Lexus NX VS Mazda CX-9
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- Great advanced safety tech
- Impressive ride and handling
- Engine could have more grunt
- Brakes are good but could be more responsive
- Can be tricky to pilot in tight spaces
It’s only taken nearly 15 years, but Lexus has become a fully accepted prestige brand in Australia – it outsells Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, Mini, Porsche and Peugeot. And the NX mid-sized SUV is far and away the most popular Lexus model.
Read on to find out what I found out.
Read More: Lexus NX 2018 review
Read More: Lexus NX Sports Luxury 2018 review: snapshot
Read More: Lexus NX F Sport 2018 review: snapshot
Read More: Lexus NX Luxury 2018 review: snapshot
Read More: Lexus NX 300 F Sport AWD 2018 review
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Regular Unleaded|
The CX-9 is Mazda's big, SUV flagship and it has been updated with more cool tech, better safety features, better handling and real wood. Yup, you read that right: real wood. There's also been a price rise on this seven-seater.
You did know it was a seven-seater, right? And not all seven-seat SUVs are the same. There are off-road capable ones which can be as uncomfortable as a tank on city streets. Then there are those that feel like giant, cushy lounge rooms that handle like a ship really and are just big cars so you better not take them off road. There are others which say they're seven-seaters but in reality those extra two seats in the third row are just for kids – and even then you'd only put your least favourite ones back there. So, what's the Mazda CX-9 then?
That's what this review is all about and by the end of it you'll know if this new Mazda CX-9 the right seven-seater for you.
|Engine Type||2.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The standard of the SUVs in the mid-sized premium segment is so high – high in terms of features and tech, high for practicality and comfort, but also high for the way they drive, and this is an area in which the Lexus NX300h F Sport falls short. At the same time, apart from the much pricier Volvo XC60 T8, it’s the only hybrid among its rivals and the fuel saving is not to be dismissed. Still this is a premium good-looking package at a great price.
Would you choose a Lexus NX300 over, say, a BMW X3, Mercedes Benz GLC or Volvo XC60? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The previous CX-9 was excellent and now the new one fills in many of the gaps which were missing such as the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the safety tech standard across all grades and great ride and handling. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better large seven-seater all-rounder without stepping into the $100K prestige territory.
The Touring is the sweet spot in the CX-9 with its leather seats, 8.0-inch display and good price.
Is there anything Mazda has missed with its CX-9? Or is this SUV almost as good as it gets at this price? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
You’d be fibbing if you thought there wasn’t anything interesting about the design of the NX300h F Sport. Whether you think it’s good looking is another thing altogether, but I happen to reckon it is. I do like that Darth Vader grille, those LED headlights, the side profile and even the back with its egg-splat style tail-lights (very Toyota though).
The F Sport grade brings that expensive cheese-grater-made-of-Onyx-look to the grille, angry looking bumpers, LED indicators that light up in the direction you’re turning, and 18-inch alloys with a smokey-looking finish.
The only outward indication this is a hybrid is the badging.
The NX300h F Sport’s insides go beyond interesting into the realm of intriguing, with that enormous centre console that will make any front seat hankypanky impossible, to the dash puckered with switches and buttons, then there’s that layered trim: a combo of leather and a fish-scale looking material, there’s the F Sport steering wheel, F Sport pedals and scuff plates and F Sport seats.
There are things that confuse me like the tiny padded pull out mirror near the centre console, things that seem out of place like an analogue clock in a high-tech cabin, and things that annoy me like the seat position memory buttons that hide under the armrest in the door and can’t been seen or reached properly unless the door is open.
The NX300h F-Sport’s dimensions show it to be 4640mm long, 1645mm tall and 1845mm wide (not including the mirrors).
Nothing has changed to the exterior of the CX-9 in this 2018 update – but that's a good thing, because this is a striking and beautifully styled SUV. More a tall, sleek wagon than upright boxy SUV, there's that in-your-face grille, the long nose the set-back cabin and the hatchback rear end. The only element which irks me are the taillights – they seem a bit small for that big bottom.
All CX-9s look almost identical on the outside, but you can tell the higher grades form their larger-sized wheels and LED fog lights.
