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Mazda CX-8 2022 review: Touring SP FWD

Larger wheels, a subtle body kit and blacked-out trim add a newfound athleticism to the homely CX-8. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis)

Daily driver score

4.5/5

Urban score

4.5/5

Most medium-sized seven-seat SUVs fall between stools.

Neither off-roader adventurers nor people movers, they awkwardly straddle the middle ground instead, and as such aren’t brilliant at either task.

Blame the compromised packaging as a result of stuffing a third row of seats in the cargo area of what is, after all, something still fairly compact. That’s why they’re often referred to as ‘5+2’ seaters – the ‘2’ signifying seats six and seven are best suited as child-only conveyances. And forget about carrying luggage for all.

Why not just buy a larger, longer and wider three-row SUV like a Toyota Kluger, Hyundai Palisade or Mazda CX-9?

Two reasons: price and size. Models like the Nissan X-Trail, Mitsubishi Outlander and Honda CR-V have proven popular among urban buyers seeking occasional three-row capability without the excessive length, bulk and expense of larger SUVs or people movers, especially if home parking is an issue.

Mazda, meanwhile, has been chipping away with the KG-series CX-8, which evolves the medium SUV breed by essentially being a stretched version of the CX-5, to better accommodate seven people (and land it in the large SUV class above). Launched in 2018 as diesel-only, sales started off slowly, but later petrol options has saw demand rocket by nearly 65 per cent last year.

To see what the fuss is all about, here we take a look at the newly-released mid-range crowd puller, the Touring SP, with petrol power and front-wheel drive.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Though not the cheapest CX-8, the Touring SP 2WD petrol from $47,790 (all prices are before on-road costs) represents compelling value for money, especially if you like your seven-seater SUV to look sporty.

Even the entry-level Sport 2WD petrol from $39,990 is decently equipped, with seven seats (of course), sliding and reclining middle-row seats, tri-zone climate control with second-row control, head-up display, auto on/off LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, roof rails, power-folding side mirrors, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone support, power windows, remote central locking, push-button start, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, electric park brake with auto-hold and 17-inch alloys (with a space-saver spare wheel).

Safety systems include autonomous emergency braking (AEB – dubbed Smart City Brake Support with forward and reverse functionality in Mazda-speak), forward collision warning, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with full stop/go functionality, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, speed sign recognition with 'Intelligent Speed Assistance' (that keeps the vehicle below the posted limit), rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, driver-fatigue checks and tyre-pressure monitors.

The Mazda CX-8 represents compelling value for money, especially if you like your seven-seater SUV to look sporty. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis) The Mazda CX-8 represents compelling value for money, especially if you like your seven-seater SUV to look sporty. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis)

Stepping up to the Touring 2WD petrol from $46,890 adds worthwhile kit like front parking sensors, LED fog lights, keyless entry, leather upholstery, heated and powered front seats, second-row centre armrest with USB charging ports, paddle shifters, and an electrically actuated second-row seat slide function for one-touch third-row entry. It’s effortless.

Yet, for just $1000 extra, the $47,790 Touring SP 2WD petrol ushers in blacked-out trim inside and out and 19-inch alloy wheels that really alleviate the CX-8’s dowdy bulk (and provide an extra 5mm of ground clearance – at 205mm – as an added bonus), as well as synthetic leather/suede seat trim, driver’s seat memory and heated second-row outboard seats.

Want more? For goodies like a powered tailgate, sunroof, longer (10.25-inch) touchscreen, wireless phone charging, premium audio and third-row USB ports and more, you’ll need to find at least $56,390 for the GT 2WD petrol. For all-wheel drive, you must also tick the diesel box, bumping the price of most grades by $7000 in the process.

Note that Mazda charges $495 extra for metallic/mica paint. Remember when the brand used to boast about never charging extra for that?

Still, what the Touring SP brings is a classy and well-equipped package that lacks none of the essentials, at under $50K.

