Mazda CX-9 VS Subaru Forester
- 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
- Range-wide AEB and active cruise
- Lots of kit for your $$$
- Real-world practicality
- Derivative styling
- Engine missing turbo mid-range
- Engine line-up has gone from 4-1
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|
If you haven't seen Clint Eastwood's son, Scott, you should Google him - he's a dead ringer for his Dad. But while he might be following in his father's Hollywood footprints, he's of a completely new generation.
A similar story applies with the new fifth-generation Forester. It looks a lot like the model before it, but everything you see is actually new.
That's hardly a new phenomenon, with most previous Foresters representing a blur of evolutionary design. Subaru does this across the board, actually, to protect existing owners from feeling like they're yesterday's news, and to take advantage of feelings of fond familiarity when those owners look to update their cars.
This precludes a lot of the excitement of new design, but Subarus have rarely been about visual appeal (the fourth-gen Liberty is one big exception), rather a quirkiness that stands aside from a lot of the same-same from other mainstream brands, which is paired with the relative USP of all wheel drive.
So there's method to the mimicry, and every conceivable element has been improved. Matt Campbell was impressed after his limited experience at the Forester's international launch in July, but this week's Australian launch gave us the full picture of this latest version of Subaru's mid-size SUV.
|Fuel Type||Regular 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.
It remains to be seen whether Scott Eastwood is able to match the cinematic legend of his father, but it's clear that the new Forester is better in every way than the model it replaces. If you were a fan of the old one, you'll love this one, and it's pretty tough to argue against if you're in the market for a mid-size SUV.
If you can live without leather seats, the 2.5i-Premium is probably the sweet spot of the range, given it brings all the safety gear, the bigger multimedia screen and the power tailgate for a list price of under $40,000. Having said that, the top 2.5i-S is also a pretty good deal for just $3000 more.
Would the new Forester tempt you away from a CX-5? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Also check out Matt Campbell's review video from the Forester's international launch:
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.
My first experience with the new Forester actually came the week before the launch, when I overtook one of the launch cars being run-in in country NSW.
It wasn't until I was within two car-lengths that I realised it was the new model, and this was approaching it from its most distinguished angle. The tail-lights are the biggest giveaway, with the slash of body colour eating into each light - as inspired by Subaru's recent Viziv concepts.
Many will probably need to see them parked side by side to pick the exterior from the old one, but the fundamental newness starts with its adoption of the latest Subaru Global Platform, as already seen with the Impreza and XV.
The body is now 53 per cent high-tensile steel, which makes for a stronger chassis that's lighter than it would be otherwise. Despite its growth and expanded list of features, the new Forester is just 26kg heavier as the base 2.5i, and 15kg as the top spec 2.5i-S.
In terms of size and dimensions, the key growth area has been an extra 30mm of wheelbase, which accounts for the lion's share of the extra 33mm between the front and rear seats that represents the biggest gain for interior dimensions.
As you'll see in the video and interior images, the inside is an evolution of the design used in the Impreza and the XV. The dashboard actually appears to be a direct lift from these, and is therefore dominated by vertical vents either side of the multimedia (6.5 inch on the lower two trim levels, 8.0 inch on the upper two) screen. There's a 6.3-inch multifunction display (MFD) atop the dash for monitoring vehicle functions, which is joined by a third screen in the instrument binnacle.
In the upper 2.5i-Premium and 2.5i-S variants (the ones we drove on test, at least), this means a good variety of materials and textures, although the soft golf ball-like surface on the centre console is hard on the door trims. It's also surprising to see leather trim limited to the top 2.5i-S.
Regardless, it all feels like a typical Subaru; good, resilient quality.
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.
Real-world practicality has always been a Forester hallmark, and the new model pushes the envelope even further.
Starting up the front, driver visibility has been improved by increasing the gap between the A-pillar and the rear-view mirrors, meaning you can see more through the quarter windows when turning corners or when judging parking situations.
As you'd expect, there are a couple of cup holders in the centre console, plus a 12V charge point in the lidded bin, and another in the centre stack, while the lower two trim levels get one USB port, and the upper two get two. All trim levels get a sunglass holder in the overhead console.
The backseat scores the aforementioned extra 33mm between the front and rear seats, which extrapolates to an extra 65mm of net rear legroom. Shoulder room is up by 20mm and hip room by 15mm, which is well in excess of what's needed for my 172cm frame.
The flat beltline allows big windows to maximise child visibility. All versions get a backseat armrest with two cupholders and two ISOFIX points. Without a sliding rear seat, though, it'll be worth trial-fitting a rear-facing child seat, if that's part of your life, to ensure there's enough room left for front-seat occupants.
The back of the centre console now comes with directional air vents, which sit above two quick-charge USB points.
There are bottle holders in each door, and as a nod to the many Foresters you see wearing roof racks, the rear door sill has been broadened and grip has been added to improve its function as a step ladder when loading something onto the roof.
