Despite initially announcing that its new seven-seat SUV would be restricted to only the Japanese market, here I am, driving the CX-8 on Australian soil.
And because it joins as the fourth SUV within the CX-3, CX5 and CX-9 line-up already on sale, Australia becomes the only major market to offer the quartet – such is the popularity of SUVs down under, and the pulling power of Mazda Australia with the Japanese brand's global headquarters.
The CX-8 fills an incredibly important hole in Mazda’s local line-up as it's the only seven-seat SUV with a diesel engine, giving Mazda a rival to the likes of the new Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento.
The company already had the seven-seater CX-9 but it is only available with a turbocharged petrol engine and there are no plans to engineer a diesel engine for it. While two very similar-sized SUVs with different names may seem like an odd choice for the brand, Mazda Australia managing director Vinesh Bhindi believes it’s the obvious decision to take.
“We don’t want to get in the way of customers' choice,” Bhindi says.
Despite the mixture of dimensions, the CX-8 doesn’t look awkward, with the same Kodo design language flowing across its flanks as its siblings. In fact the front-end styling is almost identical to the CX-5 with the only major difference being chrome-effect horizontal lines running across the grille which are taken from the CX-9.
The most important element carried over from the CX-5 is the 2.2-litre four-cylinder Skyactiv-D engine under the bonnet which is tuned to produce 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque. For comparison, the 2.5-litre turbo petrol engine in the CX-9 makes 170kW and 420Nm which means roughly the same on-road performance.
The difference between the two comes when you look at the fuel economy figures - the CX-8 uses 5.7-litres per 100km for the front-wheel drive model and 6.0L/100km in the all-wheel drive, while the CX-9 uses 8.4L/100km and 8.8L/100km respectively.
Mazda Australia was only able to organise two types of CX-8, instead of its usually larger line-ups, with the entry-level Sport and high-spec Asaki.
Sport is available from $42,490 (plus on-road costs) for the front-wheel drive version while the all-wheel drive starts at $46,490. That buys you a well equipped SUV with 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless ignition, tri-zone airconditioning, head-up display, navigation, digital radio and a six-speaker stereo with 7.0-inch infotainment screen. It also gets a full suite of active safety features including autonomous emergency braking, active lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and a reversing camera.
From the Sport it’s a huge jump up to the Asaki model which is priced from $61,490 and exclusively offered in all-wheel drive configuration. For the extra $15,000 you get 19-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights, power tailgate, leather upholstery, heated steering wheel, power adjustable front seats, heated second row seats, keyless entry, rear sunblinds, 360-degree reversing camera and a 10-speaker Bose premium sound system, to name the highlights. However, that’s more expensive than the range-topping CX-9 Azami which is priced from $60,790.
THE INTERIOR | RATING: 4.0/5
The CX-8 really is an amalgam of the CX-5 and CX-9 in the truest sense with large elements of both combined to make something different. The engineers used the larger CX-9 as the starting point in order to get the interior space (and the CX-8 and CX-9 share the same 2930mm wheelbase) but from the windscreen forward its CX-5. So the CX-8 is shorter overall than the CX-9 by 175mm and exactly the same width as the CX-5, 1840mm.
Presentation is another high-point of the cabin, which follows the same design as the CX-5 right down to the shape of the air-vents and positioning of the buttons. The materials used in both trim grades look excellent and lend an air of quality to even the base-level Sport model.
ON THE ROAD | RATING: 4.0/5
As for how it performs on the road the CX-8 doesn’t surprise with the typical character of a modern Mazda - comfortable and easy-to-drive but with a pinch of sporty ‘zoom-zoom’.
It isn’t quite as zoomy as the smaller CX-5 because the bigger body adds 200kg to its weight so the engine has to work a bit harder but always feels up to the job. The biggest negative is the noise, as the sound of the engine can penetrate the cabin at times which is disappointing given the improvements Mazda made in this area with the CX-9 and latest-generation 6. There is also some tyre roar at times - especially noticeable on coarse chip bitumen - which lets down an otherwise impressive powertrain.
It’s not a deal-breaker though as the CX-8 impresses in other areas, such as its cabin. Mazda has made good use of the long wheelbase to ensure respectable room for all three rows of seating. The CX-8 is a true seven-seater, not a 5+2 like the Peugeot 5008 and Skoda Kodiaq, with a third row capable of fitting anyone under 170cm tall comfortably.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 4.0/5
Even with the smaller range the CX-8 is a valuable addition to the Mazda family by giving the brand an extra tool to use in the intensely competitive SUV market. For families looking for a flexible and frugal seven-seat SUV it fits the bill, which makes the fight to bring it to Australia worthwhile.
- Interested in buying Mazda CX-8? Visit our Mazda showroom for more information.