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Mazda CX-8 Asaki 2019 review: road trip

  • By Vani Naidoo
  • 19 October 2018
  • 23 min read

My father used to tell us that family road trips were rite of passage, that they allowed you to spend quality time together, hone your negotiation skills in backseat battles and taught you how to pack light.

My sister and I could well offer a different view of proceedings but every December, even after moving away to university, we still found ourselves strapped into the back seat making that trip from South Africa's east to west coast, taking in the incomparable Garden Route.

While my father's memories of those times centre around friendly villages, picturesque countryside, amazing wine and well, happy families, for us kids, it was countless hours of spotting cows and sheep, playing mindless travel games and wolfing down petrol station Icy Poles outside the car because we couldn't be trusted to not drop any on the seats.

Now, my husband, who wrote the manual on the glass half-full, just plain loves a road trip. He, too, has memories of childhood road trip 'adventures', mostly in the Northern Territory. I suppose adventure could be one word for shining a torch on a dark riverbed to find rows and rows of glowing crocodile eyes staring back at you... but hey, each to their own.

Wouldn't it be great, he said, if we took the kids to the snow during the school holidays? Sure, I replied, it would make a nice change from our usual Sunshine Coast beach lifestyle. Mind you, I was thinking hop on a plane to Canberra, hire a car, drive the three hours to Perisher and hit the slopes. Seemed simple enough. Hmmm.

Before I knew it, road trip plans were drawn up, two other families were lured into the trap and I was packing the ski helmets into the car.

The Sunshine Coast to Narrabri

It was a blissful 823 minutes before we got the first "are we there yet?" from the back seat. It was a blissful 823 minutes before we got the first "are we there yet?" from the back seat.

One of the essentials of a family road trip is a vehicle with a fair bit of room. Mazda's new seven-seater, the diesel CX-8 was our willing accomplice, its spacious back seat and cargo area accommodating enough luggage, food and games for a small army. Oh, and a guitar and soccer ball, too.

The storage pockets behind the front seats proved useful for colouring books and earphones, with the deep door pockets holding water bottles, hats and sunscreen. There was room under the front seats too for the kids to store their tuckboxes. My sister and I used to have these – a container filled with healthy snacks and treats which we had to make last for the trip – and they proved a hit with my littlies too.

The sun beat down on the first few days of our trip as we made our way inland – very slowly – to the Queensland/New South Wales border. It quickly becomes apparent that farmers in this usually lush food bowl are struggling. Dust swirls around are, the silos are near empty and all the towns we stop at advertise reminders to help the farmers.

Australian hospitality is legendary and nowhere is this more apparent than in small country towns. While the CX-8 was happy to eat up the kays, gliding along quietly, effortlessly passing those amazing road trains, my husband seemed to be on a mission of his own making – sampling the fare at every bakery from the Sunshine Coast to Perisher.

Every town seems to have a bakery though, so stops for the best cream doughnut were frequent. They also have beautiful playgrounds, a pub on the corner, wide main streets with reverse parking only and at least three Chinese restaurants.

The pace is decidedly slower. Everyone has a minute to stop and chat, to share a story or some gossip which makes a nice change from the supercharged lives most of us tend to lead.

Interestingly, most towns also have a remembrance wall, a telling reminder of the lives given to preserve the Australian way of life, and a moment of reflection for both the adults and children in our travelling party.

Cream doughnuts – 4 Chinese Restaurants - 13

It's a blissful 823 minutes before we get the first "are we there yet?" from the back seat. We have crossed into New South Wales and are heading to Narrabri for the night. The girls are feeling a tad irksome because we painted an awesome picture of Gunsynd 'The Goondiwindi Grey', only for them to get there and realise it was actually a statue and just half a one at that.

I thought stopping to look at a field of emus dotted amongst the tall purple grass would have distracted them from the injustice, but clearly not. The surprising number of dead kangaroos, wallabies and wombats that line the highway are not helping either. It is clear the wildlife, too, are feeling the effects of the drought, wondering down to the road's edge in search of greenery only to come to an unwelcome end.

