Isuzu MU-X VS Mazda CX-9
- Reversing camera as standard
- Suspension upgrade
- Off-road capability
- No AEB
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Still noisy when driven hard
- New 10.25-inch display
- Seven-seater's versatility
- Comfortable ride
- Expensive AWD option
- Six-seater's compromises
- Older ANCAP safety rating
While MY17 MU-X signalled a massive change for the better in Isuzu Ute Australia’s (IUA) SUV line-up, this year is more of a subdued affair.
Last year heralded the arrival of a new 3.0-litre engine, new six-speed automatic transmission, and upgraded Aussie-specific suspension, as well as styling tweaks; MY18 MU-Xs get extended service intervals and a new exterior colour.
It’s a clear case of IUA applying a ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach to its popular ute-based SUV.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
The second-generation Mazda CX-9 may have been on sale in Australia for nearly five years now, but it remains the second best-selling large SUV using unibody construction (as opposed to old-school, off-road-focused body-on-frame).
That said, it is getting on a bit, so Mazda’s given it an update with a twist for 2021, hoping to inject a little bit more life into its flagship model.
And when we say twist, we mean it. After all, who would’ve thought there’d ever be a six-seat CX-9? Well, we’ve checked it out to see if it’s the version we needed all along. Read on.
|Engine Type||2.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The MU-X is a solid SUV wagon and it only continues to gain more appeal and, with it, a growing legion of fans. You certainly see a lot of them around – in the bush, in the suburbs and on city streets.
It’s not flash or posh but it’s a very practical daily driver or weekend tourer and performs very well in the real world. The top choice for me remains the LS-T.
Is the MU-X your kind of SUV? Tell us in the comments below.
The CX-9 is still a great option for families looking for a large SUV, even if it is starting to show its age as new rivals continue to launch with newer technologies.
That said, the availability of a luxury-focused six-seat configuration (Azami LE AWD) for the first time might be enough to convince some buyers to give it further consideration.
But for others who need the versatility of seven seats, this is still the CX-9 we’ve all come to know and love – but just a little bit better – particularly in its best-selling Azami AWD form.
This launch marked no noteworthy styling changes in the MU-X, inside or out. It remains a blocky but good-looking unit, blending a bush-ready appearance with styling that doesn’t look out of place in an urban setting.
Build quality and fit and finish seem as sturdy as we’ve come to expect from IUA’s mainstream offerings.
Given its latest update is relatively minor, the CX-9’s exterior largely looks the same as before, which, depending on your point of view, is a very good thing. As far as we’re concerned, it certainly is.
That said, train-spotters will notice some differences, with the GT SP (new), Azami and Azami LE (new) grades getting a refreshed grille that’s slotted and available in two grade-specific finishes unlike the insert their carryover Sport, Touring and GT siblings still have.
And aside from the GT SP, Azami and Azami LE’s new sets of 20-inch alloy wheels (again in grade-specific finishes), the only other exterior change is the Azami and Azami LE’s larger-diameter chrome exhaust tailpipe extensions. Sporty!
Inside, the CX-9 has more changes in store, headlined by the new ‘floating’ 10.25-inch central display all but the Sport and Touring get (they stick with 7.0- and 9.0-inch units respectively).
The new set-up is powered by Mazda’s latest multimedia system, which is certainly an improvement over its predecessor, and a much needed one at that.
Worth noting, touch is not an input method, with the rotary controller on the centre console the only option, which is actually great for safety, so we’re all for it.
The Azami and Azami LE also get new quilted Nappa leather upholstery, which looks and feels great, and adds to the overall high-quality theme.
Otherwise, it’s pretty much business as usual, which is great because the CX-9 has always had a well-designed interior. Yep, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The MU-X’s cabin, unchanged, should remain an easy place in which to travel. It’s roomy enough for everyone.
The second row is a 60/40 split-fold with a fold-away centre armrest. The third row is a tight fit for adults but that’s nothing unusual in most seven-seaters.
There is 235 litres of boot space when the third row is up, expanding to 878 litres when the 50/50 split-fold third row is folded flat. When the second and third rows are down, there is 1830 litres of space.
The MU-X has 12 cupholders, 18 'storage solutions' (door compartments with bottle bulge, coat hooks, rear cargo organiser box, etc), USB ports (front and rear) and three 12V power outlets (centre dash, glove box and rear cargo area).
