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Mazda CX-9 2019 Azami LE review: long term

The CX-9 Azami LE pushes the Mazda brand closer to premium status than ever.

Malcolm Flynn is spending six months with the top-of-the range Mazda CX-9 Azami LE, to see how it suits his family’s needs.

Part 1: February 20, 2019

I’ve always felt that buying a large SUV to carry less than three kids is akin to bringing a gun to a knife fight, but our past six months with the Hyundai Santa Fe Elite proved just how pleasant life can be with a bit more space for everything.

Awkward driveway moment where the new Flynnmobile met the old one. Awkward driveway moment where the new Flynnmobile met the old one.

And unlike a bigger house with more bathrooms, it isn’t that much more of a pain to keep clean. Particularly if you don’t use the third row of seats because your baby seats make it a pain to access them, as with our case.

Like that house you might yearn for, we’ve managed to secure a more palatial mobile residence with nappa leather and real wood, with the new range-topping CX-9 Azami LE joining the Flynn family for the next six months.

The thought of a $68,232 (before on roads) Mazda might sound a bit nutty to anyone who’s stretched into a Mazda3 for $19,990, but the upper end of the price scale is actually most popular for large seven-seat SUVs like the CX-9, Santa Fe and Kia Sorento.

It sits $1972 above the regular AWD Azami that used to top the range, and features an equipment list that would look at home on some German sedans worth more than twice as much.

The nappa leather is a degree softer than that found lower in the range, and is only available in the unique Chroma Brown colour.

The idea of wood trim sounds a lot like a tacky ‘90s Lexus, but in the Azami LE’s case it’s a genuine wood surface applied to the centre console and door trims, and is actually quite discreet with its matte finish.

Details you’re not likely to spot but are LE-specific all the same are the box-stitching on the leather steering wheel rim, along with the redesigned overhead console with LED ambient lighting.  

The Azami LE’s debut in September last year also coincided with a host of refinement tweaks to the chassis and cabin, but the headline act was arguably the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity for the first time on any Mazda aside from the latest BT-50 update.  

Proof that anything is possible if you ask often enough. Finally, Android Auto in a MZD Mazda! Proof that anything is possible if you ask often enough. Finally, Android Auto in a MZD Mazda!

We’re a dedicated Android family, and I’d be very reluctant to use any car without Android Auto these days. With all the distractions of two babies in the back combined with the ease and versatility of being able to ask for any music, navigation or general Google search (among numerous other features) you want, you too would never want to go back. And if you haven’t lived with it, you want to.

So with this big criteria ticked, along with the important safety details like city and highway AEB, rear AEB, the Azami LE is set to exceed our needs in every way we can think of.

Job number one for any new car that joins the family is child seat installation. This was a snack in the Santa Fe, but was surprisingly fiddly this time around.

Unlike a lot of new cars, the CX-9’s ISOFIX mounts are hidden behind discreet splits in the leather. This is great if you’re not using baby seats and are happier to hide the mounts, but requires a bit of blind fiddling for each side of the seat to click home.

Somewhere in there is an ISOFIX point. (image: Malcolm Flynn) Somewhere in there is an ISOFIX point. (image: Malcolm Flynn)

The top tether for my two-year-old’s forward-facing seat presented no issues, but my 10-month-old’s rear-facing seat tether would barely reach the mount on the back of the seat, even when stretched out to its full length. It actually took some jimmying to get it fitted, but once done, it’s fine. I actually tried this a few weeks later with our spare seat (when the other required an emergency thorough clean) from another brand, and found the same issue. So it’s hard to blame the baby seats. Have any other CX-9 owners found this? Tell us in the comments below.

With that out of the way, the Azami LE clawed back some brownie points with the retractable sunshades and privacy glass on each back door window, which means we don’t have to fit our ugly window socks to protect the kids from the sun.

Time and tide wait for no man (or CX-9) when there’s errands to run, so it’d soon ticked off trips to our friends’ baby shower, the supermarket and the inevitable Bunnings run.

  • The limited room needed to open the CX-9’s tailgate is a surprise party trick. The limited room needed to open the CX-9’s tailgate is a surprise party trick.
  • Off to Woollies we go. Off to Woollies we go.
  • Time for a snag sandwich. Time for a snag sandwich.

