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Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the 2016 Mazda CX-9 Sport AWD with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
It’s entirely possible that, throughout all of human history, there has never been a dog-eared poster of a seven-seat family car taped to the wall of a teenage boy’s bedroom, sandwiched between pictures of a Lamborghini Countach and a Ferrari 308 GTB. And that’s because nobody actually wants one. Nope, you buy a seven-seater when you need one. And those are two very different things.
The second-generation Mazda CX-9, however, might just change that. According to Mazda, news of the CX-9’s impending launch inspired 82,000 Australians to register their interest in the car online. And of those 82,000, a staggering 23,000 asked for a dealer to call them as soon as the cars arrived Down Under. To put that into perspective, that’s more customer interest than the new MX-5 or Mazda CX-3 generated when they were unveiled in 2015.
While sales are yet to quite match the hype (Mazda moved 439 in its first three weeks on sale), there is clearly a buzz around the brand’s biggest SUV.
Mazda’s designers have pulled off a nifty trick in disguising the raw bulk of the CX-9 Sport behind its wide-but-low bonnet and high window line.
The CX-9 Sport AWD (also available in FWD) we’ve tested here marks the entry point to the range, sitting below the Touring, GT and top-spec Azami trim levels, but it arrives armed with a long list of included equipment and an impressive array of as-standard safety tech.
Let’s start with the obvious: the CX-9 Sport is a lot of car. It seats seven, which makes perfect numerical sense, and isn’t to be confused with the MX-5, that seats two, or the old CX-7, which seated five.
But Mazda’s designers have pulled off a nifty trick in disguising the raw bulk of the CX-9 Sport behind its wide-but-low bonnet and high window line. Viewed in isolation, it just doesn’t look like a seven-seater, and it’s not until you park it next to something smaller that you realise how big it really is – impressive for a car that measures five metres long, 1.9-metres tall and 1.7 metres high, and that weighs almost two tonnes.
It is, dare we say it, rather handsome, with its powerful front-end and swept-back body styling lending the CX-9 Sport an almost athletic road presence.
And there are no obvious visual cues you’re driving the base-model vehicle, either. The Sport sits on 18-inch alloys, and is equipped with halogen daytime running lights at the front, and LED taillights at the rear. The windows are appropriately tinted and the wing-mirrors appropriately body-coloured, too. In fact, apart from the bigger alloys sported by the more expensive models, the Sport doesn’t want for much in the looks department.
There’s thoughtfulness to the cabin design, too. The wheels and dials that control the air-con or the multimedia system, for example, all make a satisfying ‘click’ when you turn them, and when searching for a particular street, the sat nav automatically detects the suburb you’re in so you don’t have to type it in. They sound like the tiniest of things, but they all add to the feeling of quality in the cabin.
The CX-9 is a product of Mazda’s KODO design language, which is supposed to capture the “beauty of motion that animals show in the wild”, which goes someway to explaining why, when viewed head-on, the front grille looks for all money like the wide-open mouth of a whale shark preparing for dinner. It’s the only angle from which the CX-9 doesn’t impress, with that smiling front-end that looks so cute on smaller models taking on Luna Park-esque proportions on the brand’s biggest SUV.
There is only one engine/transmission combination available across the CX-9 range, including the Sport, with Mazda ditching the 3.7-litre V6 from the outgoing model and replacing it with a turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Seven seats are a given, but the Sport adds plenty of other niceties like shopping bag hooks in the boot, climate control for both the front and middle seats, and a first-in-class third row top tether point. Each row gets two cup holders, bringing the total count to six, with more room for bottles in the door pockets.
Space for second-row passengers is ample, but the third row is best left to the kids. There’s actually less room in the back row than in the outgoing model, with shoulder, hip and leg room all dropping slightly. Fortunately, the driver’s seat is so far away you’re unlikely to hear the kids complaining.
The second row seats split 60/40, while the third row splits 50/50 via a pull strap accessible from the boot. Third row up, you’ll get 230-litres of boot space (which won’t be anywhere near enough for a full grocery shop), and with the rear seats folded flat you’ll get a far more useable 810 litres. Flatten the second and third row of seats and you’ll get a cavernous 1,641 litres.
