Mazda CX-9 VS BMW X2
- 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
- Great to drive
- Looks good
- Bargain in its segment
- Silly C-pillar BMW logos
- CarPlay is subscription-based
- Rear middle seat not very comfortable
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|
As is often the case, BMW has come late to a really good party. One imagines there was some chatter about making a quick X1 but that would have been an answer to a question few people thought to ask. It's not a racy-looking machine and perhaps its more prosaic aims as a compact SUV ruled it out. Or the hangover from the weird first generation.
The X2's Paris Motor Show debut a couple of years ago signalled BMW's second entrant in the compact SUV segment, but this one looked fast standing still. Most of it made it to production - including the C-pillar BMW badges, sadly - but there was no promise of a fast one.
Weirdly, the Australian market hasn't really taken to the X2 as enthusiastically as I thought it might and I wondered if it was because there was no headline act - Mercedes has the guilty pleasure of mine, the AMG GLA45, and Audi the completely bonkers RS Q3. But the headline act has arrived in the form the of the X2 M35i - perhaps this will suddenly get us a bit more interested.
|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.
If the X2 M35i doesn't wake Australia up to the charms of the X2, then perhaps we're dead inside. This car is brilliant fun, reasonably practical and goes about the business of going fast with a childish glee.
Unusually for BMW it's extraordinarily competitively priced and by competitive I mean cheaper than its obvious rivals by quite some margin. One of its rivals is faster but it's also harder to live with and the other one is old and about to depart this Earth.
What this car also tells us is that despite BMW's smallest cars going to four-cylinders and front- or all-wheel drive, the fast stuff is in no danger of being boring.
Does the BMW X2 light your fire? Or does Audi or Mercedes have your heart? Let us know in the comments.
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.
The X2 is by far the prettiest of the even-numbered Xes. While it shares a lot of heritage with the X1, the shorter X2 is way cooler. Designed by Sebastian Simm, it's a bit more at the lifestyle end of things. The headlights are sleeker than the X1, it has its own distinctive rendition of the BMW kidney grille (it looks like it's upside down) and on the M35i, it's satin grey rather than chrome. Like other BMW SUVs - sorry, SACs - the wheel-arches are squared off a little, for more "stance" according to Simm. I'm a big fan of the shapely rear lights, too.
The nose is quite high and bluff, but the efforts to stop it from being too square-rigged has worked wonders - only from some angles does it look a bit like it kissed a wall.
The M35i features a huge set of 20-inch alloys that look the business, deeper front and rear bumpers and those dud silver caps on the mirrors.
Inside, it's pretty familiar and the tail-end of BMW's long-standing design philosophy. Lots of grey plastic, a small, hooded instrument pack and a decent-sized screen perched on the dash. I liked the Alcantara trim on the seats but wasn't a fan of the 90s-looking blue pattern on the seats.
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 X2 is smaller than the X1 and if you step out of the latter, you'll notice. The roof is lower and its shorter overall, meaning some compromise. But only a little. The rear seats have plenty of room for people up to 180cm, with the roof lining thinning for that extra bit of headroom and just enough legroom, as Richard Berry discovered when he first drove the car.
The boot starts at 470 litres with all seats in place and then 1355 with the 40/20/40 split-fold rear seats down.
Front seat passengers have two cupholders under the centre stack and a couple of slots for odds ends. All are covered by a sliding two piece cover. The armrest contains the wireless charging cradle and, as I've already said, won't hold an iPhone XS in its sliding plastic jaw - it won't open wide enough.
Rear seat passengers score a further two cupholders and each door has a bottle holder and pocket.
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.
I often find that those late to a party bring the cheapest bottle of wine, having been caught short by their own tardiness. BMW has done something similar here - the X2 M35i is $16,000 cheaper than the RSQ3. It's a whopping $23,200 cheaper than the GLA45. Context: you could get a top-spec X2 and a Suzuki Swift Sport for similar money to the flagship GLA.
Obviously it's not cheap, and it isn't as powerful as the AMG, but it's a lot of money saved and little, if any, performance lost.
