Mazda CX-9 VS BMW X1
- 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
- Potent engine
- Nice handling
- Massive interior
- Ride way too firm
- Missing essential active safety
- Some awkward trim bits
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|
I like it when a car subverts expectations.
It sounds like BMW is just playing a dangerous game of badge-swappery. Yet, after a week behind the wheel, I had to admit there’s more to the X1 than the numbers and specs might suggest. It admittedly won me over.
How, exactly, did this little SUV manage to charm this doubting critic? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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.
BMW’s X1 won me over mainly because of its raucous engine, signature handling, and suspension characteristics.
It is perhaps a little harsh for some family drivers though, and still has some notable spec omissions this far into its lifecycle. So, keep these factors in mind when considering it against its premium competition, particularly given there are some serious rivals arriving in the coming months.
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.
From the outside, the X1 totally owns the BMW design language. It somehow comes together so well over the frame of a small SUV, from the traditional BMW double kidney grille, to the chiseled LED headlights, squared-off profile, and cleanly resolved rear.
It’s miles better than its first-generation X1 predecessor, at least from the outside.
I found the inside to be a mixed bag. I liked the seats, steering wheel and multimedia system, but it just doesn’t feel cohesive.
It’s like a bunch of parts have been plucked off the shelf and shoved together. It has a strangely compact dash cluster from the outgoing 2 Series, but at the same time, the brand’s latest touchscreen, as well as a collection of old-looking controls on a cascading dash which for some reason eats an uncomfortable amount of the front occupant’s space.
It’s been made to work together, but still feels a little chaotic. Like parts and buttons have just been plastered all over. This extends down to the centre console, where BMW gives you the option of controlling the media suite through a dial and buttons.
All the fittings are undeniably quality though, with everything from leather-clad surfaces to switchgear all having a solid, satisfying feeling. The feeling of this car being more expensive for a reason. There’s also an abundance of padded surfaces, and comfortable seats in every position.
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.
The X1’s hidden trick is in how big its interior space is.
It’s voluminous – or as Richard Berry pointed out in his 2018 review of the pre-facelifted X1 – it has more head and legroom than an X3 and almost as much luggage space.
Impressive, right? Especially for something which is quite a bit smaller when it comes to its exterior dimensions.
A lot of that is down to the X1 sharing its platform with space-efficient and predominantly front-wheel drive Minis. But there’s more, too!
The back seats are foldable and on rails, letting you choose luggage over passengers if need be. While this is pretty impressive, the X1’s 505-litre boot space is under threat.
Audi’s new generation Q3 offers 530 litres, while the incoming Mercedes-Benz GLB will offer 570-litres in five-seat form. If it’s boot space (or seven seats…) you’re chasing, it is worth factoring in to your premium small SUV decision making process.
The back seat, as already mentioned, has plenty of leg and headroom, plus dual USB ports and directional air vents on the back of the centre console.
Front seat occupants are pretty well treated, with some cool turbine-design cupholders in the centre, smallish trenches in the doors, as well as a large bin under the armrest. There are a selection of USB ports to choose from as well as a wireless phone charging bay.
Seat comfort is good all-round, although it took me a long time to adjust to the odd upright seating position which seems to be the only ‘right’ way to have everything adjusted, at least for my preferences.
Price and features
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.
Our X1 is the top-spec xDrive25i trim. That means it’s all-wheel drive, and gets the most potent four-cylinder engine available in the X1 range. Ours was also the M Sport version (with all the extra M bits) boosting the price to a total of $66,150, before on-roads.
Expensive? Maybe. The tricky thing here is we don’t know how much this car’s primary German rivals will cost when they arrive this year. I’m talking about the higher-spec Audi Q3 (currently you can only buy the entry-level version of the new one), and the Mercedes-Benz GLB isn’t set to arrive for a few months yet.
Of course, there are a plethora of non-premium options for much less, but I’m guessing if you’ve made it this far in the review, they will be of little interest.
Standard spec has some impressive items, including 19-inch alloy wheels, an impressive-looking 10.25-inch multimedia touchscreen with sat-nav as well as Apple CarPlay as standard (but still no Android Auto…), a head-up display, LED head and tail-lights, push-start and keyless entry, an ambient interior lighting package, and leather upholstery.