One surprise benefit of the sloping rear tailgate is that it opens upwards as much as it does backwards, meaning it needs surprisingly little room behind the car to open. This is REALLY handy if you’re parked up against a wall and need to get into the back.

But, the big two details we want to explore with this test is whether it actually offers any more room for Grandma between the two baby seats in the second row, and whether the CX-9’s very clever turbo petrol engine can get within cooee of the Santa Fe diesel’s real-world fuel consumption.

Grandma’s yet to hitch a ride aboard the CX-9, but we have racked up nearly 2500km in our first month, with runs to Canberra and Newcastle balanced with lots of urban runabouting.

We couldn’t manage to do a dedicated freeway run to aim for a best-case fuel figure, but with a 50km of urban running mixed in, we netted a 10.04L/100km over the whole tank between Sydney and Canberra and back. This was remarkably close to the 10.09L/100km recorded the tank prior which was more of a 50/50 urban/freeway mix, but a step better than our 11.13L/100km first tank that was predominantly urban driving.

Our final fill for the month after the Newcastle run resulted in a 10.25L/100km, so it’s looking like the average so far of 10.38L/100km is about what we’ll get no matter how we drive it.

This is unsurprisingly beyond the 8.8L/100km official combined figure, but still pretty good in the real world for a two-tonne SUV, and that’s burning the preferred Regular 91 RON unleaded too. Stay tuned to see if we can get it to deviate from this usage, and we will strive to match that 8.8, somehow.

One detail I haven’t seen before, even after a recent drive of a CX-5 GT with the same engine and cruise control system, is that the active cruise control always seems to settle 1-2km/h under my targeted cruising speed. So you’ve got to overestimate the speed you’d like to cruise at, which doesn’t seem right. Once again, have any other CX-9 owners experienced this? Tell us in the comments.

A definite highlight of the CX-9 experience so far has been the abundance of cargo space. A lot of its extra 305mm of overall length over the Santa Fe seems to have gone into the boot area, so we’re now running out of things to carry on board.      

Believe it or not, there’s a weekend worth of luggage in here, plus gifts for two BBQs. Believe it or not, there’s a weekend worth of luggage in here, plus gifts for two BBQs.

Are we about to become boot hoarders? We shall see.

Acquired: January 2019
Distance travelled this month: 2389km
Odometer: 4528km
Average fuel consumption for Jan/Feb: 10.38L/100 (measured at the pump)

Part 2: March 10, 2019

Spoiler alert: It seems that no matter how large your SUV, you don't score any more space between the two sets of ISOFIX mounts on the second row of seats. From our sample size of Santa Fe and CX-9 at least, with Grandma clambering aboard early this month to find the two to be identical. Or about exactly the width of her hips, which means she can squeeze herself in there, but it's a pain latching the seatbelt and she won't be happy sitting there for very long.

All smiles for now, but I like this mother-in-law too much to put her here for long. (image: Malcolm Flynn) All smiles for now, but I like this mother-in-law too much to put her here for long. (image: Malcolm Flynn)

So given Dad knows what side his bread's buttered, it's usually me who finds himself wedged in there when Grandma's using our chauffeur service.

The CX-9 is the only SUV among its immediate competitors to offer child seat anchorage points in the third row, but they're only top tether, not the more secure ISOFIX style. So we could ferry Grandma in comfort all the time by putting one of the babies in the back, but we'd ultimately be compromising their safety while also halving the usable boot capacity and forcing my little man to sit on his own all the way at the back.

I wonder if dedicated people movers like the Honda Odyssey or Kia Carnival would suit Grandma any better? This may be our next port of call.

Another second-row observation we've made is that the retractable rear sunshades and privacy glass are nowhere near as dark as those in our previous Santa Fe Elite. They're not quite at the point of adding the window socks to the mix, but it has made a noticeable difference to our 11-month old's comfort levels when the sun is heading in her direction.

One issue that would affect all current CX-9's is the controls for the three-zone climate control. So, two zones up the front and a third for the second and third rows of seats which is controlled via a panel behind the centre console.