The CX-9 Sport AWD we’ve tested wears a $46,490 list price, though that drops to $42,490 if you opt for the FWD version. And unless you really think you’ll need all-wheel drive, that $4,000 is money better off in your pocket.
The standouts on the CX-9 Sport’s standard features list include 18-inch alloys, Mazda’s MZD Connect multimedia system linked to a seven-inch touchscreen, a good-not-great six-speaker sound system with access to streaming apps like Pandora (but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto), sat-nav and push-button start.
Crucially, the CX-9 Sport does miss out on easy-to-clean leather seats, which might be a deal-breaker for parents.
The CX-9 Sport scores points for sipping relatively cheap Regular 91 RON fuel, using a claimed/official 8.8L/100km kilometres in our all-wheel drive test car, which drops to 8.4 in the front-wheel drive version. That said, after a week of mostly urban use, the trip computer showed a less-impressive 12.9L/100km.
Like the rest of the CX-9 range, the Sport is equipped with a smooth stop-start system, along with Mazda’s clever i-ELOOP technology that captures kinetic energy under brakes and uses it to power the car’s electronics. The result, Mazda says, is a five-per-cent reduction in fuel use.
At a glance, it seems unfortunate that in deciding to finally fit a turbo to one of its petrol-powered Skyactiv engines, Mazda chose the CX-9 range over its MX-5 sports car. But spend some time behind the wheel and you quickly see the method in their madness.
Behind the wheel, the CX-9 Sport does a terrific job of feeling smaller than it is.
Mazda has eschewed a diesel option, instead using all kinds of dark magic to build the traditional benefits of a diesel powerplant into the Sport’s turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine petrol engine, which is perfectly matched with a smooth six-speed automatic.
The new engine produces 170kW of power, which isn’t a staggering number for a car this size (the outgoing engine produced 204kW). But there’s now 420Nm of torque (up from 367Nm). More importantly, the latter is available from a low 2,000rpm, meaning that when you really need it (taking off from traffic lights, for example), there’s always plenty available.
Behind the wheel, the CX-9 Sport does a terrific job of feeling smaller than it is. We’ve spent a week navigating inner-city laneways and cramped shopping centre car parks, and at no stage did it feel too big or bulky.
The Sport scores top marks for refinement, too. The outside world rarely interrupts the cabin ambience, with road bumps, noise and other annoyances rarely noticeable. However, the MZD-Connect multimedia unit in our test vehicle had issues, freezing and resetting itself a couple of times and noticeably lagging when cycling through menu options.
The CX-9 rang is equipped with an excellent suite of safety tech, right across the range.
Expect a benchmark-setting standard features list that includes blind-spot monitoring, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, cross-path detection and an AEB system that operates in both forward and reverse.
The entire CX-9 range was awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating when it was crash-tested in June.
The CX-9 range is covered by Mazda’s three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and all models, including the Sport, require servicing every 10,000km or 12 months.
The range is covered by Mazda’s capped-price servicing plan, with a total cost of $1,101 for the three required services during the warranty period.
The Mazda CX-9 Sport AWD is that rarest of things – an entry-level car that feels anything but. If you can live without leather seats, then it might just be the pick of the range.
So will we be seeing a picture of one taped to a teenage boy’s wall anytime soon? Probably not. But I’d wager you’ll spot one in his parent’s driveway.
|Azami (AWD)||2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$40,888 – 49,990||2016 Mazda CX-9 2016 Azami (AWD) Pricing and Specs|
|Azami (FWD)||2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$35,880 – 47,994||2016 Mazda CX-9 2016 Azami (FWD) Pricing and Specs|
|Classic (FWD)||3.7L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$24,200 – 29,810||2016 Mazda CX-9 2016 Classic (FWD) Pricing and Specs|
|Grand Touring||3.7L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$33,660 – 40,040||2016 Mazda CX-9 2016 Grand Touring Pricing and Specs|