The M Sport pack added (to our car) an adaptive suspension package, the M Sport steering wheel and power steering characteristics, M-branded seat belt trim and M Sport brakes.
There’s a semi-digital dashboard, too, but not the super swish digital dash suite from the more recently released cars in BMW’s range. Keep in mind, this second-generation X1 is now almost five years old, despite a minor refresh in 2019.
It’s not a bad feature set, aside from the rather upsetting omission of Android phone mirroring, which is a real necessity in today’s SUVs. While the sat nav suite is a handy thing to have, you only get three years of updates included, and it lacks the really intuitive features now built in for free with Google maps for Android users.
The M Sport pack’s three-spoke steering wheel is the best one in BMW’s parts catalogue. It’s the perfect size, weight, and material. Bonus points for that.
Engine & trans
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.
No complaints here. With 170kW/350Nm on tap from a four-cylinder turbo-petrol, you can’t make the argument the 25i needs more power.
BMW has stopped short of saying there will be a faster M version of the X1, and there probably shouldn’t be, what’s offered here is more than enough. BMW claims the 25i will sprint from 0-100km/h in just 6.5 seconds.
The 25i is ‘xDrive’ all-wheel drive only and drives power to the wheels via an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission.
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.
How much fuel you will consume will largely depend on how much the punchy engine will tempt your right foot, but the claimed/combined figure on the X1’s spec sheet is 7.1L/100km.
Despite enjoying the 25i more than I care to admit, my average fuel usage over a fairly representative ‘combined’ week came out as 7.9L/100km. Not bad at all.
The X1 requires mid-grade 95RON unleaded petrol and has a 61 litre fuel tank.
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 X1 drives like a BMW – for better or worse.
There are some great attributes. The steering is a fantastic balance of weight and speed, the internal switchgear is all exactly the same as it is in the 2 Series sedan, and the suspension is firm, letting you feel every bit of the road.
That last one is possibly this car's worst attribute, though. While you’ll have an above average driving experience in the curvy stuff, the X1 is overly harsh for daily family duties.
I mean, seriously. I’m sure the average SUV buyer in this class is hardly going to be taking their kids to school via the Nurburgring every day.
If nothing else it’s a point of difference for the Bavarian SUV, and after a week you’ll be used to it. Those who do will be rewarded with one of the more engaging small SUVs on the market.
The engine proved to be distinctly punchy, impressing with its responsiveness and linear power delivery. It has a lovely (partially artificial) raspy exhaust note, to boot, which makes hopping behind the wheel all the more enjoyable.
It has some other quirks worth noting, too. I couldn’t get used to its oddly high and upright seating position, the front two seats seemed a bit narrow despite familiar BMW leather trim, and there was an undeniable heft to the whole product which made it lose its confidence when really pushed in the corners.
The X1 won me over, though. By the time I was handing the keys back, I did just want one more go…
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.
In terms of active safety features, the X1 is a little light on.
Rather than full auto emergency braking (AEB), the X1 gets a system called ‘braking assist’ which will slow the vehicle (or as BMW says “reduce impact speed”) if an object is detected from three to 65km/h. Beyond 65km/h it will “precondition” the brakes but requires human intervention to apply them.
So... it will help, but won’t quite stop for you.
Active safety features it does really get include lane departure warning, forward collision warning, traffic sign recognition and high-beam assist.
The X1 does get the expected baseline safety items, like electronic stability and brake controls, as well as six airbags. Parking sensors for the front and rear across the range are a nice touch.
There are also two ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.
Despite its slightly underwhelming active safety suite, the X1 still caries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, as rated in 2015 before the stricter minimum active safety requirements came into force in 2018.
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.
BMW insists on a three-year warranty package, going so far as going on the record saying owners don’t want more (really… what kind of owner doesn’t want a competitive five-year warranty?). Regardless, it is the standard for cars in the premium segment, with the exception of Lexus which offers four years.
It would be nice to see premium automakers raise the game a little here, but the X1 is thankfully offered with a capped price servicing program.
Like other premium brands it is offered as a package at the time of purchase and covers five years of services. The 'Basic' program costs $1550, while the 'Plus' program comes in at $4420. The main difference between each program is whether wear items like brake pads, wiper blades, etc, are included.