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Mazda CX-8 2018 review: Sport AWD

The CX-8 mixes Mazda SUV DNA almost seamlessly to create something new.
EXPERT RATING
8
Mazda's CX-8 blends the best of its five-seat CX-5 and seven-seat CX-9 to create an interesting amalgam with seven seat capacity and relatively compact dimensions.

It’s no secret Mazda is doing a lot of things right at the moment. But when you have a compelling range of cars, all of which are well equipped, good to look at, and even entertaining to drive, what next?

The answer is find the gaps and plug them. Offer customers choices that other brands won’t or can’t offer. Enter then, the CX-8.

At first glance from the front, it seems to be a CX-5… But then round the back, you’d be forgiven for seeing a CX-9… So, what’s the deal? Does Australia really need yet another Mazda SUV

What I can tell you is the CX-8 wasn’t originally destined for Australia, and in its home-market of Japan, it is Mazda’s flagship SUV offering designed solely with Japanese requirements in mind.

So, now the CX-8 has made its way to Australia, what does it offer that other Mazda SUVs don’t? And why is it only available in two model grades almost $15k apart? After a week with the lower Sport AWD grade, I think I can provide some answers.

Mazda CX-8 2018: ASAKI (AWD) (5YR)
Safety rating
Engine Type2.2L turbo
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency6L/100km
Seating7 seats
Price from$48,950

Is there anything interesting about its design?   9/10

The CX-8 is a true mutt of a thing, but the DNA of the CX-5 and CX-9 is seamlessly blended together to create something new. In fact, it’s almost identical to a CX-5 from the B-pillar forward with all its elegant ‘Kodo’ styling touches.

While the 2018 model year CX-5 has more of a honeycomb-style grille, the CX-8 maintains a grey horizontal set of bars across the front, more like the CX-9. A nice design differentiation.

Although largely identical to the CX-5, the CX-8 maintains the horizontal bar-grille design. Although largely identical to the CX-5, the CX-8 maintains the horizontal bar-grille design.

Combine those features with the slick-looking LED light clusters and, for an SUV, it is exciting to look at. As I mentioned when reviewing the CX-5, Mazda’s design language is to the point where its putting some of the better European automakers on notice.

The CX-8 shows off its ‘efficient’ Japanese design credentials, however, by matching the width of the CX-5 while maintaining sufficient cabin space for a seven-seater.

From the rear three-quarter though, it starts to look massive. Initially, it’s hard to work out why, but it’s largely due to the rear light assemblies borrowed from the CX-9, and long rear doors. They just keep going!

The CX-8 does start to look quite large from the rear three-quarter. The CX-8 does start to look quite large from the rear three-quarter.

Those rear doors open to almost 90 degrees, making entry and exit into the second and third row a cinch. Unlike the CX-9 and most of its competitors, this gives the CX-8 the edge in terms of being a true purpose-built seven-seat SUV. More on this in the practicality section.

The Sport grade also scores 17-inch gunmetal alloys, the same as those fitted to the CX-5 Touring diesel I recently reviewed. They look good and aren’t excessively large.

On the inside and up-front the CX-8 shares much of its slick interior appointments with the CX-5 as well. It’s an elegant, pared back design that’s also ergonomic for the front passengers. Through smart design of the A-pillars, crafty seating position, and a minimalist multimedia screen, vision and comfort are excellent for the driver.

The CX-8 shares its dash with a CX-5 but the centre console from a CX-9. It all comes together nicely. The CX-8 shares its dash with a CX-5 but the centre console from a CX-9. It all comes together nicely.

There’s even more part mixing going on in here though, with the raised centre console and centre-splitting console being borrowed from the CX-9 rather than the CX-5. This allows the CX-8 to have its own interior feel that’s exactly where you’d expect it to be. Slightly more premium than the CX-5, but perhaps less plush than the CX-9. A good place to be, considering the price.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

Our CX-8 Sport AWD comes in at $46,490 before on-road costs. For that not-insignificant amount of money you’ll get 17-inch alloys, LED headlights, heated and auto-folding mirrors, a head-up display, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with DAB+, and built-in sat-nav.

Sadly, there’s still no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, although Mazda promises the connectivity is just around the corner.

Mazda's multimedia offering is user-friendly and minimally distracting. No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto yet, though. Mazda's multimedia offering is user-friendly and minimally distracting. No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto yet, though.

Run your eye over a spec-for-spec CX-5/CX-8 comparison and it's hard to argue with the CX-8’s value. In large part this is because all CX-8s feature active cruise control and Mazda’s upgraded version of AEB, which works at freeway speeds. 

To get those features on a CX-5 you’d have to buy the top-spec Akera ($46,190), and to get them on a CX-9 you’d need to go to the top-spec Azami (from $58,790). Yes, you’ll get a bunch of additional luxury kit on those two, but it positions the CX-8 Sport competitively within Mazda’s stable.

Competitors include the theoretically-better-off-road Kia Sorento Si diesel ($48,490), the Toyota Kluger GX AWD, with its petrol-guzzling V6 ($48,500) and most recently, the new Hyundai Santa Fe Active diesel ($46,000).

