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2018 Mazda CX-9
Mazda CX-9 Azami LE Photo: Supplied
2018 Mazda CX-9
Mazda CX-9 Azami LE Photo: Supplied
2018 Mazda CX-9
Mazda CX-9 Azami LE Photo: Supplied
2018 Mazda CX-9
Mazda CX-9 Azami LE Photo: Supplied
2018 Mazda CX-9
Mazda CX-9 Azami LE Photo: Supplied
2018 Mazda CX-9
Mazda CX-9 Azami LE Photo: Supplied
2018 Mazda CX-9
Mazda CX-9 Azami LE Photo: Supplied
2018 Mazda CX-9
Mazda CX-9 Azami LE Photo: Supplied
 
2018 Mazda CX-9
2018 Mazda CX-9
2018 Mazda CX-9
2018 Mazda CX-9
2018 Mazda CX-9
2018 Mazda CX-9
2018 Mazda CX-9
2018 Mazda CX-9
 

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Peter McKay | Sep, 10 2018 | 0 Comments

Mazda’s top three status in the Australian new car market and its extensive SUV lineup isn’t just a coincidence – it’s a bulletproof strategy.

Having recently updated the CX-3 at one end of its SUV family, upgrading its popular CX-5 in the middle and seeing the arrival of the diesel-powered CX-8 in July, it’s easy to connect the dots on how the Japanese brand is going for all-out SUV supremacy.

The final piece on the mantle is this new flagship CX-9, sitting top of the perch and designed to challenge genuine luxury brands with more equipment.

Vehicle Style: Large SUV

On test: Mazda CX-9 Azami LE

Engine/trans: 170kW/420Nm, 2.5-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 6spd automatic, four-wheel drive

Price: $66,690 plus on-road costs

OVERVIEW

Mazda is regarded as a one of the cut-above nameplates from Japan, and it has been capitalising on that aspirational positioning - as well as a healthy Australian economy - to elevate its products to meet growing consumer ambitions.

Launched in 2016, the second-generation CX-9 seven-seat SUV has already been the recipient of two updates, this most recent one including an expansion in choice to a fifth model presiding over the line-up, the Azami LE. It supports Mazda’s pitch of “affordable luxury”.

This signals Mazda’s intention to continue to push its products upwards, with premium features offered at sensible prices, filling the space between mainstream and luxury brands and encouraging customers to reward themselves with feel-good family vehicles.

Beyond enriching touch-and-feel items, other improvements to the ever-evolving flagship CX-9 SUV include revisions to suspension, steering and noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), and a suite of safety technologies now standard across the range – such as cross traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, lane keep assist and departure warning, blind spot monitoring, radar cruise with stop/go function, high beam control and more.  Standard too is the active driving head-up display in the windscreen.

Also, answering nagging criticism from customers and critics, Mazda has finally introduced Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity across all model grades of the CX-9, incorporating these smart phone apps into Mazda’s MZD Connect infotainment system.

Sport, Touring, GT and Azami variants are all available with a choice of either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, while Azami LE is available exclusively with all-wheel-drive.

The revised 2018 CX-9 range has crept north in price, but with a better value equation thanks to added features.

As before, the line-up starts with an entry Sport FWD that now costs $44,990 plus on-road costs. Then the Touring, from $51,390 plus on-road costs, and the GT from $59,390 plus on-road costs. The next level up is the former range-topping Azami from $60,990 plus on-road costs.  All-wheel-drive variants cost a further $4000.

The new addition, the Azami LE, available with AWD only, is $66,490 plus on-road costs.

Even the less-expensive grades of the CX-9 are very generously specified with 18-inch alloys, auto retracting outside mirrors, keyless push-button start, LED auto headlights, seven-inch touchscreen, six-speaker audio including digital radio, rear paring sensors, tyre pressure monitoring and sat nav.

The Touring grade moves to an eight-inch screen and additionally gets black leather seats with multi power adjustability, front sensors, and more.

The GT adds larger 20-inch alloys, remote power tailgate, power sunroof, seat memory function and premium Bose sound while the Azami moves to more gear, highlighted by adaptive LED headlamps, windscreen de-icer, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, and 360-degree view monitor.

