ENTRY LEVEL, RANGE-OPENER, PRICE LEADER - ALL SYNONYMS FOR "BASE MODEL", AND, TYPICALLY, ANYTHING BUT GLAMOROUS. Except maybe in the case of this car, the 2016 Mazda CX-9 Sport.
Yes, the CX-9 Sport is the cheapest CX-9 you can buy - but basic it is not. It comes with the same powerful turbocharged engine as the rest of the CX-9 range and a surprisingly strong level of standard equipment.
So, it may well be utilitarian, practical, and perfectly suited to family duties, but it does challenge the term ‘basic’.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $42,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 170kW/420Nm 2.5 litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 8.4 l/100km | Tested: 10.2 l/100km
Forget the Sport moniker - that’s just a trim level, there’s really nothing sporty about the CX-9 Sport. That’s not such a problem in a vehicle that’s very clearly a three-row SUV and not a sports car.
In its cheapest form, the CX-9 starts from $42,490 and only comes with front-wheel-drive (you’ll need to throw in an extra $4000 for all-wheel-drive) and that’s good enough for a light-duty SUV that isn’t really supposed to go any further than the local farmer's market car park.
True, for a similar spend you could get a top-of-the-line Holden Captiva with seven seats and all-wheel-drive - but the space, ergonomics, refinement, and technology chasm between the two is as wide as Katherine Gorge.
But do you miss out on anything crucial in the CX-9 Sport? Seating for seven, five-star ANCAP safety, and autonomous emergency braking are all part of the base package, as is touchscreen infotainment and three-zone climate control - that’s hardly basic at all.
- Standard Equipment: Three-zone climate control, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, power windows, rear parking sensors, reversing camera, 18-inch alloys
- Infotainment: 7-inch colour touchscreen, console-mounted rotary controller, satellite navigation, AM/FM/USB audio, smartphone app connectivity, Bluetooth phone/audio integration.
- Cargo Volume: 230 litres behind third row, 810 litres to second row, 1641 to first row
The interior is where the CX-9 Sport reveals its biggest difference compared to the more upmarket models - particularly if you compare it to a high-line GT or Azami.
Inside you’ll find cloth seat trim and a sat-nav screen that measures only 7.0-inches compared to leather and an 8.0-inch screen in the rest of the range.
But you do still get a leather wrapped steering wheel, push button start, three-zone climate control, LED headlights, cruise control, a multi-function trip computer, and driveway safety must-haves like a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross traffic alert.
Interior quality is surprisingly high. The seat fabric feels inviting, but, more importantly, looks robust enough to cope with juice spills and small sneakers treading all over it.
It's all lifted by plenty of gloss black trim, and chrome garnishes - just not as much as other models in the range.
Mazda also provides its MZD Connect infotainment interface, which includes a touchscreen and rotary controller for safe operation, plus satellite navigation as standard and app integration for services like Stitcher, Pandora and Aha.
In the sliding second row there’s an abundance of space, particularly in its rearmost position.
The third row may not be the largest in its class, but the CX-9 is slightly more compact externally than some competitors, and the utilisation of space in the rear is impressive once you get back there.
Crucially though, and a debit across the range, all CX-9 models go without air-conditioning vents to the third row.
For more details about the CX-9’s passenger access and boot space check out TMR’s CX-9 Touring AWD review.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 170kW/420Nm 2.5 litre turbocharged petrol inline four
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front 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: 2000kg braked, 750kg unbraked
Though it may fall into the SUV category, the CX-9 doesn’t behave much like one on the road - and that’s a good thing.
The handling is such that it’s somewhat easy to forget you’re behind the wheel of something that measures over five metres in length and weighs over 1800kg.
The ride is probably as comfortable as you’ll find in the segment too, making it all the more surprising that the CX-9 feels as nimble as it does.
Under the bonnet is a turbocharged version of Mazda’s 2.5 litre SkyActiv petrol four-cylinder engine - and it's used exclusively in the CX-9 at this stage.
While other large three-row SUVs offer a petrol V6 or turbo diesel power, Mazda claims to have blended the best of both with an engine with frugal economy claims, while still delivering ample torque and avoiding the noise and vibration of diesel engines.
With 170kW of power at 5000rpm the CX-9 might not look as urgent as a 201kW Toyota Kluger or a 199kW Kia Sorento, but it out-torques both of those V6 competitors, and almost matches the 440Nm grunt of the Hyundai Santa Fe diesel (the CX-9 is rated at 420Nm).
It’s also incredibly quiet. The engine operates in near silence unless you really push it hard, and even then the under bonnet noise is far more subtle than you might expect.
With a smooth six-speed automatic the CX-9 is an ideal relaxed cruiser, able to get about town without feeling tardy and not feeling out of its depth maintaining a steady highway cruise.
Buyers looking to escape the city and head out of town might be better served by the all-wheel-drive model though. While the two-wheel-drive is composed, and drives well, gravel or wet roads can show up a tendency to spin a front wheel.
There is also a little torque steer when front grip is overcome.
By the same token the CX-9 perhaps isn’t always going to be an ideal towing vehicle, although rated to 2000kg capacity the towball weight is a low 100kg meaning heavy duty tow requirements might be best met elsewhere.
ANCAP Rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.87 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2016
Safety Features: ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control, stability control, 6 airbags(front, front side and full-length curtain), blind spot monitoring, reversing camera, rear parking sensors and autonomous emergency braking are standard on all CX-9 variants.
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
Mazda’s family SUV has the Toyota Kluger firmly in its sights, though the Toyota’s big V6 has a habit of being thirsty. Its extra interior storage however is a godsend for stashing everything from house keys to teething rings for mums and dads on the go.
The top end of Holden’s Captiva range aligns with the bottom end of the CX-9 range. The Captiva charms with a modern infotainment system, but looks and feels old, is cramped in the rear and lacks some safety equipment.
Another rising star of the Kia range, the Sorento mixes capable dynamics, a spacious interior, and a warranty that’s unbeaten in the Australian market. A choice of powerful V6 or strong turbo diesel also broadens the Sorento’s horizons.
An Aussie classic for Aussie families, mixing big carrying capacity, and dynamics that still shine despite the Territory's advancing age. Production lasts just one more month (wow, already?) so if you don’t want to miss out, get in quick.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
To put the Mazda CX-9 Sport into some value perspective its $43k ask puts it roughly level with the Mazda6 GT - with heated leather seats, premium Bose audio, and a few other baubles.
But while the CX-9 Sport is a little more basic, it seats seven, has a more powerful engine, and adds a layer of utility for families that a Mazda6, as good as it might be, can’t hope to match.
It’s refined, and comfortable - it may not be the largest of the large SUVs, but for urban dwellers it’s easier to get in and out of laneways, tight car spaces and underground carparks, without sacrificing anything in the way of passenger accommodation.
Some of the chrome fixings of the flagship models are missing (the Sport has black trim on the grille, lower doors, and bumpers where the GT and above wear brightwork) and the more practical 18-inch wheels lack the kerb-appeal of bigger wheels.