Mazda CX-9 VS Holden Trailblazer
- 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
- Solid all-rounder
- Plenty of torque at low revs
- Off-road ability
- Engine can be noisy
- Suspension too firm
- No rear diff lock
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|
SUV wagons based on their ute stablemates are by no means a new thing – just look to Toyota Fortuner (based on HiLux), Ford Everest (based on the Ranger) and Isuzu’s MU-X (based on the D-Max) for evidence of that.
But the strategy is not always a successful one and these ute-based wagons have already gone through a stage or two of tweaking and refining in an attempt by car makers to shed some of the lingering ute-related niggles (such as work-focused suspension tunes) and improve the final products so they're better suited to a life of work and play.
The 2018 Trailblazer (formerly known as Colorado7, and based on the Colorado ute) is another clear sign that these wagons are indeed getting better, but are those improvements good enough to attract the cash of an otherwise ute-fixated public?
|Engine Type||2.8L turbo|
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.
The Trailblazer is a solid all-rounder and deserves the consideration of those in the market for a decent seven-seater 4WD. It does everything well without ever really excelling at any one thing.
Is it fantastic? No. Is it a game-changer? No. Does it represent pretty good value for money in the grand scheme of things? Yep.
The pick of the bunch for me is the LTZ – solid, off-road capable, and suburbs-friendly with just a hint of leather-appointed class. In the LTZ, you get everything worthwhile in the Trailblazer mob and if you’re a family man you won’t feel the need to fork out an extra $1000 for the Z71’s try-hard window dressing.
The Trailblazer is a mostly comfortable SUV wagon, stacked with features and is well worth your consideration if the Isuzu MU-X, Pajero Sport and Toyota Fortuner don’t float your boat.
What do you reckon? Get a new one of these, or spend your money on a second-hand LandCruiser?
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 Trailblazer is a solid-looking wagon – all clean, tight lines from front to back – and overall it has a real squat and substantial presence. If we’re going to get all ‘fancy Dan’ with our hyperbole: chrome-accented daytime running headlights swoop back along the chunky body to slick LED tail-lights. If we’re sticking to basics: the Trailblazer looks good.
Inside, the tweaked interior has a tidy if rather basic feel to it – but that’s not a bad thing in a wagon that will have to cop dirt and dropped ice creams amid the general chaos of day-to-day life.
The leather-trim seats add a touch of class to otherwise family friendly dimensions and environment.
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.
Climbing in is easy enough with a sturdy "overhead assist handle" for all comers and goers.
All of the Trailblazer’s seats are mostly comfortable except they are quite flat and hard, which may prove a hindrance over longer trips. The driver’s seat is six-way electrically-adjustable and there is little in the way of lumbar support.
The second row will better suit two passengers than three for long-distance comfort but there is enough room all round – head, shoulders and legs – to avoid most complaints, for a little while anyway.
Third-row passengers will need to be children or those of a shorter stature to cope with the ‘back of the bus’ squeeze – and even then trips should be kept to shorter distances to avoid an in-car riot. It’s not a terrible place to be, in the third row of this thing, but it’s not ideal either – pretty much in keeping with the rear-row offerings of its rivals.
Back up the front again and the dash design is clear, user-friendly and easy to get used to with day-in, day-out use.
There is a fair bit of storage space in the cabin but some of it is awkward to access and actually use. The glove box is big enough to cope with one or two handfuls of bits and pieces. There is a sunglass holder up near the rear-view mirror.
There are two cup holders in front of the small centre console housing the USB port which, when used, eats into that available space.
All doors have a moulded bottle bulge, which wouldn’t cop our CarsGuide water bottle without forceful encouragement.
The second-row passengers get a fold-down centre arm-rest/cup holder when there’s no one sitting in the middle. Passengers in the back also get air vents and manual aircon control.
With all seats up, if you pack to the roof, there is 235 litres of cargo space at the very rear; with the 50/50 split-folding third-row seats folded down, there is 878 litres; with the second-row (60/40 split-fold and tumble) and the third-row seats down, there is 1830 litres of cargo space. There is a retractable cargo blind stowed away under the floor at the rear.
With the second-row seats folded forward, it is easy enough to get into the third-row seats; no contortionist moves required.
There are two 12-volt outlets in the centre dash; one at the back of the centre console (for second-row passengers); and one in the rear cargo area.
Up top, the roof rails are rated to carry 100kg.
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.
The Trailblazer is available in three spec levels, each with a market-competitive price: base-spec LT (from $47,990, excluding on-road costs), LTZ (which we tested; from $52,490) and the limited-edition Z71 (from $53,490).