The MU-X has a braked towing capacity of 3000kg, 750kg unbraked.
Being an SUV that’s 5075mm long, 1969mm wide and 1747mm tall, practicality is arguably the most important thing for the CX-9, and with the option of six seats for the first time with the new Azami LE, it’s even more versatile.
All seven-seat grades have a 60/40 split-fold second row that manually slides and reclines the same as before, with only the Sport missing out on one-touch tumble operation, which makes accessing the 50/50 split-fold third row even easier, even if it’s still not graceful.
But the six-seat Azami LE is configured differently, given its second row has two captain’s chairs instead of a bench. That said, it operates in a very similar manner, just with power adjustment.
I still had around eight centimetres of legroom and four of legroom behind my 184cm (6'0") driving position, while the large transmission tunnel that’s a foot-space issue in seven-seat versions... isn’t.
One key difference with the very roomy and comfortable Azami LE is it only has four top-tether child-seat anchorage points, while all other grades have five thanks to their extra seat. Either way, four ISOFIX child-set anchorage points are split across the second and third rows.
Alternatively, the third row can be used by adults on shorter journeys, although they won’t have a lot of space to enjoy. Again, I'm 184cm tall and it’s tight back there, with no headroom or legroom on offer, but children will, of course, fare much better.
The CX-9’s boot is still pretty usable with all three rows in action, with 230L of cargo capacity available, but you can stow the two rear seats to get 810L in total.
And if you want maximum cargo capacity, the middle seats can also be folded, but not in the Azami LE, annoyingly.
Either way, the CX-9 doesn’t have a load lip but does have a flat floor, so loading bulkier items is a cinch, while two bag hooks and four tie-down points are on hand for securing loose items if they can’t fit in the double map pockets on the front seat backrests.
There are two cupholders in the third row, another two in the second row’s fold-down armrest (seven-seater versions) or large centre console (Azami LE), and another two in the first row’s larger centre console, while the front and rear door bins can also take bottles – and other knick-knacks.
All grades get USB ports in the first row, while the Touring and above also have them in the second row, and the GT and above also feature them in the third row. It’d be nice if there was no differentiation, though.
Price and features
There are seven variants in the MY18 MU-X range: the 4x2 LS-M auto ($42,900), 4x2 LS-U auto ($45,200), 4x2 LS-T auto ($48,900), 4x4 LS-M auto ($50,200), 4x4 LS-U manual ($50,400), 4x4 LS-U auto ($52,500), and 4x4 LS-T auto ($56,200). All are seven-seater SUVs.
The base-spec LS-M’s standard features include 7.0-inch touchscreen with USB and Bluetooth streaming, reversing camera and rear park assist sensors, LED daytime running lights, gun metallic front grille, bi-LED projector headlights, colour-coded door handles and side mirrors, hill descent control, air-conditioning, power windows, and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The LS-U gets an 8.0-inch touchscreen, chrome front grille, door handles and side mirrors, as well as side steps, rear cabin cooling vents, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The LS-T also gets leather-accented seats, passive entry and start system, six-way adjustable electric driver’s seat, roof rails, tailgate spoiler, chrome muffler tip and 10-inch DVD screen for rear passengers.
The MY18 MU-X is available in seven colours: 'Cosmic Black Mica', 'Obsidian Grey Mica', 'Havana Brown Mica', 'Silky White Pearl', 'Splash White', 'Titanium Silver' and the new 'Magnetic Red Mica' option.
The CX-9 has become more expensive, with some grades up a little, while others are up a lot. The range now starts from $45,990, plus on-road costs, and reaches $73,875 (see pricing table below), but there is more standard equipment now.
Either way, two new grades have joined the now-comprehensive CX-9 line-up, bringing the total to six, with the new GT SP slotting in above the mid-range GT but below the previously flagship Azami, which is now bettered by the new Azami LE.
The entry-level Sport and Touring round out the line-up, with each grade coming with front-wheel drive as standard, although all-wheel drive is an expensive $4000 option for all but the Azami that instead asks for a $4435 premium, and the Azami LE which gets it as standard.
Features-wise, the Sport gets dusk-sensing LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, 18-inch alloy wheels, push-button start, a 7.0-inch central display, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, digital radio, a six-speaker sound system, a head-up display, three-zone climate control and black cloth upholstery.