The new high-spec Azami LE variant was our focus on this test with its standout luxurious interior trim, featuring brown Nappa leather seats and real polished wood panels on the doors and centre console, which is framed by ambient LED lighting. The attention to detail is evident in the hand-crafted box stitching on the leather-wrapped steering wheel too.

THE INTERIOR

All five grades of the CX-9 are presented handsomely and ever more stylishly as you move up the range.

With its sumptuous authentic materials, and elegant presentation, the Azami LE cabin presents as the most sophisticated yet in a CX-9. It’s almost a shame to let the kids loose inside.

It lacks for nothing, even against the luxury brands from Europe, except perhaps for a power-adjustable steering wheel.

With the ability to carry a netball team, the CX-9 is not short of functional appeal and flexibility - seven humans, or perhaps fewer bodies and loads of cargo. 

The CX-9 range also has a decent spare tyre – not a full size alloy, but stout enough to get you out of trouble after a puncture. Still, this is a crossover SUV and not a vehicle to tackle the Simpson Desert.

Those who opt for the new Azami LE range topper will appreciate the craftsmanship that has gone into the sumptuous interior. The minimal Japanese aesthetics of the cabin extends to banishing unattractive seams and fasteners from the cabin.

Three-zone climate control is a boon while second-row occupants appreciate the additional USB ports.

The elevated height of the door and tailgate openings makes for easier entry and exit, and loading and unloading. Getting settled into the first two rows of seating is easy.

Access to the third row (not recommended for adults) is a simple one-handed operation to slide and tilt the seatback of the second row.

The remotely operated power tailgate opens and closes at the push of a button, which is handy when your arms are full of baby, groceries or sports gear.

With the third row of seats in place, luggage space is a modest 230 litres. With the rear seats folded down, this stretches to 810 litres (using all available space to the roof).

 ON THE ROAD

Mazda offers just one strong engine in the CX-9, a 2.5-litre turbo four-cylinder which conjures up all of 170kW and 420Nm, even running on 91 RON or E10.

Easily hauling the CX-9’s two tonne weight, it’s energetic and surprisingly torquey off the mark and when overtaking, with a pleasing response and linearity from lowdown in the rev range. Its six-speed auto works discreetly, reacting instantly to demands to slot into the appropriate gear.

If your need is a diesel engine up front without a pressing requirement for premium elegance, you can choose the similar but not-so-premium CX-8.

It’s a big machine and the claimed combined city-highway figures of 8.4L/100km for the two-wheel drive and 8.8 for the all-paw variants might be hard to match in the real world as it will be thirstier on the stop-start school and coffee runs around suburbia.

The CX-9 is now more serene and planted than ever to drive, with the caveat that the low-profile rubber on the Azami LE’s 20-inch wheels doesn’t soak up imperfections in the road as well as the 18s on the Sport and Touring grades, which offer better ride comfort.

The 20s look good but the 18s are more adaptable to varying road conditions.

An exploration over potholed dirt roads aboard the CX-9 Touring confirmed the front-drive model’s poise. There was just a hint of torque-steer – a slight tugging of the wheel under acceleration. Otherwise it rode the gravel surface brilliantly.

For a vehicle of such size, height and mass, the CX-9 drives with great assurance, with little weight shifting during changes of direction or braking. It’s a pleasant highway cruiser.

The recent NVH measures help the overall sense of greater refinement and the revised steering offers pleasing feedback and road feel without cataloguing every bump in the bitumen.

The MZD Connect platform is not silky but now that it supports the Apple Car Play and Google Android Auto it does broaden its appeal.  There are a couple of aberrations; the touch screen ceases operation when the CX-9 is on the move (you have to use the console controller), and smart-phone connection overrides the integrated sat-nav system.

 

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL

Behind that big, too-prominent snout, the CX-9 is about easy, comfortable and graceful motoring with up to seven people aboard.

It performs its target functions admirably, its safety systems reassuring to those who prioritise cocooning the whole family aboard.

 
Filed under cx-9 Mazda seven-seat suv
 
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