There's not much in the way of a body kit, but there is that subtle roof top spoiler, that sculpted front bumper and the little shark fin antenna.
The cabin is a premium feeling place (have a look at the images) – this is Mazda flagship after all. Materials feel soft to touch even on the dash and door sills back and front, while there's a high-quality fit and finish throughout. With big interior dimensions this is also a roomy place, despite that sloping roofline.
The Azami LE is by far the most decadent grade with its nappa leather upholstery and real wood trim. Mazda was not able to tell me what type of wood has been used and could only go as far as confirming it was real wood, however, in the United States the top-grade CX-9, known as the Signature, uses a similar looking material and officially calls it rosewood.
Mazda also told me that the adhesives and materials used in the cabin were also chosen to minimise bad smells – not from the people in it but from the leather's plastics and glues. If only all car companies would care enough to do this – some new car smells make my eyes water.
At almost 5.1 metres long, nearly 2.0m wide and getting onto 1.8m tall you'll need a pretty big garage to house the CX-9.
Well, it’s snug inside the NX300h F-Sport. That beefy centre console means room is tight in the footwell for the driver, especially with the foot-operated park brake. Meanwhile in the back seat my legs touch the seat-back when I sit behind my driving position (I am tall at 191cm, though), but headroom even with the optional sunroof (or moonroof, as Lexus calls it) is good.
Two cupholders up front, two in the back and bottle holders in all the doors, storage space inside is excellent – particularly the centre console storage bin which is deep and wide, has two USB ports and the Qi charging pad. There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and that media controller is challenging to use.
There are a stack of reasons to buy a seven-seater. You may have a big family and really need the third row, or you're just a small family that likes to pack a truck-load of gear for holidays while having a couple of extra seats just in case you're put on the spot after picking the kids up from karate and end up with more ninjas to drop home.
There are other seven-seaters where those third-row seats are just a bonus – the Santa Fe is a bit like that, but SUVs such as the CX-9, Kluger and Sorento offer much better room back there.
Even at 191cm tall I can sit in the third row comfortably, with just enough head and legroom. That said, I wouldn't want to be there for an epic road trip, but it's fine for kids and shorter adults.
Legroom in the second row is excellent – I can sit behind my driving position with about 10cm of space between my knees and the seat back – headroom isn't as generous as the Kluger or Sorento but there's still plenty, even for me.
If you're lifting babies and children into car seats you may find that coupe styling to the roofline makes the process a little harder – it did for me with our little one.
Also, this SUV is fairly high up. I've had my toddler do a face plant falling out of one while trying to climb in. Oh, don't judge me.
Entry into the third row is made easier by a 60:40 folding second row on rails. It's also good to see that the smaller foldable section is on the curb side of the car.
The CX-9's boot space with the third row down is outstanding at 810 litres (VDA) – the Kluger can only manage 529 litres and even with those back seats in place the luggage capacity is 230 litres, check out my video above where I demonstrate the size with a live human being.
Storage in the cabin is also excellent with six cupholders (two in the first row, two in second and the others in the third) and all grades above the Sport come with storage in the fold-down centre armrest, which also contains a USB port.
All CX-9s come with a USB port up front in the giant split-opening centre console bin and a 12-volt power outlet in the cargo area.
Price and features
Guess what? You’ve saved a few thousand already by not buying this car this time last year. That’s because NX300h F Sport was previously only offered in all-wheel drive, but the added two-wheel drive version gives you a lower entry point into the F Sport grade, at $63,300.
So, while the all-wheel drive version still exists - and costs $67,800 - this front-wheeler gets all the same features for less moolah.
Coming standard is a 10.3-inch display with sat nav and 360-degree camera, 10-speaker stereo with digital radio and CD player. There’s also a wireless phone charger, 10-way power adjustable seats (heated and cooled), paddle shifters, power tailgate and proximity unlocking.
The mouse pad-style controller for the screen is so hard to use I avoided it whenever possible, it’s something Lexus must change… please.
But please don't change the little valet kit which is stored in the boot - see the images.
Our test car was fitted with the Enhancement Pack 2 which costs $6000 and adds a moonroof, 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio, and head-up display. The premium paint (Sonic Quartz) costs $1500.