But those prices soon start to climb when you add in accessories such as all-weather floor mats ($130 for a pair), boot lip protector ($80) and a rigid cargo barrier ($960). Our test vehicle had a Power Blue (prestige paint) colour on the exterior, at a cost of $550.
The LT’s standard features include cloth seat covers, 17-inch alloy wheels, a seven-inch touchscreen to go with its Holden MyLink infotainment system, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, front fog lamps, signature daytime running lights, side steps, limited slip diff, rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera.
The LTZ gets all of that (although its touchscreen is eight inches) and more: integrated satnav, blind spot alert, forward collision alert and heated front seats and leather-appointed seat trim. It has 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Z71 has all of that gear as well as a distinctive sports look, replete with black bonnet, black mirrors, black exterior door handles, Z71 leather-appointed trim and 18-inch black alloy wheels.
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.
The 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine punches out 147kW at 3600rpm and its big-gun 500Nm at 2000rpm and is well-matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. This Trailblazer is, on paper, a very good tow vehicle with so much torque available and from down so low.
Its towing capacity is 3000kg (braked), but I’d prefer to see how it fared in a real-world tow test before I pass judgement.
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.
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.
Its turning circle is 12m but it feels like more of a cumbersome beast when trying to manoeuvre in the bush or in the city, though not enough so for that characteristic to be any sort of deal-breaker.
The tilt-adjustable, electrically assisted steering lacks any reach-adjustment, which is annoying, but it can still be counted on to deliver a precise feel – light at low speeds, heavier at high speeds – when pushing the Trailblazer along at a fair clip on open roads or in and out of corners.
Acceleration seems livelier now; there is more off-the-mark oomph for take-offs and safe, smooth overtaking, even on long gradual climbs, than before. The torquey engine and six-speed auto – with its smooth changes and gear-holding when appropriate – make for a high-achieving combo.
Ride and handling seem better than in Colorado7 guise although the tweaked suspension – Aussie-tuned coil-spring front and coil-spring live-axle rear – and Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts tyres* may account for some of that. However, we did feel some body-roll while driving along back roads, unlike the last time we were in a Trailblazer LTZ. (*The Trailblazer has a full-sized 18-inch spare.)
The locally tuned suspension is, at times, a bit too firm; when we hit heavy bumps and deep potholes on rough gravel tracks several times, we were unsettled because the Trailblazer’s suspension bashed its way over and through.
We completed a series of emergency braking scenarios – on bitumen and dirt – and the Trailblazer’s disc brakes – 300mm at the front and 318mm at the rear – helped rip us into a controlled stop.
Our drive loop included a decent bit of four-wheel driving – coastal sand, bush tracks peppered with rocks of all shapes and sizes, and shallow mud in a dried-out dam. Drive modes can be switched via the centre console dial between 2H, 4H and 4L; high range modes are actually represented by an ‘up’ arrow on the dial; low range is a ‘down’ arrow. Bonus: the Trailblazer’s 500Nm of torque is readily available from way down low.
The Trailblazer has a limited slip diff, 218mm of ground clearance and a wading depth of 600mm, which was never tested as our usual creek crossings were so bone-dry they were more like puddles. Approach, departure and ramp-over angles are 28, 25, 22 respectively.
Its armoury of off-road tech – auto hill-start assist, hill-descent control and more – make it almost unstoppable, straight out of the showroom, for anything demanded of it on a light- to medium-difficulty adventure weekend.
Its 76-litre fuel tank, however, hinders any claim it has to off-road touring potential.
The Trailblazer has 3000kg towing capacity (braked); 750kg unbraked.
Note: Holden has persisted with a system which, when you open a door, the front windows automatically slide down a bit, an action aimed at reducing air pressure when you close the doors. It remains annoying but we still weren’t annoyed enough to actually bother to check the owner’s manual for a possible hack to switch it off.
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 Trailblazer range has a five-star ANCAP rating. The LTZ has seven airbags, and electronic stability control (ABS, EBD etc), rear view camera, front park assist, rear parking sensors, forward collision alert, blind-spot alert, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, a tyre-pressure monitoring system and trailer sway control.
The second row has three child restraint anchor points and one ISOFIX child restraint anchor point.
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.
The Trailblazer comes with a three-year/100,000km warranty. Lifetime capped price servicing includes a free inspection at one month, then $299 (at nine months/15,000km), $399 (18 months/30,000km), $479 (27 months/45,000km), $479 (36 months/60,000km) and so on.
(At time of writing, the LT was being offered for $45,990 driveway with a seven-year/175,000 warranty.)
Potential problems might include cumulative driveline wear and tear from people towing heavy loads (horse floats, boats etc).