Mazda CX-9 VS Mazda CX-8
- 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
- Easier to park than a CX-9, with almost as much space inside
- Much more useful boot than CX-5
- Very comfortable to drive
- Big price jump between Sport and Asaki
- No CarPlay until late 2018
- No petrol option
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|
Remember Mr McGreg from The Simpsons who copped the brunt of Dr Nick Riviera? "With a leg for an arm and an arm for a leg."
It may have the long wheelbase and seven-seat layout of a CX-9 but the narrower width of a CX-5, and the headlights from the latter and tail-lights from the former, but it's all for good reasons, and plonks the new model right between the two in Mazda's very appealing SUV line-up.
This is indeed a foot in both the mid-size and large SUV camps, but also gives Mazda an answer to the emerging range of seven-seat mid-sizers like the CR-V, Kodiaq, 5008, X-Trail, Outlander, and upcoming Tiguan Allspace.
Its journey to Australia has not been an easy one, being classified as a Japan-only model when it was revealed late last year and arriving with a relatively limited model line-up and no petrol drivetrain option.
With the coat-tails of CX-5's five-year run as Australia's favourite SUV to ride on, combined with the CX-9's credentials forming the other half of its gene pool, there's a very good chance a lot of Australians will be glad it made the trip.
We were among the first to drive the CX-8 at its Australian launch this week.
|Engine Type||2.2L 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.
Mazda has taken a little of Column A and a little of Column B to bridge the gap between CX-5 and CX-9 quite nicely. It could only be better with the CX-9s petrol engine and perhaps a few more trim levels, but it's a good thing. Having said that, the sweet spot is definitely the two-wheel drive Sport, because it comes with what I consider to be all the important features, and represents the best value.
Will the CX-8 tempt you up from a CX-5 or down from a CX-9? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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.
Rather than a smaller CX-9, it's fairest to describe the CX-8 as a long-wheelbase CX-5 given it shares all panelwork from the B-pillar forward with the latter. Everything rearward is unique aside from its tail-lights, however.
CX-8 development boss Hideki Matsuoka explains his team started with the CX-9 though, with the seven seat layout a core element of the project. Rear legroom was another key criteria, which is why it uses the CX-9's 2930mm wheelbase to match the large SUV.
The rear doors have been extended accordingly to optimise rear seat access, following a formula only used by the Kodiaq, 5008 and Tiguan Allspace to date.
Retaining the CX-5's 1840mm width was also important for easier manoeuvrability, but it's worth noting that the CX-8's 11.6m turning circle is closer to the CX-9's 11.8 than the CX-5's 11.0.
The 129mm narrower body, shorter front and rear overhangs and 175mm shorter overall length than the CX-9 are certain to be beneficial when parking though.
The net result can look like an elongated CX-5 from the front three-quarter view – surprise, surprise – but in isolation it's yet another fine Kodo-era SUV design.
The interior is a similar package, with the dash and door trims from the CX-5 blending with the split-lidded centre console from the CX-9. Everything rearward is also unique, and the top-spec Asaki's presentation nudges premium brands with actual wood trim on the dash and nappa leather on the seats, particularly in the optional and CX-8-specific 'Dark Russet' colour.
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.
Mazda defines the life stage of a typical CX-8 owner as having two kids under their belt and considering a third, with the need to often bring their friends along for the ride.
This sits above the CX-3's 'young people or young couple' profile and the CX-5's 'couple thinking about kids or have a kid', but beneath the CX-9 as the go-to for large families.
The key element of the CX-8's remit is clearly the third row of seats, which has been designed to suit heights up to 170cm, which essentially means taller kids. This 172cm tester found it quite cosy, but possible, so you wouldn't want to push it much further. Legroom is officially within 5mm of the CX-9, but the limiting factor is headroom.
Access to the third row is as easy as you could hope for thanks to those long doors opening 80 degrees, with the second row sliding forward from either side with a single action. The third row also folds flat with a simple single action for either pew.
The second row is really just a narrower version of the CX-9's with the same legroom and ample headroom for this tester. It won't swallow three adults or child seats as comfortably as a CX-9, and you'd need to choose your child seat carefully if attempting the latter.
The sliding second row seat is likely to make for much more comfortable front seating with a rearward facing child seat fitted, too.
On that note, the CX-8 has the same child seat anchorage layout as the CX-9, with ISOFIX mounts for the outward second row seats, and top tether points for all five rear seats.
Despite having a shorter rear overhang than the CX-9, the CX-8 still manages to have a useful 209 litres (VDA) of space in the boot (loaded to the roof) with the third row upright, which expands to 742 litres VDA (loaded to the roof), or a much bigger space than the CX-5 with the third row folded.
Both rear rows fold flat to reveal 1727 litres (VDA) in total, and there's a further 33 litres of underfloor storage.
The CX-8 retains all the other important practicality elements, including bottle holders and cupholders for all three rows, 12-volt and USB points, and there's tri-zone climate control that gives second row passengers an extra zone, but like the CX-9 there's no individual ventilation for the third row.
If you're looking to tow with the CX-8, it carries the same 2000kg braked tow rating as the CX-9, which is 200kg ahead of the figure applied to all CX-5s.
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.
Unlike the broad variant spectrum available with other Mazdas, the CX-8 is limited to just two trim levels; Sport and Asaki.