Ipad time is of course the answer, but we resist as long as possible. The CX8 has two USB slots which is helpful – four would have been better. Or perhaps one of those phone charging pads in the front console.

Narrabri to Dubbo

We were up early on day four to make tracks for the zoo in Dubbo. We were up early on day four to make tracks for the zoo in Dubbo.

Narrabri brings a reminder of another small-town quirk. Shops don't open past 12 noon on Saturdays, bakeries included. So, the 11th birthday of one little girl in our road trip party was celebrated with a multicoloured Coles cake – go the big multi-nationals.

It will come as no surprise that the six kids declared it just delicious before running off to the 10-pin bowling lane in the basement of our hotel. Let's just say that the accommodation bookings on this trip were interesting.

We are up early on day four to make tracks for the zoo in Dubbo. Now, I am from Africa so I am not convinced that I am going to be wowed by an artificial savannah in Dubbo but I get to spend a couple hours in the passenger seat this morning which means I get to pick the music, so happy days.

I did most of the driving the day before and to be honest, it was no hardship. The CX-8 really is supremely comfortable. The leather seats in our top-of-the-range Asaki are plush, supportive and electronically adjustable for the ideal driving position. The console is geared to the driver too with buttons and dials within easy reach which helps when you have a husband engrossed in playing guitar in the passenger seat.

The head-up display is crisp and clear, instrumentation is uncomplicated and while the 7.0-inch multimedia screen is acceptable and highly functional, it could be bigger.

The CX-8 happily managed 6.4L/100km during our trip. The CX-8 happily managed 6.4L/100km during our trip.

The highway is noticeably busier with a number of trucks and caravans impeding progress. The overtaking lanes are a boon but rather short when you need to get past a couple of caravans that choose those very moments to try to accelerate.

Luckily the CX-8 is good for a sustained burst of power. The 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesel unit serves it well and with maximum torque available from 2000rpm, you have a right to feel confident.

Dubbo is gearing up for the royal visit of Harry and Meghan and there are cardboard cut-outs of the two everywhere, even at the historic old gaol.

Morning tea is at a Vietnamese-owned bakery that, wait for it, becomes a Chinese take-away at night. Chosen of course by the men in this group who apparently don't want to eat deep fried cuisine inside the zoo, but are happy to scoff down doughnuts and a vanilla slice each. You just can't make this stuff up.

The Western Plain Zoo at Dubbo is an interesting experience. I scoff, politely I might add, but my eldest reminds me that most people will never see African animals in the wild and how else do we teach people to value them. I hang my head in shame. We navigate the zoo with the stealth of a leopard – the CX-8 is quiet, easy to manoeuvre around golf buggies and pedestrians and the stop-start function is mostly unobtrusive.

Zebras – 7 Chinese Restaurants - 23

Dubbo to Parkes

Our road to Parkes is punctuated with an exhibition of planets by the New South Wales outdoor museum. Our road to Parkes is punctuated with an exhibition of planets by the New South Wales outdoor museum.

Our road to Parkes is punctuated with an exhibition of planets by the New South Wales outdoor museum. It is weird and interesting at the same time and allows the kids to stretch the legs at each stop. The Dish at Parkes serves as the signature piece in this ode to the solar system – it rises magnificently some 64 metres in the air in stark contrast to the green and yellow canola fields that surround it.

The kids look a little excited as the guide tells the story of the role the radio telescope played in broadcasting the pictures of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon but their eyes soon glaze over. They prefer to play in the gardens trying out the whispering satellite dishes... I am so glad we drove the four days it took us to get here...

We stay the night in Parkes at a hotel/motel (what does that even mean?) which looks nothing like the pictures on the website. Its better suited to being rented by the hour than as a family oasis. The only place open to eat is the RSL – which is serving a roast and a Chinese banquet. Yes, way.

Cricket games played at the Dish - 1 Doughnut count - 323

Parkes to Kosciuszko National Park

We stopped for fuel for the first time on this trip as we exited Parkes. That's 1123 kilometres on a single tank. We stopped for fuel for the first time on this trip as we exited Parkes. That's 1123 kilometres on a single tank.