The new Santa Fe is the most likely SUV to give the CX-8  a run for its money. It is also well equipped and aggressively priced, and importantly, has had its dimensions expanded to better suit seven seats.

The 17-inch alloys standard on the Sport grade look fantastic and help insulate from road noise. The 17-inch alloys standard on the Sport grade look fantastic and help insulate from road noise.

While I enjoyed the confidence of the CX-8s AWD system, there’s an argument for saving $4000 and opting for the identically-equipped 2WD CX-8 Sport. If you’re going to stick to the suburbs exclusively, ask yourself if you need all wheels driven.

Irritatingly, one piece of standard kit every family-focused car should have, full keyless entry, is missing from the Sport grade. 

It’s a seemingly small thing that’s a huge help when wrangling luggage, children or dogs. I don’t want to have to juggle things while trying to mash the unlock button on the remote.

How practical is the space inside?   9/10

All the Mazda SUV mix 'n’ match really starts to pay off in the practicality stakes. The CX-8 has a brilliant cabin. In terms of being a purpose-built seven-seater as mentioned earlier, the car's elongated proportions allow it to maintain a half-way decent boot space of 209 litres with all seven seats up. It blows the new Santa-Fe’s 130L figure out of the water.

The seats, too, are easy to access width-wise with the large rear doors providing a huge aperture. Height is still a slight problem when clambering into the third row.

Having access to a hatchback-sized 209L of storage space with all three rows deployed is a rare treat and a CX-8 strong-point. Having access to a hatchback-sized 209L of storage space with all three rows deployed is a rare treat and a CX-8 strong-point.

Courtesy of the CX-8’s sleeker roof-line, when compared to the CX-9, the third row is also a little tight for headroom.

Mazda says the third row will suit people up to 170cm tall, and that’s honestly about right. I’m around 182cm tall and my head was touching the roof, but legroom was decent. It’s more than suitable for shorter individuals, but not just kids.

The third row is no joke either. It will even fit adults, just not tall ones. The third row is no joke either. It will even fit adults, just not tall ones.

The second row is truly voluminous, especially with the adjustable seats all the way back (for when you’re not using the third row). Space ranges from limo-like, to CX-5-like, when the seats are pushed forward. The transmission tunnel is fairly flat, helping middle-seat occupants with leg space.

The second row is treated to sizable air vents with their own climate control settings, but unlike the Santa Fe, the third row misses out on vents entirely.

Access to the second and third rows is relatively excellent thanks to the massive doors that open to almost 90 degrees. Access to the second and third rows is relatively excellent thanks to the massive doors that open to almost 90 degrees.

Up front and down the middle there are two deep cupholders and a nicely-sized centre console box that also houses two USB ports and the auxiliary-in socket. In front of shift-knob there’s also a little trench with a rubber base which suits keys, wallets and phones. A good use of space.

Boot volume with the third row down is quoted at 742 litres (VDA) which compares very well to the Santa Fe’s 547L and is even getting close to the CX-9’s 810L capacity. One downside is the boot floor is a bit high. You’ll need to step up to the Asaki (at a $15,000 premium, by the way…) to get an automatic powered tailgate.

You'll get a massive 742 litres of space with the third row down. You'll get a massive 742 litres of space with the third row down.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

The CX-8 is available with just one engine across the range, so it’s a good thing it’s a nice unit. 

It’s a 2.2-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel which also appears in this year’s updated CX-5 and Mazda6. It produces an impressive 140kW/450Nm which output-wise places it solidly in ute-territory.

The engine has been extensively re-worked for 2018 with Mazda updating the two-stage turbo with variable geometry, adding a new coolant system and even modifying the shape of the combustion chamber to reclaim more thermal energy. It’s very cool nerdy stuff, but the result is nice smooth power delivery and impressive levels of refinement.

The 2.2-litre diesel produces 140kW/450Nm which some utes can't even touch. Sadly, there's no petrol option. The 2.2-litre diesel produces 140kW/450Nm which some utes can't even touch. Sadly, there's no petrol option.

The 2.5-litre petrol engine available in the CX-5 or CX-9 is notably missing, however, so those wanting to avoid diesel for whatever reason are left with no option here.

Our Sport drives all wheels via a six-speed traditional torque converter transmission. Unsurprisingly, there’s no manual or DCT (dual-clutch) option.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Mazda claims AWD versions of the CX-8 will suck down 6.0-litres per 100km on the combined cycle. Over my week of varied suburban and freeway driving I scored 9.0L/100km. 

A solid miss, but it makes sense, as with the same engine and AWD in the CX-5 I managed 8.0L/100km. The extra 250kg or so added to the CX-8's kerb weight easily accounts for the extra litre of fuel used.

I was determined to try to keep the stop/start system on. Mazda’s 'i-Stop' version of the technology is brilliant, being minimally invasive and allowing you a lot of control over when it triggers. 

Depressing the brake harder when you come to a stop will switch the engine off quickly, and it does its best to fire again the moment you start releasing the pedal. If you lightly apply the brake at the lights the system won’t activate at all. It’s much better than Audi’s aggressive application of the tech.

