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Mazda CX-9 2021 review: Azami LE

The top-of-the-range Mazda CX-9 Azami LE is an intriguing prospect

The second-generation Mazda CX-9 was a bit of a throwdown to the heavy hitters from Europe, and a shot across the bows of the rapidly improving Korean juggernaut. Big SUVs can be stylish, well-equipped and don't have to drink like an aircraft carrier, that was the Mazda message. That last bit was also a bit self-referential because the old CX-9 it replaced put away the unleaded like nobody's business.

The current-generation machine has been with us for just on five years and it's ageing well. But that shot across the bows to Europe and Korea has meant plenty of worthy competition coming its way, including the brilliant new Kia Sorento and recently updated Hyundai Santa Fe.

Added to that are Mazda's own technology improvements and, in the case of this particular car, the removal of one of the seats to make this big SUV a six-seater. The range-topping Azami kicks off at an already hefty $66,190. Add all-wheel drive, that's $70,625. Then this luxury vibe six-seat option rips out the middle row, adds two powered, heated and ventilated captain's chairs and a repeat appearance of the centre-console bin from the front, plus two cupholders, all for $3250 extra.

You also get 20-inch alloys, multi-zone climate control, front, side and reversing cameras, keyless entry and start, powered tailgate, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, powered seats in the first two rows, head-up display, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, Nappa leather trim and wireless charging.

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What does it look like?

The CX-9 is a fine-looking machine and arguably one of the best lookers on the road. I say arguably because people argue with me about it.

Mazda seems to be able to apply its curvy, muscular design language to pretty much any size and the CX-9 is probably the most successful of its SUV range. The big wheels look fantastic, the grille isn't too overbearing and there's nothing flashy about it, just understated prettiness.

The CX-9 is a fine-looking machine. The CX-9 is a fine-looking machine.

Not many car makers are doing genuinely pretty cars anymore, with most going for impact rather than beauty, but Mazda is wisely sticking to its guns.

Inside things are super-plush, if a little dark, but that's a Mazda thing and, in this case, not helped by the Walnut Brown colour option. Go with the white and it's significantly brighter, although grubby kiddies and white leather may not mix.

Inside things are super-plush, if a little dark, but that's a Mazda thing. Inside things are super-plush, if a little dark, but that's a Mazda thing.

This variant is also extremely well-equipped and as modern, tech-heavy cars go, it's got a very calm interior, with very few buttons about the place, apart from the steering wheel. The new 10.25-inch screen is great to look at and has the new version of MZD Connect, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to pump through the BOSE-branded speakers.

How does it drive?

With a 2.5-litre turbo and "only" six forward gears, the CX-9 is indecently easy to drive, either in town or out on the freeway. It's also extremely quiet.

The all-wheel drive came in super-handy the week I had the big Mazda, because it was absolutely tipping it down in Sydney the entire time. Normally, I'd say something snarky about the appalling state of the roads, but if I'm being fair, that kind of rain would make the best roads in the world break up.

With a 2.5-litre turbo and six forward gears, the CX-9 is easy to drive. With a 2.5-litre turbo and six forward gears, the CX-9 is easy to drive.

And break up they did, the CX-9 making light work damping the racket of the various hidden potholes, handling evasive manoeuvres around the obvious ones and staying absolutely sure-footed as torrents of water washed across the various roads we tackled during ill-advised trips out for critical supplies like, erm, coffee and jam donuts.

The deluge cast my mind back to one of my earlier tests of this generation of CX-9 in a front-wheel-drive version. The flipside to having such a powerful (170kW), torquey (420Nm) engine is that the front wheels spin up with little provocation in the wet. This all-wheel-drive version didn't even chirp.

The CX-9 makes light work damping the racket of the various hidden potholes. The CX-9 makes light work damping the racket of the various hidden potholes.

How spacious is it?

Given it looks big enough to block, say, a waterway critical to global trade, the CX-9 is undeniably huge inside. 

In this six-seater version, you obviously sacrifice the middle seat in the second row, but the two passengers have tons of leg, shoulder and head room while their elbows are unlikely to clash on the padded lid of their own console bin. All three rows offer an embarrassment of cupholders, with the car's total adding up to six. 

  • In this six-seater version, you sacrifice the middle seat in the second row. In this six-seater version, you sacrifice the middle seat in the second row.
  • It's reasonably spacious in the third row. It's reasonably spacious in the third row.
  • Even the third row has air vents. Even the third row has air vents.

Access to the third row is via a painfully slow process where you punch a button and the middle-row seat glides forward and tips the back rest so you can climb into the reasonably spacious but occasional-use-only third row.