As for how the features and price compares with its rivals, well there aren’t any other hybrid mid-sized luxury SUV competitors to list, only combustion-engine ones such as the $70,900 Mercedes-Benz GLC 220d, the BMW X3 xDrive 20d for $68,900, an Audi Q5 2.0TDI for $65,900 or the Volvo XC60 D4 Momentum for $59,990. Notice how I chose diesels - there are petrol equivalents of those, too. But if you've got 50 per cent more budget, you could look at the pricey Volvo XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid.
At the time of writing Lexus was offering a driveaway price of $64,673 on the NX300h 2WD.
The Mazda CX-9's price has gone up but you're getting more features in return – and that goes for all grades in the range. Also, there's now a new grade and king of the Mazda CX-9 range – the Azami LE. Right, let's get into the details.
The most affordable CX-9 is the Sport at $44,990 (an $1100 increase) for the front-wheel drive version and another $4000 for all-wheel drive. Coming standard on the Sport for the first time is a head-up display and being introduced to the CX-9 range finally is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other standard features include a 7.0-inch screen with sat nav, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, digital radio, three-zone climate control, LED headlights, black cloth seats and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Touring grade sits above the Sport and is arguably the best value with its list price of $51,390 ($1100 increase) for the front-wheel drive and again $4000 more for the AWD. In addition to the Sport's features, the Touring comes standard with black leather seats (power adjustable and heated in the front), an 8.0-inch touch screen, proximity key, front parking sensors and LED fog lights.
The GT grade is getting into pricier territory with the front-wheel drive listing for $59,390 (an increase of $1000) and $4000 more for AWD, but along with all of the Touring's features it has a power tailgate, sunroof, 20-inch alloy wheels and heated second-row window seats.
The once-king-of-the-range Azami lists for $60,990 in FWD form (an increase of $4200), again $4000 for the AWD, but now there's a level above it – the Azami LE which is $66,490 and only available as an all-wheel drive.
What's the difference between them? Well let's start with what's the same. Both come with the GT's features plus adaptive LED headlights, heated steering wheel, a 360-degree view monitor, ventilated front seats, windscreen de-icer and a 7.0-inch centre digital instrument cluster.
What the Azami LE gets that the Azami doesn't is real wood trim panels on the centre console, nappa leather seats, box stitching on the steering wheel and different overhead console styling.
As a model comparison you could also take a look at the Toyota Kluger which ranges from about $45K to $70K. There's also the Kia Sorento which ranges from $43K-$60K and I'm going to throw in the Hyundai Santa Fe – it's not as big as the CX-9, but the new one is larger than the previous model and it's a seven-seater, too.
Engine & trans
The NX300h F-Sport is a petrol-electric hybrid, but not the plug-in kind – there’s no charging port, just batteries which are recharging through regenerative braking.
The engine is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol which makes 114kW and 147Nm. The electric motor is a 105kW/270Nm unit.
Let’s not forget we are reviewing the front-wheel drive version of the NX300h F-Sport. There’s an AWD version, too.
The transmission is an automatic - a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and I’m not a fan of them - but the Toyota/Lexus versions seem to be the better ones.
All CX-9s have the same engine – it's a 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol that makes 170kW and 420Nm. That's simple isn't it? Also simple is this: all CX-9 have the same six-speed automatic transmission.
Every grade apart from the Azami LE comes with a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The Azami LE is purely all-wheel drive.
Lexus will tell you the NX300h F Sport will only use 5.6L/100km after a combination of urban and open roads, but my mileage according to the trip computer was 8.7L/100km which considering most of that was city driving is very impressive. Also pleasing is that despite this being a prestige car it’ll run on 91 RON, an X3, Q5 or GLC will turn it’s nose up at that stuff. Snobs.
This is the biggest drawcard for buying the hybrid. The fuel saving isn’t huge in the way a plug-in hybrid can be, but you’ll save money if you drive conservatively.
Big car, big drinker? The CX-9 used to be back when it had a V6, but not any more. The turbo-four is efficient, with Mazda saying that front-wheel drive version will use 8.4L/100km, while all-wheel drives will use 8.8L/100km after a combination of open and urban roads. You'll also only need to feed it 91 RON – that's the cheap petrol.
