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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Are we about to become boot hoarders? We shall see.
Acquired: January 2018
Distance travelled this month: 2389km
Average fuel consumption for Jan/Feb: 10.38L/100 (measured at the pump)