The upper two trim levels come with a power tailgate that now operates nearly twice as quickly as before (hallelujah!) and locks the rest of the car automatically once it's closed.
The rear opening is nicely squared off and measures 1300mm across, or sufficient dimensions to load a set of golf clubs, width-wise. The boot size is 76 litres bigger with the seats up, now measuring 498 litres, which expands to a luggage capacity or maximum storage space of 1481 litres with the 60/40 rear seatback folded. The top two variants also now score a one-touch electric folding function for the rear seat.
Unless you've suffered the inconvenience of a flat tyre with just a space saver or inflation kit as backup, you won't fully appreciate the fact that the new Forester still packs a full size spare wheel across the line-up. Most of its rivals do not.
The boot area is also adorned with tie-down points, cargo hooks and a third 12V charge point.
If you're looking to tow, all four versions of the new Forester carry a maximum braked towing capacity of 1500kg, with a maximum towball weight of 150kg - which is about average for its class. We're aiming to bring one to a towing review in the near future.
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.
If you're stretching the budget to reach for a Forester, you'll be disappointed to read that the cost of entry has risen by $3250 to $33,490 (MSRP) for the new entry-level 2.5i variant. This is because the previous price-leading 2.0-litre petrol engine has been dropped, in addition to the 2.0-litre turbodiesel and 2.0-litre turbo petrol performance option in favour of an all 2.5-litre petrol line-up.
The absence of the two turbo engines also means the Forester range now tops out $6,250 earlier (for now), and consolidates your options down to just four trim levels. The price list moves from the 2.5i up to the $35,490 2.5i-L, then the $38,490 2.5i-Premium, before the $41,490 2.5i-S at the top of the range.
All told, the range represents pretty stunning value with no shortage of gadgets, and as of this week you'll be able to buy a Forester directly from Subaru online at a drive-away price.
All versions are now equipped with AEB via the EyeSight system, but more on that under Safety.
Apple CarPlay (for iPhone users), Android Auto (for pretty much everyone else), and digital radio (DAB) are also available, and fitted standard across the range for the first time, and if you're not the smartphone-mirroring type, the built-in satellite navigation (GPS) fitted to the top two models is a new TomTom system.
The top three models also come with the new Driver Focus driver-monitoring system which detects drowsiness, but can also recognise the driver's face and adjusts to your preferences when you sit in the driver's seat. Each Forester so equipped enables more preferences to be remembered depending on how much you spend, but the system will remember up to five drivers. In practice, it's pretty amazing technology; the moment you sit down and look forward it gets to work and your settings are restored before you can think about it.
Key standard features for the base 2.5i include a 6.5-inch multimedia touch screen, Harman Kardon sound system with six speakers, dual-zone climate-control air conditioning, leather steering wheel and gearknob, active cruise control, tinted windows at the rear, rain sensing wipers, automatic active LED headlights, daytime running lights and LED tail-lights, front and rear foglights, heated folding door mirrors, keyless entry with push button start, hill start assist, the basic version of the off-road focused X-Mode drive mode, hill descent control, Bluetooth and 17-inch alloys.
The 2.5i-L brings Driver Focus in its most basic form, which includes distraction and drowsiness warnings and will remember your previous climate control settings, along with how you left the dash top and driver instrument screens.
The second-tier model also adds a third camera beyond the EyeSight system, mounted in the grille, which enables the Vision Assist suite of safety features. This is comprised of Front View Monitor (FVM) and Side View Monitor (SVM) collision warnings, Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB) auto high beams. More sensors in the back of the car enables Reverse Automatic Braking (RAB).
The 2.5i-Premium brings dashes of extra chrome to the outside, upgraded cloth seats and dash and door trim, alloy pedals, 8.0-inch multimedia screen with built-in navigation system, eight-way power front seats with memory settings, auto folding door mirrors with dipping passenger mirror, power folding rear seats, power tailgate, and 18-inch rims.
The Driver Focus system also adds driver's seat and door mirror setting recollection.
The top-spec 2.5i-S brings even more exterior and interior garnishes, including leather seats, a panoramic sunroof, eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio plus a subwoofer, and the X-Mode off-road drive program scores two modes to choose from, tailored for either snow/dirt or deep snow/mud.
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.
Rather than the four engine choices and manual transmission option of the Forester it replaces, the new model is available with just one of each. That means no turbo diesel and no turbocharged petrol. The 2.5-litre auto was by far the most popular option before, so it's not all fire and brimstone.
This is the first application of the 2.5 motor with direct injection, which is 90 per cent new according to Subaru. The most measurable specifications gain is an extra 10kW and 4Nm, which now totals a decent 136kW/239Nm for this engine size without a turbo.
Max horsepower is developed at the same 5800rpm as before, while max torque now arrives 300rpm later at 4400rpm. Impressively, these numbers are still possible with Regular 91 RON unleaded.