While the Touring has the same 18-inch alloy wheels, it steps up with keyless entry, a 9.0-inch central display, paddle-shifters (new), power-adjustable front seats with heating, and black leather upholstery.
The GT goes even further with 20-inch alloy wheels, a hands-free power-operated tailgate, a sunroof, the aforementioned 10.25-inch central display (new), a 12-speaker Bose sound system, a wireless smartphone charger (new) and heated outboard middle seats.
As its name suggests, the new GT SP is the sportier version of the GT, adding a unique black finish to its 20-inch alloy wheels and side-mirror caps as well as burgundy leather upholstery and red stitching for just $500 more.
Meanwhile, the Azami has 20-inch alloy wheels with a bright finish (new) as well as adaptive LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, a 7.0-inch multifunction display, a heated steering wheel and 'Pure White' or 'Walnut Brown' quilted Nappa leather upholstery (new).
And finally, the new Azami LE mimics the Azami but replaces its middle bench with two power-adjustable captain’s chairs with heating and cooling plus a dedicated centre console, so six seats in total instead of the usual seven.
Also of note, the CX-9 has a new metallic paintwork option: 'Polymetal Grey', which helps it stand out from the crowd.
For reference, the CX-9’s rivals include the soon-to-be-replaced Toyota Kluger ($44,850 to $68,574) and the recently launched facelifted Hyundai Santa Fe ($43,990 to $61,660) and new-generation Kia Sorento ($45,850 to $63,070).
2021 Mazda CX-9 pricing before on-road costs
|Sport FWD||automatic||$45,990 (+$70)|
|Sport AWD||automatic||$49,990 (+$70)|
|Touring FWD||automatic||$53,490 (+$180)|
|Touring AWD||automatic||$57,490 (+$180)|
|GT FWD||automatic||$62,990 (+$1270)|
|GT AWD||automatic||$66,990 (+$1270)|
|GT SP FWD||automatic||$63,490 (NEW)|
|GT SP AWD||automatic||$67,490 (NEW)|
|Azami FWD||automatic||$66,190 (+$1297)|
|Azami AWD||automatic||$70,625 (+$1686)|
|Azami LE||automatic||$73,875 (NEW)|
Engine & trans
All CX-9 grades are powered by a carryover 2.5-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine, which produces 170kW of power at 5000rpm and 420Nm of torque at 2000rpm.
If you’re after a diesel-powered seven-seater, Mazda also has the similarly sized CX-8 in its line-up, but it still doesn’t offer a hybrid option in any of its SUVs, even though many rivals are moving in that direction, including the aforementioned Kluger, Santa Fe and Sorento.
We spent very little time in any new models and we’d have to drive a MY18 MU-X for a week or more to get a good handle on real-world fuel consumption but Isuzu claims the MU-X gets through 7.9L/100km (combined) in 4x4 LS-U and LS-T guises, 8.0L/100km (combined) in 4x2 LS-M, and 8.1L/100km (combined) in 4x2 LS-U and LS-T and 4x4 LS-M.
Every MY18 MU-X has a 65-litre fuel tank.
According to the official combined fuel consumption figures (ADR 81/02), FWD variants of the CX-9 sip 8.4 litres per 100km, which isn’t too bad for a petrol-powered large SUV that weighs just shy of 1900kg. Claimed carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are 197 grams per km.
And given they weigh a whisker more than two tonnes, AWD versions of the CX-9s drink a slightly higher 9.0L/100km and emit 211g/km.
We covered 188km in the Azami AWD and Azami LE AWD at the CX-9’s launch and recorded 11.5L/100km after primarily driving on country roads and highways.
While that figure is nearly 30 per cent higher than Mazda's claim, it’s not outlandish considering the type of vehicle the CX-9 is. Either way, results will vary.
For reference, AWD variants have a slightly large fuel tank (74L) than their FWD counterparts (72L), but they all take more affordable 91RON petrol at minimum.
Running 20 psi (pounds per square inch) in our Bridgestone Dueler or Toyo Open Country tyres, the Isuzus handled everything on the 4WD loop with ease, including runs up and down steep greasy-muddy hills peppered with rocks and tree-root hazards, tight turns in between trees, plowing through mud puddles and more.
No surprise at its efficacy on rough terrain because the D-Max and MU-X work off the proven '4X4 Terrain Command' system, operated via a dial near the auto shifter, and which can be switched on the move from 2High to 4High at speeds of up to 100km/h.