The prince of button pressing loves to make things either real hot or real cold for he and his sister. (image: Malcolm Flynn) The prince of button pressing loves to make things either real hot or real cold for he and his sister. (image: Malcolm Flynn)

The temperature sync function only seems to affect the front two zones, and we've often found that our button-loving two-year old has bumped the temperature right up, down, or even turned it off without us in the front being aware.

The 'REAR' button up the front just turns the third zone on and off, so it would be handy if there was a provision to lock the rear controls to what Mum and Dad recommend. In a nutshell, the existing setup suits adults in the second row, but not kids who don't know what the buttons do.

As mentioned last month, we've been a little nervous about whether we could ever get near the Azami LE's 8.8L/100km official combined consumption figure on the highway in the real world, but I'm pleased to say we've done it, and even bettered it!

With no special circumstances aside from filling up at the start of this month's Hume Highway run to the ACT and pulling into the first servo over the border, our well-laden CX-9 scored a pretty impressive 8.79L/100km, measured carefully at the pump. This was on Regular 91 RON unleaded too.

This suggests you should be able to squeeze 842km between fills of the 74-litre tank, which is about all I can manage in one sitting, and well beyond anything I've tried to get my kids to sit through to date.

This also helped our average for the month to drop to 10.07L/100km, but this and our 10.23L/100km overall average to date is still some margin above to our Santa Fe diesel's 8.48L/100km. You simply can't expect a petrol to match the equivalent size diesel though, until Mazda's SkyActiv-X engine lobs at least. For now, the CX-9's petrol delivers a healthy performance boost which makes highway overtaking that much more confident than in the Santa Fe.

Speaking of highways, thanks Wyatt Chu for your comment about the cruise control speed differential I mentioned last month. Re your experience with speed climbing on the crest of hills, I find the same thing with most, if not all cruise control systems. I also find the CX-9's setup particularly good at holding your set speed going down hills, with good use of engine braking by proactively dropping gears.

Acquired: January 2019
Distance travelled this month: 2260km
Odometer: 6788km
Average fuel consumption for Feb/March: 10.07L/100km (measured at the pump)

Part 3: April 18, 2019

It feels like about a fortnight, but we've already hit three months, or the halfway mark for our time with the CX-9 Azami LE.

With 6,570km under our belts it should probably feel like longer, but this is surely a good sign for the car in general.

If you were to ask me to summarise the experience in two sentences, I'd say its most endearing attributes are general comfort and quietness. I feel like I could just hop aboard and drive it to Perth whenever I want, and get to the other end with a smile on my face.

On that note, we decided this month to maintain our tally of at least one decent family road trip per month with a weekend run to Jervis Bay and back, but rather than taking the slightly quicker (and obvious) route via Picton Road and the Princes Highway, we decided to take the more scenic (and winding) option via Mittagong and the Kangaroo Valley that promised to add just eight minutes to our journey.

Gone fishin’ (image: Malcolm Flynn) Gone fishin’ (image: Malcolm Flynn)

What would this type of driving mean for our fuel consumption? I know you're dying to find out, but I can't really tell you, as both legs of the trip included about half a tank of urban driving as well. The two tanks that spanned the journey did return 11.04 and 11.14L/100km figures though, which is certainly on the upper end of our results to date.

This was fair enough though, given the amount of slow, windy hill climbing involved in either direction.

This pushed out monthly average up to 10.97L/100km though, which is nearly a full litre more than last month.

Thanks for the comments Glenn Stewart and Steve, who have had similar experiences fitting a rear-facing child seat top tether to myself. Steve couldn't get his Britax or Maxi Cosi seats to fit the second row of his 2019 Azami, but had no issue in the third row.

Glenn pointed out that he had the same issue with his 2012 CX-5, and noted that all newer Mazda designs than the current CX-9 seem to have ISOFIX points that are easier to access.

Glenn also noted that he's seen a similar disparity between cruise control set speed and actual indicated speed with several other vehicles. Perhaps it's the fact that the Azami's head-up display puts the two readings side by side that makes it particularly apparent in this case.

Thanks very much for the observations guys.

Acquired: January 2019
Distance travelled this month: 1921km
Odometer: 8709km
Average fuel consumption for March/April: 10.97L/100km (measured at the pump)

Part 4: May 18, 2019

The first big job for the CX-9 this month was a weekend trip to Orange for a wedding, which even though our trip started on the eastern edge of the Blue Mountains, is always much further than I think.