Unlike the Subarus of old, the 2.5 uses a timing chain instead of a timing belt, which is designed to last the life of the engine. The CVT automatic transmission has also been revised, now with a greater spread of ratios, and the manual mode now has seven stages.
Like all Subarus aside from the BRZ, the new Forester drives all four wheels (front wheel drive is not an option) through the tried and tested Symmetrical all-wheel drive system. Therefore, it's the only mainstream mid-size SUV without price-leading front-wheel-drive variants.
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.
With one engine and transmission across the board, there's just one fuel economy figure to note. The new Forester's official combined petrol consumption figure of 7.4L/100km is 0.7 better than the previous 2.5 auto, and is line-ball with the CX-5 2.5's mileage. It's also within cooee of the diesel fuel consumption figure of 6.4 in the outgoing model.
As mentioned above, it is worth noting that the Forester manages this on Regular 91 RON unleaded fuel, where a lot of its rivals demand more expensive Premium 95 RON to generate decent figures.
The fuel tank size is a generous 63 litres, which suggests a theoretical range of 851km is possible between fills.
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.
Matt's number-one question mark over the new Forester from its international launch was how it would handle rough Australian roads, given he only drove it on a billiard table-smooth, road-cycling track in Japan. Matt's concern is underpinned by the fact that the Liberty and Outback's latest suspension revisions lack the poise of the versions they replaced.
Thankfully, there was no shortage of dirt roads for the Australian launch, which was held around the Grampian Mountains in Victoria. I can report that the new Forester is still a dirt-road expert, its off road capability helped by decent suspension travel, body control and the same ground clearance mm (220mm) as before, along with unpainted plastic around its perimeter to mitigate stone damage.
The stability control is well calibrated for dirt, too, although its intervention is rarely required given the all-wheel-drive system's ability to maintain composure and put power to the ground via the front and rear. We didn't get the chance to test its off-road capability properly on launch, but keep an eye out for our Adventure review in the near future.
It offers similar performance on the road, still feeling compact and nimble (10.8m turning circle) for its class, despite the new model's growth, and the steering feel is good for a car of its type.
The 2.5-litre engine will indeed suit most buyers, but it doesn't have the easy low-rev urge or outright refinement of a smaller turbo unit used by the likes of the CR-V, Tiguan or Escape. The Mazda CX-5 is about the same as the Forester in these areas, which doesn't appear to hurt its popularity.
The previous model's automatic transmission was already one of, if not the best, CVT in the business, and it continues to work well, with the characteristic drone only overcoming road noise in the cabin under sustained full-throttle acceleration. Speaking of which, the new model carries a decent 9.5 second 0-100 acceleration claim.
So all told, the new Forester continues its tradition as a nice all-round drive.
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.
Subaru is known to be one of the leaders when it comes to safety, and the new Forester's credentials don't disappoint.
The standard fitment of EyeSight across the range is a key step, as it brings AEB that will automatically detect potential collisions and bring the car to a full emergency stop at speeds up to 40km/h. The system continues to apply lesser drgrees of braking intervention right up to 145km/h.
EyeSight also brings rear cross-traffic alerts, blind spot monitor, lane departure warning and lane change assist across the board, but the active safety list continues on the 2.5i-L with the Vision Assist system.
Using a third camera mounted in the grille, Vision Assist brings a Front View Monitor (FVM) and Side View Monitor (SVM) collision warnings, Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB) auto high beams. Clever parking sensors in the rear bring Reverse Automatic Braking (RAB), which we'd describe as rear AEB.
These active safety features are backed up by dual front and side airbags, curtain airbags covering the front and rear, a driver's knee bag, and stability control (or ESP).
Another noteworthy new feature is the washer that sprays the reverse camera whenever the rear windscreen wiper is activated.
As mentioned above, the rear seat is equipped with ISOFIX child seat anchor points in the outboard positions, while the centre position makes do with just a top tether baby car seat mount.
The new Forester is expected to match the existing model's maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating - and based on more stringent 2018 standards - but this result is yet to be confirmed. Our safety score is based on the assumption it will score five stars, so please double check.
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 Forester is covered by Subaru's regular three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which now lags behind the five-year terms offered by most mainstream brands. Subaru has occasionally offered a five-year extended warranty as a limited offer, but is investigating a permanent extension. Watch this space.
The Forester's service intervals have now been brought into line with the Impreza and XV, doubling the scheduled time between services to 12 months, but retaining the same 12,500km distance.
Capped-price servicing is available for the first three intervals, which amount to $346,39, $584.45 and $346.39 respectively, resulting in a total service cost of $1,277.23 over the first three years. Several other brands offer capped pricing beyond the warranty period, and Subaru's scheme is still on the pricey side, but the doubling of the time interval has resulted in a net maintenance cost value improvement over the previous model.
Being an all-new model, the new Forester starts with a clean reliability slate, but any common problems, durability or reliability issues, complaints, faults will likely be revealed in time on our Subaru Forester problems page.