We stop for fuel for the first time on this trip as we exit Parkes. That's 1123 kilometres on a single tank. We haven't reached the 6.0L/100km suggested by Mazda but the CX-8 happily managed 6.4L/100km for our trip. The drivers of the other two cars, vehicles in the same segment as ours, have had to fill up twice already which is an interesting benchmark.

The kids have their eye on the prize – an afternoon ski – so are most unimpressed when we stop at Cowra. The streets are lined with Cherry Blossoms in full bloom. The town was the site of a prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. In August 1944, 545 Japanese POWs attempted to escape with 231 killed and 108 injured.

The little people are impressed by the hologram presentation and ask questions – mostly about bullet sizes and blood and gore which is a worry.

Canberra, a city with a fair bit of blood and gore spilt in recent leadership battles, is our mid-morning destination. It's amazing how much better the roads get once you cross into the ACT – just saying. We wave at the Parliament buildings, gobble down a sandwich, pull on some jumpers and try to temper the excitement.

The roads get a little slippery as we begin the climb to Mount Kosciuszko but the CX-8's all-wheel drive keeps it on assured footing. I get to try out the nifty heated steering wheel function, too which there is certainly no call for on the Sunshine Coast.

Ousted Prime Ministers - 1     Snow - 2.2m    Chinese restaurants 31

Kosciuszko National Park to the Sunshine Coast

The plan was to take the coastal route home, making just one overnight stop in Port Macquarie. The plan was to take the coastal route home, making just one overnight stop in Port Macquarie.

After five days on the slopes – and fabulous ones at that – we pack the car to head home. Of course this has to be done in the dead of night because the boys want to make a super early start.

As is the often the case with holidays, the journey home is much quicker than the one there. The plan is to take the coastal route home, making just one overnight stop in Port Macquarie. I am in the driver's seat for most the trip back because my husband hurt his back after coming a cropper on the last run down the mountain, a reminder that sometimes dreams of Olympic glory exist only in our heads.

I am happy to push through but as we drive through Jindabyne I hear that we will be stopping at every 'Big' Australian icon we can on the 1500km home. How exciting.

That's how we find ourselves at the Big Merino in Goulburn, the Big Prawn in Ballina, Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, the Big Knight at the Macadamia Castle and the Big Avocado near the Tweed. So lucky, I know.

The kids think it's the best ever and we pick up a couple of stowaways from the other cars on the final day. This means a bit of luggage redistribution so the third row can be called into action. Word from the 11 and eight-year olds is that the lodgings back there are very acceptable although very tall adults may struggle over long distances.

The last day's drive is a Pacific Highway school holidays car park with torrential rain adding its own challenge. I am grateful for the CX-8's extensive safety package, including Active Cruise Control and Blind Spot Monitoring with the Rear-Cross Traffic Alert proving extremely useful in packed roadside service station car parks.

Big everythings - 6    Rain - 40mm  Chinese restaurants - 27,343

Well, it seems you can.

It is with a sense of sadness and relief that we pull into our driveway just as the sun starts to make way for the night sky. Before the boot is unpacked, my husband is already testing the waters about making this an annual adventure. I pretend not to hear him.

 

The seven-seater SUV proved a star performer on this unforgettable trip. It was earnest and capable, offering the sort of comfortably efficient drive that makes the hours behind the wheel seem truly effortless.

Power delivery is smooth and reliable and the six-speed automatic transmission hardly misses a beat which gives you the confidence needed in trickier situations. The fuel economy was surprisingly brilliant and we thought the ride quite refined and non-intrusive.

Our test car had white leather seats which were not all that practical and we did miss a bigger multimedia screen and smartphone mirroring which let's be honest should be available on a vehicle at this price point.

The kids loved that the back doors opened really wide so it was easy to get in and out, they appreciated having their own climate controls and window blinds to keep out the afternoon sun, but would of liked a couple of USB points in the back.

We didn't need them but there are two ISOFIX points on the outer two seats in the middle row. Mazda also offers the CX-8 with an extensive inclusions list and a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty which is a big tick for a family chariot.

The CX-8, a mix between the CX-5 and CX-9, is a surprise arrival in Australia. But you will be very glad it made the trip.

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