Kids will be fine back there and that includes having cupholders, air vents and two of the six USB-A ports in the car. They will be a lot happier in the second row with the luxurious captain's chairs, which scored much praise from all ages.

Each of the four doors will take a bottle, as well as other bits and pieces.

Another sacrifice in the LE is that you can't fold the middle row's two seats for a big cargo area, leaving you with a maximum of "only" 810 litres. With the third row in place, you have roughly the same storage as a Mazda2, 230 litres, which isn't bad at all.

How easy is it to use every day?

At over five metres long, the CX-9 is one of the longest machines on the market, with most seven seaters scooching in just under that mark. That means you're always going to have to be a little more careful when parking such a big unit, also taking into account its height. The big rear doors open out very gracefully and impressively wide, but in a tight spot, that can make for difficult extractions.

The maximum capacity is 810 litres. The maximum capacity is 810 litres.

Parking is made much easier by the cameras everywhere and the supporting beeps and boops from the parking sensors ensure an easier time of it. Also extremely helpful is the reverse AEB - it can be hard to see other cars coming your way when reversing out of car parks or driveways and this system will jump on the brakes to avoid you hitting something. Very, very handy and takes a load off moving so much metal around.

With plenty of ground clearance, you won't have to worry about speed bumps or driveway scrapes either and the accurate, communicative steering means you know what's under the front tyres. That's an underrated feature, we often go on about steering being good, it's not just a petrolhead thing, it helps give you confidence you know what's going on while you're driving or manoeuvring. It does feel taller than it is, but you'll easily clear all but the lowest roof.

The cabin itself is a very calming place to be and it doesn't take long to learn where everything is. Only downside is Mazda's recent epiphany about touchscreens, so controlling the screen is less point and shoot and more turn-turn-turn-turn-click, which can be annoying in Apple CarPlay and, I imagine, Android Auto.

How safe is it?

The CX-9 has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, front and rear AEB, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition and an around-view camera.

The forward AEB works between 4km/h and 80km/h and will recognise pedestrians, at least during the day and in well-lit areas. And unlike its two main Korean rivals, the airbags reach all the way to the third row.

The LE scores four top-tether mounts and four ISOFIX points, one for each rear seat.

It was awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating in 2016, which is obviously some time ago now.

What’s the tech like?

One of the defining features of the modern Mazda is that it's packed with goodies, which it should be in this case given the price. The safety systems all work really seamlessly and there were very few false alarms. Too many of those and your confidence in the system erodes, so it's nice to know you can trust it.

The MZD Connect system looks great and is easy to use, once you remember to stop trying to touch the screen, because it's not a touchscreen, rather it's operated with a rotary dial on the centre console.

There's a new 10.25-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There's a new 10.25-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

How much does it cost to own?

Mazda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and roadside assist for the duration. That matches up with Kluger and Santa Fe quite well but is still behind Kia's excellent seven years.

The dealers expect to see you every 12 months or 10,000km, the latter being a bit cheeky given a similarly powerful Land Rover can go 26,000km between services. So if you're an average-mileage driver, you'll be servicing your car more than once per year.

Mazda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and roadside assist for the duration. Mazda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and roadside assist for the duration.

The first five services are capped at just over $2000, meaning you'll pay about $500 per service, with the Mazda website explaining any extras on top of that, such as brake fluid. The prices aren't terrible, it's just the short intervals that might be bothersome.

The official combined-cycle fuel figure of 8.4L/100km looks fairly realistic, but in the mostly city driving (although on some days I felt like I was driving across an endless river) of my time with the CX-9 I got an indicated 11.7L/100km. Given the conditions, I wasn't being silly with the right foot and that figure matches up with past experience.


The Wrap

The CX-9 Azami LE is a lot of car for a lot of money. When you're up here in the rarefied atmosphere of the $70,000-plus mark, you're punching on with European brands as well as mainstream and upscale Korean ones. Not to mention the inexplicably popular Kluger Highlander, which doesn't have half the stuff of this Azami.

The LE might be a bit niche, but if you're ever unfortunate enough to be stuck talking to me about cars for too long I'll eventually go on a rant about preventing people from buying seven-seat SUVs when they clearly don't need them. The LE is less practical, but I see what it's for - some families have inter-generational duties to perform with their cars, so grandma and grandpa can enjoy being chauffeured about in comfort and consign the kids to the back.

As ever, the CX-9 is the consummate professional, with plenty of substance to back up the style.

Likes

Great looking
Lovely interior
Tons of space

Dislikes

A bit thirsty
Short service intervals
CarPlay not wireless

Scores

Peter:

3.8

The Kids:

4.5

$73,875

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

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