To engage 4L you need to be stationary.
The MU-X is 4825mm long, 1860mm wide (excluding wing mirrors), 1860mm high (the 4x2 LS-M is 1825mm high) and has a 3095mm wheelbase and 1570mm track. It has a 11.6m turning circle. Kerb weight is listed as from 1992kg (4x2 LS-M) to 2157kg (4x4 LS-T).
All MU-Xs except 4x2 and 4x4 LS-M models (220mm), have 230mm ground clearance. All MU-Xs except 4x2 and 4x4 LS-M models have 24 degrees approach angle (LS-M: 23.3), 25.1 degrees departure angle (LS-M: 24.6), and 19.5 degrees ramp-over angle (LS-M: 18.7).
The MU-X retains the benefits of the previous generation’s hill start assist (designed to hold gear during climbs) and hill descent control (which maintains engine-braking speed on downhills and is able to be regulated with acceleration or braking).
Underbody protection includes under-front steel plate skid/splash shield on every MU-X; and steel plate guards on the sump, transfer case and fuel tank leading edge on all 4x4 models.
As far as large SUVs go, the CX-9 is one of the better ones to drive. It’s certainly not confused; it knows what it needs to do and does it well.
The engine is properly punchy down low, serving up plenty of initial torque, so much so that you rarely need to chase its top-end power. In that way, it’s very diesel-like, despite being petrol. Needless to say, acceleration is surprisingly brisk. Not bad, then!
And the transmission it’s matched to also does its job well. Gear changes are pleasingly smooth, if not quick, while it's receptive to heavy applications of the accelerator, kicking down a ratio or two with little hesitation. Yep, don’t bother with its Sport mode.
The CX-9 also rides pretty well thanks to its independent suspension set-up, which consists of MacPherson-strut front and multi-link rear axles with passive dampers. Indeed, the kids aren’t going to be upset when they’re onboard.
Again, we mainly drove on country roads and highways, but it proved to be comfortable, particularly at high speed. And even during those rare, in-town, low-speed moments, it still impressed, on lower-quality roads or not.
And while the CX-9’s electric power steering is well-weighted, some buyers might be left wishing it was a tad lighter, especially when parking, but that’s more about personal preference than anything else.
What is more universal, though, is the system’s lack of feel. Obviously, we’re not dealing with a sports car here, but a little communication through the wheel wouldn’t go astray, particularly on a twisty road.
Speaking of which, the CX-9 handles its mass pretty confidently around a corner. That said, while it is relatively tied down, it still regularly exhibits a fair degree of body roll to remind you that you’re dealing with a large SUV.
The MU-X has a maximum five-star ANCAP rating from April 2017.
Standard safety gear includes six airbags (dual front, side and full-length curtain), ABS with electronic brake-force distribution, ESC, traction control and EBA (emergency brake assist), 'Hill Start Assist' and 'Hill Descent Control', plus three top-tether ISOFIX child-seat points in the rear seat.
ANCAP awarded the CX-9 its maximum five-star safety rating in 2016, and despite the test occurring nearly five years ago, its results still stand.
Needless to say, the game has moved on, with the Santa Fe and Sorento recently resetting the standard, while the Kluger is soon to follow suit.
The CX-9 does, however, get front and side airbags as well as curtain airbags that cover all three rows, whereas the Santa Fe and Sorento only cover the first and second rows.
All grades of the CX-9 also get front and rear autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, traffic sign recognition, high-beam assist and driver attention alert.
A reversing camera and rear parking sensors are also standard in all grades, but the Touring and above add front parking sensors, while the Azami and Azami LE also get surround-view cameras.
Servicing is recommended at 12-month/15,000km intervals. Prices are: $350 (at 12 months/15,000km), $450 (at 24 months/30,000km), $500 (at 36 months/45,000km) $450 (at 48 months/60,000km) and $340 at 60 months/75,000km – for a total cost of $2090.
As with all Mazda models, the CX-9 comes with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with five years of roadside assistance, both of which are average when compared to Kia’s market-leading seven-year terms with ‘no strings attached’.
Service intervals are 12 months or 10,000km, with the distance on the shorter side, although capped-price servicing is available for the first five visits, costing $2022 in total at the time of the writing, which is very reasonable.