My testing on the launch saw me use 10.3L/100km, according to the car's trip computer, but I was really getting into those roads and stamping on that accelerator like it was a funnel web spider, so for it still to be that low is great.
Lexus has made improvements to the suspension set up of the NX300h, but it seems the changes haven’t gone far enough, and the ride comfort and handling is lacking compared to other mid-sized premium SUVs.
A CVT transmission is awesomely fuel-efficient but even with six steps ‘built’ into it, it doesn’t forcefully engage drive to the wheels the way a torque converter transmission, manual gearbox or dual-clutch auto does. The result is disappointing acceleration and an engine which sounds like its revving too hard.
Heavier-than-it-should-be steering, a steering wheel which I find flat and uncomfortable to hold, poor visibility through the rear window and a not the best pedal feel under my feet topped off a unimpressive driving experience.
There are some saving graces though – the well-insulated cabin is tranquil, the brake response is excellent, and there’s something special about travelling in bumper to bumper traffic just on silent electricity alone.
There is no way to make a 5.1m long, 2.0m wide, two-tonne SUV feel small in a supermarket car park and you'll feel its size particularly in multi-storey ones as you navigate the HMAS CX-9 up through the levels. I've lived with a CX-9 and I'm not ashamed to admit that I find it tricky to manoeuvre in tight spaces. But you have AEB, rear cross-traffic alert, parking sensors at the back and good visibility to make it as easy as it possibly can be.
Get the CX-9 out on the street, though, and it feels a lot less cumbersome. And on the open road the CX-9 is brilliant. Not only does it just much up miles in comfort, it has such great handling ability that it defies my logic.
In this update Mazda says it has refined the driving experience while making the SUV more responsive though suspension and steering changes. A thicker material behind the headlining in the ceiling has also been used to keep the cabin even quieter, too.
The result? A ride that's knocking on the door of German prestige SUVs and great dynamics.
Even on the 20-inch wheels and 50-profile tyres fitted to the Azami LE I tested at the launch, the ride was outstanding while the handling was excellent. Pushing the Azami LE hard in the corners should have had something of this size and weight leaning on its door handles, but a moment after entering the turn the CX-9 was able to compose itself, hunker down and hold its line in a controlled and planted way.
The Azami LE is all-wheel drive only, but the front-wheel drive version for the base grade Sport and the FWD Azami I drove felt just as composed with great body control and impressive handling ability for the class. In some ways the Sport being lighter and on smaller wheels and higher profile tyres meant the ride was more comfortable and acceleration a bit better.
That engine is a good thing, although part of me misses the old V6 from years ago for its smoothness and torque. The 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo has enough grunt and it's fuel efficient, but to me a six-cylinder suits this big flagship better.
The October 2017 update of the NX300h also saw an upgrade in its safety equipment and that meant it achieved the maximum five-star ANCAP rating. The F Sport grade never used to have AEB, but the update added it across the range, plus it was improved to include pedestrian detection.
All grades now come with blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and the F Sport has been given adaptive high beams with 11 independent LEDs.
For child seats you’ll find three top tethers across the rear row (two in the outboard seat-backs and one mounted on the roof), along with two ISOFIX points.
You’ll find a space saver spare under the boot floor.
Safety is another strong point of the CX-9 with its maximum five-star ANCAP rating and AEB which works forwards and backwards, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert. This update has made the advanced safety tech suite standard across the full range adding adaptive cruise control with stop and go feature, lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition.
For child and baby seats you'll find three top-tether anchor points across the second row and two in the third, while there are ISOFIX points in the back as well and two in the second-row window seats.
Under that boot floor you'll find a space saver spare wheel.
The NX300h F Sport is covered by Lexus’ four-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km. There’s no capped-price servicing program but Lexus says you can expect to pay nothing for the first service, $720.85 for the second, $592.37 for the third and $718 for the fourth.
The CX-9 is covered by Mazda's five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended at 12 month or 10,000km intervals. Servicing is capped and switch from $329 for the first visit, $371 for the next and then back to $329 for five services.