Probably because the 400km round trip is a lot like the road journeys of my youth, forcing you to go from town to town without the ease and monotony of motorways.

Thankfully one of those towns is Bathurst, which of course brings the opportunity to take the family on another lap of one of the world’s greatest race circuits and be a classic dolt by taking a pic of whatever we’re driving in pole position.

Just because Lowndesy hasn’t piloted a CX-9 (his loss), doesn’t mean you can’t put one on pole. Just because Lowndesy hasn’t piloted a CX-9 (his loss), doesn’t mean you can’t put one on pole.

This trip tipped the CX-9 over the 10,000km odometer reading, with triggered the ‘Oil Change Due’ alert on the instrument cluster, meaning it was time for a service.

We were soon booked in for a visit to Penrith Mazda, our nearest service department, and even though the service took just half a day, Mazda HQ kindly lent us a CX-8 Akari for a few days to keep us on the move.

See, they’re not the same. See, they’re not the same.

It then hit me that I hadn’t washed our CX-9 once during our time with it. Even though our Snowflake White Pearl Mica Azami LE still looked cleaner than most CX-9s you see around Sydney, I simply can’t bring myself to take a car in for attention without it being spotless.

You don’t show up to the doctor in your pyjamas do you? OK, bad analogy, this is probably in the same league as cleaning your house before the cleaner comes.

The apprentice is coming along well. The apprentice is coming along well.

A quick bath made a hell of a difference though, bringing the sparkle back to the shadow chrome wheels and chrome accents particularly.

On to service day, and the list of jobs on the invoice looked longer than necessary as always, but 15 of the 19 tasks were just inspections. Thorough.

The remaining four items were to replace the engine oil and filter, perform a road test and rotate the wheels and tyres. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

Since when did the service area look as flash as the showroom? Since when did the service area look as flash as the showroom?

The team at Penrith Mazda gave our CX-9 yet another bath, but also gave the inside a good going over and couldn’t have been more helpful through the whole process.

In preparation for our CX-9’s trip to the doctor, I transplanted its entire contents over to the CX-8, including both baby seats and all the usual boot adornments.

This gave me the chance to measure exactly what space difference exists between the baby seats on the back seat between the two models. Guess what, they’re identical.

Despite the CX-8 having a significantly narrower body, it’s got the same 50cm between the centremost ISOFIX points, along with the same 40cm between the outer hard points on my two baby seats.

So despite what we expected, Grandma will be just as comfortable between the seats in a CX-8 as a CX-9. 

It’s a similar story in the back. Although we didn’t measure anything this time, it swallowed our standard load of portacot and twin stroller just as easily as the CX-9, and a shopping spree revealed a very similar space with the third row of seats upright.

Yep, Dad forgot the green bags, yet again. Yep, Dad forgot the green bags, yet again.

I also took advantage of the CX-9 boot and back seat being empty for the first time ever to collect a single mattress. I had every confidence it would fit, but all that prep proved a waste when I realised it came compressed in a box that would have fit with the third row seats up!

I’d love to see the machine that compacts a mattress that small. I’d love to see the machine that compacts a mattress that small.

Delivering no surprise whatsoever was our fuel consumption for the month. Over 1571km of mixed driving, we yielded 10.8L/100km. So slightly better than last month, but above our average to date.

Acquired: January 2019

Distance travelled this month: 1571km

Odometer: 10280km

Average fuel consumption for April/May: 10.8L/100km (measured at the pump)

Part 5: June 21, 2019

Nothing much happened with the CX-9 this month, and although we covered plenty of kays, there wasn’t a single photo-worthy activity aside from a couple of kerbside context shots.

Sorry first-gen Koleos and Escape, the Azami has you smashed for light-of-day appeal. Sorry first-gen Koleos and Escape, the Azami has you smashed for light-of-day appeal.

So the usual to and from daycare, kids to swimming, ferrying Grandma to and from Campbelltown, which at more than 120km for the round trip would account for the majority of the 2300km we racked up this month. So a pretty average month for a family SUV then, fading into the background and getting the daily grind done.

Not so much next to a yellow Lambo. Not so much next to a yellow Lambo.

