3.7litre DOHC 24-valve V6 engine has quite a responsibility in getting the 2.0-tonne-plus CX-9 wagon up-and-running, it handles the task surprisingly well.
Producing a healthy 204kW at 6250rpm and 367Nm of torque at 4250rpm, it’s a strong unit. The trade-off for performance is fuel consumption, which can suffer if you put the CX-9 to work. It’s acceptable in normal driving, but a turbo-diesel would be better-suited.
The six-speed sequential-sports-shifting automatic is seamless (you can also shift manually) and down below is Mazda’s on-demand Active Torque Split (ATS) all-wheel-drive system.
It works well on gravel and slippery roads, and is transparent on the tarmac. Unless the system detects a loss of traction, the ATS delivers drive to the front wheels only.
Lastly, while the CX-9 is big - 5099mm long and 1936mm wide - it drives like a smaller SUV and around town is surprisingly nimble.
Refinement: It’s one of the first things you notice in the big Mazda - its refinement. NVH levels are among the best in class.
Suspension: The car rides on a proven MacPherson-strut front-suspension and multi-link rear. For a big heavy car, it handles surprisingly well.
Because of its bias to front-wheel-drive, when pushed hard the CX-9 will understeer. It’s only noticeable on winding roads though; most of the time it’s simply a comfortable, quiet cruiser.
Brakes: With disc brakes all round, well-weighted pedal feel, and the assistance of ABS and anti-skid control, the CX-9 has good braking performance
ANCAP Rating: Not tested.
Safety features: The CX-9 comes with active front head restraints, a reversing camera, six airbags, electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with four-wheel discs, electronic brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist and rollover stability control.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: The CX-9 has Mazda’s three-year (unlimited kilometre) warranty; an extended warranty option is also available on new passenger vehicles.
Service costs: Check with your local Mazda dealer before purchase.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY:
Ford Territory TS Wagon 2.7 DT V6 ($55,240): This is the one you would choose if you had to drive tomorrow to Innamincka.
A relatively frugal diesel and superb underpinnings make it the choice for the long run. But the CX-9 has a better, more stylish interior. (See Territory reviews)
Holden Captiva LX Wagon 2.2 DT ($43,490): A big price advantage and well-sorted – it’s surprisingly easy to live with – but lacking the refinement of the CX-9 and the interior is also well-beaten. (See Captiva reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The CX-9 Luxury is a class act. You pay for it, sure, but you get an impressive build quality and an equally impressive list of standard features.
Its interior is very user-friendly, seating is good in all rows and, despite its size, all-round visibility for the driver is also pretty good.
When it first arrived back in 2007 it was a tad thirsty, but Mazda engineers have done a lot of work in improving consumption in its latest guise. What many will appreciate though is that it is actually a bit of a driver’s car.
While it certainly deserves to be on the shopping lists of seven-seat SUV buyers, it has stiff competition from the likes of the Toyota Kluger and the 2012 Ford Territory – especially the outstanding new turbo-diesel.
Note on gallery: Grand Touring specification shown.