Standard on the Australian-delivered X2 M35i are 20-inch alloys, a 12-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, electric tailgate, keyless entry and start, power everything, electric and heated front seats, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, sat nav, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, Alcantara on the seats, auto parking, head-up display and run-flat tyres.
The 8.8-inch screen on the dash runs BMW's iDrive 6.0 software with its impressive sat nav and easy-to-use rotary dial interface. Apple CarPlay is standard as a three-year subscription (ie you have to renew it), which is a start, at least.
If you get the $2900 Enhance Package you get a big panoramic sunroof, metallic paint and wireless charging for your phone. That last thing is extra useful as CarPlay is wireless in BMWs (hurrah!) but bigger phones don't fit in the charging unit (boo!). Luckily there's a USB port to keep you going... but only one up front. In the rear there are two fast-charging USB-C ports.
My test car didn't have the package but had the sunroof ($2457 on its own), wireless charging ($200) and Driving Assistant Plus ($910, includes lane keep assist).
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.
BMW's B48 modular 2.0-litre four-cylinder can be found across front, rear and all-wheel drive cars in both BMWs and Minis. The X2's Mini origins means its engine is slung across the engine bay - sDrive X2s are front-wheel drive.
Developing 225kW and 450Nm, this engine might fall short of the AMG's hand-built 2.0-litre and Audi's 2.5 five cylinder, but it's more than enough for to send the M35i to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds. You can activate the launch control if you want, but the all-wheel drive system and eight-speed ZF automatic are perfectly capable of doing the job.
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.
The usual government-approved lab testing produced a combined cycle fuel efficiency figure of 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres, aided by stop-start and braking energy recovery.
Pops and bangs cost fuel, though, and they're fun and who doesn't like a poppy-bangy performance car? I certainly like it, which means I burnt through fuel at a rate of 9.7L/100km. On reflection, that's not terrible for the kind of performance on offer.
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.
Down to business. The X2 M35i is terrific fun.
The engine is a good place to start. Fitted with a silly farting and popping exhaust that appeals to my inner eight-year-old, it's a BMW with plenty of character from the get-go.
Flooring it from a standing start means a brief interlude while the twin-scroll turbo starts spooling up and then wham, you're in second and passing 100km/h. Once you're underway, the transmission keeps the M35i on the boil, giving you that lovely big slab of torque when you need it for overtaking or hauling out of the corners.
Speaking of which, the fitment of a proper mechanical limited-slip differential up front is inspired. You can pile into corners indecently quickly and then get back on the power very early, the front wheels sorting themselves out and drawing the car tightly to where you point it. It's a familiar feeling to the GLA45 but without the underpadded seats and hard-riding nonsense that goes with it. Both are on a different planet to the hilarious RSQ3.
The ride is a point worth dwelling on - it's really good and it all happens without adaptive damping like on the other two. It won't be winning any straight spine awards, no, but the combination of grippy seats and good compliance over lumps and bumps means the M35i is surprisingly comfortable. It rides no lower than an M Sport pack equipped X2 but the M magic has wrought a much more responsive front end, a sticky rear end and a good time lesser X2s don't have.
And of course, you want the brakes to back-up the power. The M Performance brakes are very strong and filled me with confidence. Some people complain about BMW brakes but that absolute hammering they need before these complaints arise seems churlish.
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 X2 has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, reversing camera, forward AEB (only at low speeds - it works at up to 50km/h, and can reduce the speed of the car to 15km/h, but won't stop it completely), with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, auto high beam, speed sign recognition and reminder. There is no adaptive cruise and no high-speed AEB, and no rear AEB, blind-spot monitoring or rear cross-traffic alert.
There are three top-tether restraints and two ISOFIX points.
The X2 scored five ANCAP stars in February 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.
BMWs leave the dealership with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assist tossed into bargain. Three years is a bit ho-hum for lesser machinery but appears fine up here in the German layer of the atmosphere.
You can prepay your servicing for five years. BMW has long called their service intervals "condition-based servicing." Basically, the car tells you when to come in for a service. You can buy the basic service package for $1550 upfront, which is the same as the lower models, so that's not bad.
By contrast, the GLA45 will cost you $2880 over just three years (second and third services are $1152 each) and the RSQ3 will shake you down for $2320 over three years or $3380 over five.