The Sport is available in two- and all-wheel drive configurations, which carry list prices of $42,490 and $46,490 respectively and sit a significant margin beneath the $61,490 Asaki.
The CX-8 Sport slightly undercuts the petrol-only CX-9 Sport by $1400 in either two- or all-wheel drive (AWD) forms.
The nearest diesel CX-5 would be the GT diesel at $46,590, but remember that every diesel CX-5 comes with AWD.
The CX-8 Asaki is only available with AWD, and priced $12,300 more than the top-spec CX-5 Akera, but $3300 less than the top-spec CX-9 Azami. In a nutshell, it's a bit cheaper than the CX-9 at either end of the range.
The Sport's standard feature list includes all the important safety gear, which you can read about in detail below, plus cloth seat trim but leather steering wheel, three-zone climate control, 7.0-inch multimedia screen with sat nav and digital radio, but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto until it becomes optional later this year.
Sports also come with a head-up display, active cruise control, LED auto headlights, auto wipers, heated and power folding door mirrors, plus auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and can be best identified on the outside by their 17-inch alloys.
Over the Sport, the Asaki adds things like nappa leather seat trim with power adjustable front seats, seat heaters for the first two rows, a heated steering wheel, Bose stereo, real wood trim, rear window blinds, a power tailgate, proximity keys, a 360 degree camera system, front parking sensors, adaptive headlights, plus LED daytime running lights and fog lights.
Does that sound like an extra $15,000 worth? I'm not sure, particularly given the best way to pick the Asaki on the outside is by its bigger 19-inch alloys.
Mazda expects the two-wheel drive (2WD) Sport to represent 60 per cent of CX-8 sales, with the AWD version just 10 per cent, and the top Asaki making up the remaining 30 per cent.
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.
Yes, the CX-8 is diesel only, in a similar way to the CX-9's petrol-only status. The CX-8 was designed exclusively for diesel-loving Japan, which doesn't get the bigger CX-9 which was largely developed to suit petrol-loving US tastes.
Australia's proven love for Mazdas – currently the number two brand in our market - got the local business case across the line, which also included New Zealand. Fun fact: This leaves the Antipodean markets as the only two in the world to retail both CX-8 and CX-9.
The CX-5's relative breadth of drivetrain options comes down to the mid-size SUV's global appeal.
The 2.2-litre twin-turbo-diesel is the same revised 140kW/450Nm unit fitted recently to the CX-5 and Mazda6. Maximum torque is available from just 2000rpm, which helps mask the six-speed torque converter auto's relatively low ratio count.
AWD versions come with the clever 'i-ACTIV' drive system, which embraces numerous sensors to predict surface changes before the tyre encounters them and react accordingly.
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 2WD CX-8 Sport carries an impressive 5.7L/100km official combined fuel consumption figure, and the two AWD variants are only 0.3L behind at 6.0L/100km.
The 2WD CX-8 figure matches diesel CX-5s, which are AWD, and compares with the 8.4 and 8.8 figures applied to 2WD and AWD versions of the CX-9 respectively.
With the 72 litre fuel tank from the 2WD CX-9, this suggests a very impressive theoretical range of 1263km for the 2WD CX-8, or 1200km from the AWDs.
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.
My first impression behind the wheel is very diesel CX-5, which is of course a good thing.
If you've been following Mazda's recent efforts with refinement in the updated 6 and CX-5, you'll be pleased to know the same formula has been applied to the CX-8. These cars are achieving their goal of troubling the established premium brands for comfort.
You can certainly feel the extra length over the CX-5, and for the most part this means better ride comfort over bumps as there's less pitching forward and backwards.
It also feels longer when chucking a U-turn or parking – don't forget that extra 60cm of turning circle.
As always, the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel makes for relaxed cruising, but you can feel the effect of the extra 200 kilos of weight over the CX-5. It's not quite as spritely, but still more than enough for highway overtaking, and it's still more nimble around corners than a proper large SUV.
The CX-8 would probably be a better package with the CX-9's turbo-petrol, but the diesel's economy will probably win over a lot of buyers, particularly with that huge theoretical range between fills.
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 CX-8 is yet to be tested by ANCAP to see if it's worthy of the maximum five star ratings applied to the CX-5 and CX-9, but an announcement is expected in the near future.
Mazda expects it will get top marks, so our safety score is a tentative on that basis. Do check before signing on the dotted line.
Both trim levels come with airbags covering all three rows, front and rear AEB, reversing camera, rear parking sensors with cross traffic alerts, traffic sign recognition, auto high beams, blind-spot monitoring, lane guidance and lane departure warning.
The Asaki adds rear parking sensors, proximity keys and active headlights.
One feature Japanese CX-8s miss out on, which Australian versions don't, is 'Intelligent Speed Assistance'.
This coordinates the active cruise control with the traffic sign recognition to automatically adjust your speed as you pass through different speed zones. This is likely to be particularly popular with Victorian CX-8 owners...
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 CX-8 is covered by Mazda's regular three year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is starting to look a bit brief among the many five year and beyond periods on offer from other manufacturers.
The 'Mazda Service Select' capped price servicing plan applies, if 12 month/10,000km intervals are adhered to. Base scheduled maintenance for the first three services will set you back $318, $458 and $318 respectively.