Our average fuel consumption is even the same 10.8L/100km as last month, which means the last three months figures have all been within 0.17L of each other. It doesn’t get much more consistent than that.

We’ve got less than a month left with the CX-9 now, so hit me up in the comments if there’s something you’d like me to investigate. You’ll also find all the nitty gritty in Richard Berry’s launch review of the current CX-9 range from September 2018.

Acquired: January 2019

Distance travelled this month: 2300km

Odometer: 12580km

Average fuel consumption for May/June: 10.8L/100km (measured at the pump)

Is there anything you want to know about the Azami LE? Tell us in the comments section below. 

Part 6: July 12, 2019

Have you ever discovered something about an old friend you wish you’d known about years ago? You know, like an obscure political allegiance or that they like to spend their spare time spotting planes?

With our CX-9, it was the steering wheel heater button. I knew it was somewhere, based on my time spent perusing the spec sheet, but hadn’t felt the need to look or chanced upon it. 

Halfway between the HVAC controls and multimedia screen, but evidently invisible to me. Halfway between the HVAC controls and multimedia screen, but evidently invisible to me.

But some cosmic force steered me right toward it at the start of my final drive in the Azami LE, no douzbt catalysed by the fact that that particular morning was registering just five degrees on the dash readout. My Canberra friends might scoff at such a number, but on the edge of the Blue Mountains, that’s chilly. 

However unlike a plane spotting or political weirdo, the heated steering wheel is a very good thing. Forget driving gloves, this is what your phalanges need when the weather turns ugly. I just wish I hadn’t waited all of autumn and more than a third of winter to find it. 

Other interesting points from our final month with the CX-9 include my application of the new ‘Mal Flynn front seat comfort ahead of a rear-facing child seat index’ to the LE, straight after our mid-size SUV comparo.

The results were interesting, in that there’s a full 10cm more room in the CX-9 than a CX-5 measured from the base of the headrest to the nearest dash surface, with the backrest at a comfortable angle for me and just touching the baby seat behind it. 

This 10cm is the difference between barely coping with my 172cm in the front seat and comfortably handling a 188cm friend. 

Also very interestingly, our CX-9 measurement was equal to the much smaller CR-V. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, well packaged Honda. 

During our last weekend together, we took the CX-9 for a family lunch in the Megalong Valley, which gave me a chance to reflect on our six months and 12,000km together. 

If you’re out Blackheath way, check out Hargraves Lookout for a taste of being on top of the world. If you’re out Blackheath way, check out Hargraves Lookout for a taste of being on top of the world.

Compared to the Santa Fe Elite we had before it, which did the job very well for my family, the CX-9 is a car I found myself actually looking forward to driving. 

It’s more refined and dynamic despite being so much longer, and its bigger boot will always come in handy. 

Is it worthwhile going for such a big SUV with just two toddlers? No, it’s a bit decadent, but it does leave plenty of room for future expansion, and you certainly won’t feel like you’re driving a bus in the meantime. I didn’t hear one complaint about its extra size making parking a challenge. 

Over our 12,000km, the overall average fuel consumption has ended up being 10.56L/100km, which is still some margin above its 8.8L/100km official combined figure, but much better than the real-word results we’d expect from any of the CX-9’s petrol V6 rivals. 

What’s most impressive is how little it moved from this average over a variety of driving conditions, which is a credit to the 2.5-litre turbo four’s design focus on general use performance rather than outright acceleration. 

Yes, you’ll get the same refinement and drivetrain in a base CX-9 Sport for less than two-thirds the Azami LE’s price, and that’s definitely worth considering when you’re choosing your trim level. 

Next in line for the Flynn family test is a Kia Carnival, which will give us the chance to see if a big SUV really is a fitting replacement for the traditional people mover, but in reverse order. I know Grandma is keen to find out…

Acquired: January 2018

Distance travelled this month: 1,579km

Odometer: 14,159

Average fuel consumption for June/July: 10.33L/100km (measured at the pump)


The Wrap

Likes

Classy interior
Epic features list
So much room

Dislikes

Top tether a stretch for rear-facing child seat
ISOFIX fiddly to use
Cruise control needs to be overstated

Scores

Malcolm:

The Kids:

$68,523

Based on new car retail price

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