That having been said, it works even better in Mazda’s petrol cars, and ultimately I’m not sure how much fuel it really saves you…

Editor Mal points out the 72-litre fuel tank gives the diesel a theoretical range of 1200km. Like diesel or not, at least you’ll be visiting the pump less often. 

What's it like to drive?   8/10

The CX-8 is incredibly long and narrow, which adds up to a mixed drive experience. 

You’re never really left wanting for power, as the diesel engine delivers healthy dollops of torque from just 2000rpm. When you consider this is an almost two-tonne SUV it feels light off the line.

The illusion is shattered when you come across a corner, however. The CX-8 requires a notable amount of effort to manoeuvre around tight bends or roundabouts, and the degree of tilt in the body is far more than that of a CX-5 which handles more like a giant hatchback.

The sheer length of the CX-8 makes it a little tougher to wrangle in the corners than, say, a CX-5. The sheer length of the CX-8 makes it a little tougher to wrangle in the corners than, say, a CX-5.

A little research revealed the CX-8, while retaining the width and front-bodywork of a CX-5, actually has the suspension set-up from a CX-9.

I don’t mind the trade-off because this is a purpose-built seven-seater family car. Why would you want it to drive like a sporty hatch? Comfort should be key for a family-friendly SUV like this, and the CX-8 delivers.

It gracefully soaks up bumps and poor road surfaces, giving it a significantly more luxurious ride than smaller Mazdas. There’s less road noise, too, thanks to the softer tune and smallish alloys with plenty of rubber.

As mentioned earlier, refinement in terms of engine noise has also improved significantly over last-generation Mazdas. When you’re up to 3000rpm, you’ll hear a familiar diesel gurgle, but under that (mostly around town) you’ll barely be able to tell it apart from a petrol.

While there’s a bit of tilt in the corners, the sheer weight, long wheelbase and AWD system never made me doubt the grip of the CX-8 when challenged, and there wasn’t so much as a hint of understeer.

Perhaps the CX-8's stand-out dynamic attribute is its ability to behave like a smaller SUV when the going gets tight around city streets. Despite all the room and practicality sitting behind you, it's remarkably easy to slip past oncoming traffic in smaller alleyways.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

Like almost every Mazda now, the CX-8 Sport has a comprehensive safety offering.

As mentioned in the pricing section, the headline act is Mazda’s improved freeway-speed Auto Emergency Braking (AEB) which is standard across the CX-8 range.

Other big-ticket active safety items include: Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM), Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), Lane Keep Assist (KAS) with Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Driver Attention Alert, Active Cruise Control (with stop and go functionality) and Traffic Sign Recognition.

Its an excellent safety package with only a few things to note. The Traffic Sign Recognition and Blind Spot monitoring (that works not just one, but two lanes over) function through the head-up display. This is a safety feature in and of itself, as it goes a long way toward keeping your eyes on the road.

Also, the Lane Keeping Assist feature had a habit of getting pushy with you when the road markings went even slightly awry. It’s a minor annoyance, but worth noting.

Those features join the expected suite of stability control and airbags (the curtain airbags cover all three rows).

The CX-8 was awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating in July 2018, aligning with current standards. 

ISOFIX child seat mounting points are on the outside seats on the second row. ISOFIX child seat mounting points are on the outside seats on the second row.

There are ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the outside seats of the middle row and top top-tethers for all five rear seats.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

Recently Mazda moved to a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is now the norm in the seven-seat market, matching the Hyundai Santa Fe’s five-year warranty, but still eclipsed by the Kia Sorento’s seven-year offering. It still aces the Kluger’s paltry three-year/100,000km warranty.

You’ll need to service the CX-8 every 12 months or 10,000km. Standard services will set you back $319, jumping to $390 every second year.

Verdict

The CX-8 is an odd blend of the CX-5 and CX-9, but in many ways is the best of both worlds. Immensely practical, well equipped and competitively priced, it retains the comfort of the CX-9 with the more convenient track of the CX-5. 

It’s well worth your consideration if you need a large boot or regularly use seven seats. 

The Sport is easily the pick of the range too but ask yourself if you really need all-wheel drive at a $4000 premium.

Would you ever consider the CX-8 over established seven-seat nameplates, or is it SUV excess? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing guides

$48,963
Based on 26 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$36,990
Highest Price
$55,950

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
ASAKI (AWD) 2.2L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $46,970 – 54,560 2018 Mazda CX-8 2018 ASAKI (AWD) Pricing and Specs
ASAKI (AWD) (5YR) 2.2L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $48,950 – 56,320 2018 Mazda CX-8 2018 ASAKI (AWD) (5YR) Pricing and Specs
SPORT (AWD) 2.2L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $34,760 – 41,360 2018 Mazda CX-8 2018 SPORT (AWD) Pricing and Specs
SPORT (AWD) (5YR) 2.2L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $37,510 – 44,110 2018 Mazda CX-8 2018 SPORT (AWD) (5YR) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Design9
Price and features8
Practicality9
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption7
Driving8
Safety9
Ownership7
Tom White
Journalist

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