The elder statesman of the Mazda CX range is a bit like a Swiss Army knife: capable of a variety of jobs well beyond the expected blade. A mid-life nip-and-tuck has improved on CX-9’s distinctive looks without losing any of the utility that has made the seven-seater a popular, if niche, choice in the large SUV market.
Mazda loads up the CX-9 when it comes to look and specification and the updated vehicle only has fairly minor price rises. All models have Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary inputs, a reversing camera, three-zone airconditioning, auto headlamps and wipers and a 3.7-litre V6 matched to a six-speed auto.
The front-wheel drive Classic starts at $44,525, climbing to $52,980 for the Luxury model. The all-wheel drive Luxury is $57,480, with the Grand Touring $63,828. That’s around $5000 more than a Ford Territory (though without AWD) and just under the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The sound and satnav systems have been upgraded to match the newer entrants in this class. There’s now Bluetooth with audio streaming and the speech recognition system has been updated to provide audio and navigation interaction.
The TomTom satnav can be updated using CD cards and is straightforward to operate. The Grand Touring model now picks up bi-xenon headlamps, daytime running lights and a remote operated power tailgate.
Kodo is the key word at Mazda for the corporate look and the CX-9s new grille follows the CX-5 and Mazda6 styling. Remodelled front and rear bumpers and lights to match make it reasonably easy to pick from the outgoing version. Inside there’s a piano black finish around the instruments and Bordeaux-coloured metal strips run down either side of the centre console.
The second row seating can be adjusted 120mm depending on the size of the occupants and adults will cope with short-ish trips in the pair of the third row seats. Boot space is marginal with seven on board but expands dramatically up to 1911 litres when there’s only two on board.
The CX-9 hasn’t hit the wall loaded with ANCAP sensors but the US version rates as a five-star car. There are six airbags to protect occupants in all seats, the full suite of safety software and the likes of lane-departure warning, blind spot monitoring and forward collision warning systems.
Big but light on its feet, the CX-9 is analogous with a rugby forward. There’s enough sheet metal to bestow an imposing look on the road but that’s not the impression from behind the wheel, where the lightly weighted steering adds to the impression of agility.
Rapid changes of direction, especially on gravel, remind the driver this is a big bus. It’s more inertia than body roll, though, so the passengers won’t feel nauseous even at a brisk pace on back roads. Noise suppression is first rate and there is little evidence the Mazda is essentially a seven-year-old car.
The V6 engine has enough urge to propel the CX-9 at a solid pace, either off the line or during overtaking and the wide seats hang on as well as the car does. In most cases, the front-wheel drive model will do most people and impresses enough that there would want to be long stretches of dirt ahead to consider paying the premium for AWD.
Stylish and people mover are contradictory terms. The CX-9 does a commendable job of juxtaposing them and is one of the more luxurious large vehicles this side of a European badge.
Mazda CX-9 Luxury FWD
Price: from $52,980
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Resale: 56 per cent (Glass’s Guide, three years)
Service interval: 6 months/10,000km
Crash rating: Not rated
Safety: 6 airbags, ABC, TC, ESC, EDB, EBA
Engine: 3.7L V6, 204kW/367Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, FWD
Dimensions: 5.11m (L), 1.94m (W), 1.73m (H)
Thirst: 11.0L/100km (91RON), 257g/km CO2
Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 3.6L
Price: from $55,000
Engine: 3.6-litre 6-cylinder, 210kW/347Nm
Transmission: 5-speed auto, 4WD
Thirst: 11.0L/100km, CO2 256g/km
Toyota Landcruiser Prado
Price: from $63,490
Engine: 4.0-litre V6 petrol, 202kW/381Nm
Transmission: 5-spd auto, 4WD
Economy: 11.5L/100km, 91 RON, CO2 271g/km