The Mazda CX-9 was mighty impressive when it first launched in 2016. So impressive that the MY20 is the lightest of light touches, with just a tweak here and there while leaving the good stuff well alone.
Tell you what, there's rarely a dull moment in this gig. Well, you might think this is terribly dull, but jumping from the newest Mazda, the CX-30, to the big fella CX-9 was an interesting experience.
Probably not for the obvious reasons - the CX-9 is Mazda's largest SUV, with seven-seats and the company's powerful 2.5-litre turbo. It's interesting because the CX-9 signalled the start of Mazda's current generation design, with it's slim headlights, simpler surfacing and truly excellent interior.
The CX-9 is probably more than halfway through its lifecycle now, so moving back to the start of the design shift made for some interesting observations.
And due to its age, Mazda's insights over the last few years meant a little re-jig of the range, with the Azami LE disappearing and the plain-old Azami taking over at the top of the of the offerings.
Mazda CX-9 2020: Azami (AWD)
Regular Unleaded Petrol
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 7/10
The CX-9 Azami AWD is the zenith of the CX-9, coming in at $69,303, $2543 more than the MY19. The FWD version is $64,893, with our luxury car tax doing weird things to the pricing.
New for 2020, the G Vectoring Plus system adds brake-based torque vectoring, while there's also a new Off-road Traction Assist mode on AWD models , which have also all got auto-hold on them now.
The CX-9 Azami AWD is the zenith of the CX-9.
On the new Azami you get 20-inch alloy wheels, a 12-speaker stereo, multi-zone climate control, around-view cameras, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, electric heated and ventilated front seats, sat nav, active LED headlights with auto high beam, auto wipers, heated front windscreen, new high-spec Nappa leather seats, power tailgate and a space-saver spare.
One of the interesting things to note as I jumped back in time was just how obsolete the old MZD Connect looks and feels compared to the new one in the 3 and CX-30. The hardware feels a bit clunky (and you can use it as a touchscreen when stationary), but it's really showing its age now there's a new one. It's still okay, though, and better than anything compatriot Toyota has dreamt up. It also has both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as well as DAB+ radio.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 8/10
I still find the CX-9 strikingly pretty, four years after I first drove it. Big cars like this are hard to make attractive while also delivering on the seven-seat promise, but a clever mix of detailing, effective concealing of its true size and the simplest interpretation of Mazda's Kodo design language really delivers.
Nothing has changed for 2020 looks-wise, apart from the new 20-inch wheels, and that's quite all right by me.
The simplest interpretation of Mazda's Kodo design language really delivers.
The cabin is huge and, given how much glass there is to work with, unusually light for a Mazda. The materials are well thought through and the new leather on the seats is very pleasant.
There is a huge amount of space in here, obviously, but nobody got lazy in the design studio - there's nothing clunky or out of place. Even the wood surround on the centre console is acceptable, and it's probably not real wood, so that's okay. The metallic finishes keep things nice to look at and the judicious use of chrome means none of it looks cheap.
How practical is the space inside? 9/10
With all three rows in use, you start with 230 litres of boot space, or about the same as the CX-3. Fold down the third row and you get a startling 810 litres. Mazda doesn't offer a figure for all the seats down, but it's going to be a big one.
You're well set for cupholders, with a total of six spread across the three rows. Each of the doors will hold a bottle, too, for a total of four.
Middle-row passengers get a very good deal.
The third row has always been reasonably accessible for kids and nimble adults, but now it's easier to escape with a new lever to flip the middle row, just in case you've forgotten someone/trapped them in there.
Middle-row passengers get a very good deal, with plenty of room in each direction, including plenty of foot space under the front seats.
You start with 230 litres of boot space, or about the same as the CX-3.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
Mazda's SkyActiv 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo drives the CX-9 along with 170kW and 420Nm. In the AWD it, obviously, drives all four wheels via Mazda's own six-speed transmission.
It's just as well all that torque is on board because the CX-9's kerb weight is a chunky 2006kg. Towing capacity is rated at 750kg unbraked and 2000kg braked.
Mazda's SkyActiv 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo drives the CX-9.
How much fuel does it consume? 7/10
The official combined cycle figure for the CX-9 is 9L/100km, a few tenths of a litre more than the front-wheel-drive car. The reality is that you'll get closer to my figure of 11.1L/100km, although my loan of the car was slightly abbreviated when an errant pensioner swiped the front bumper while it was parked outside my home.
The fuel tank is a big one, with 74 litres.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 9/10
As with other Mazdas, the CX-9 Azami is loaded with safety gear. As well as the usual six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, you get forward and reverse AEB, reverse cross traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, forward and rear collision warning, rollover stability, trailer-sway control, driver-fatigue monitoring and traffic-sign recognition.
Mazda says the pedestrian detection now works at night, so the car will brake to avoid mowing down wayward night-walkers.
On top of that, there are ISOFIX points in the second and third rows, along with three top-tether points in the middle row and two in the third.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 7/10
Since my first drive in 2016, the warranty has gone from three to five years, as well as offering unlimited kilometres into the bargain, plus roadside assist.
Service intervals are Mazda's customary 12 months/10,000km, the latter number being a bit on the short side for average-mileage owners. The first five services are capped, ranging from $356 to $400, for a total of $1868 for five services. I hesitate to average that out over five years because, as I say, 10,000km per year is a bit on the short side. The prices also don't include things like filters and brake fluid.
Service intervals are Mazda's customary 12 months/10,000km.
What's it like to drive? 7/10
Back in 2016, I said the CX-9 was the benchmark and the only reason it isn't the absolute top of the heap now is the arrival of the new Hyundai Santa Fe last year. It's still way better to drive than the segment's runaway hit, the Toyota Kluger, and shades the Kia Sorento in most areas, except perhaps ride quality.
The Mazda really is a very nice thing to drive. The smooth 2.5-litre turbo revs readily under a heavy foot, delivering a nice flat torque curve. Mazda's G-Vectoring system now has a Plus version, which means it also uses brake-based torque vectoring to help tighten the line when physics overcomes the admittedly middling tyres.
A couple more gears would be nice and perhaps a little more steering feel.
My previous complaints about the tyres hold true, too - they're still a bit lame in the wet, with the fronts spinning up, the only difference being the all-wheel drive and traction control cutting in to spoil the dance.
In the dry, however, the combination of G Vectoring and a fine chassis tune means the high-riding SUV is always in control, with a good balance between ride quality and handling finesse. It feels like a bigger CX-5, but not that much bigger.
The Mazda really is a very nice thing to drive.
The CX-9 has that unique Mazda feeling of not being overtly sporty, yet you still get out thinking, "Gee, that was pretty good."
A couple more gears - like most of its rivals have - would be nice and perhaps a little more steering feel. These are really nitpicks, because there's so little to complain about.
Mazda asks a lot of money here at the top of the range, but a Toyota Kluger Grande costs more and isn't anywhere near as economical, nice to drive, or to look at.
The unique blend of a turbo petrol four-cylinder and devastatingly good looks, along with the kind of driving and riding experience that puts a smile on your face, make it a winner.
There is little wrong with the CX-9 Azami but really, you get most of the truly useful stuff in the GT and, if you're less fussy, the taller-tyred Touring. But at the same time, if you do choose this variant, you won't feel like you've failed to get your money's worth.
In other words, four years after launch, the big Mazda is holding up very nicely indeed.