While this is up against the higher grades of the Outlander (Exceed) and CR-V (VTi L7) with specs that approach that of the CX-8 GT, keep in mind that these are shorter vehicles with less interior space (and practicality), while the Mazda comfortably undercuts similarly equipped but larger SUVs like Kluger, Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento. It really does straddle the classes.

Finally, with its 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine and six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, the CX-8 sidesteps some of its rivals more… controversial engineering. These include CVTs (Outlander and X-Trail) and DCTs or/or turbos (auf wiedersehen Skoda Kodiaq and VW Tiguan Allspace).

After wading through all these facts, suddenly, the Mazda’s value appeal comes into sharper focus.

Too bad the CX-8 isn’t as sharply attired as its strikingly slinky CX-9 sibling.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

One of modern motoring’s great mysteries is why Mazda simply didn’t call its CX-5-derived sub-CX-9 seven-seater SUV the CX-7. Does anybody know why?

The CX-8 shares its 2930mm wheelbase with the 5.1-metre (that’s longer than a Palisade, folks!) CX-9, but is 175mm shorter (at 4900mm), nearly 140mm narrower (at 1840mm, matching the width of a CX-5) and 17mm smaller.

So, with a three-metre wheelbase, how is it that the CX-8 is so dowdy in appearance? One (CarsGuide) reviewer hilariously dubbed it “Mazda’s Subaru Exiga”, with its small wheels swamped by oversized wheel arches and chubby side detailing. Is it because marrying the front of a CX-5 with the new sheetmetal necessary to cover the whopping 232mm wheelbase extension created a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster?

But it’s not as bad as all of that. Going SP really flatters the CX-8 Touring’s visage, like it’s now had a tracksuit makeover by a Melbourne fashionista, with a blacked-out grille and trim add-ons and 19-inch alloys that at last fill out those big empty guards. Smart.

With a blacked-out grille and trim add-ons and 19-inch alloys that at last fill out those big empty guards. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis) With a blacked-out grille and trim add-ons and 19-inch alloys that at last fill out those big empty guards. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis)

We wouldn’t say it’s pretty now, but the Mazda does look better. If you value happy, proportioned styling as well as extra interior space, then maybe the extra cash to stretch to the CX-9 (from $45,990 in base Sport or $53,590 as a Touring) is worth it. Or have fewer kids and buy a CX-30 instead.

How practical is the space inside?

The CX-5 connection is no bad thing inside, given how sophisticated and refined Mazda has made its popular midsized SUV since the current KF series surfaced in early 2017.

Wide doors allow easy entry to the front seat, where it’s clear that most switchgear and controls are focused on the driver. The multi-adjustable steering wheel is precisely centred for unencumbered view of the analogue dials within the chunky rim and standard-fitment digital head-up display above. Finding the ideal position is no hardship.

As already mentioned, the CX-8’s seats themselves are a combination of vinyl and suede-like cloth, which together up the premium ambience for those who don’t desire leather. Vegans, the SP is for you. They’re comfortable, breathe well in hot weather and help locate occupants beautifully – though, on the other hand, we can’t imagine they’d be easy to clean after kids and/or pets spills. Electricity takes care of seat rake, reach and lumbar, with a handy memory setting to further help you find the right spot behind the lovely stitched steering wheel.

Most functionality boxes are ticked: superbly crisp dials, excellent ventilation, plenty of storage (including large door pockets for bottles and such) and fine forward vision. The excellent climate control system also features independent middle-row controls. Useful. 

Most functionality boxes are ticked: superbly crisp dials, excellent ventilation, plenty of storage (including large door pockets for bottles and such) and fine forward vision. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis) Most functionality boxes are ticked: superbly crisp dials, excellent ventilation, plenty of storage (including large door pockets for bottles and such) and fine forward vision. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis)

However, the multimedia set-up in this Mazda throws up both good and bad points: the former include thoughtful placement of a BMW iDrive-style controller that is meant to mitigate eyes-off-road distraction; users can alternatively use the touchscreen access if the vehicle is stationary; and ­– once familiarised – the menu layout is simple to fathom.

But, a decade old now, the system is certainly ageing, with tardy responses, dated graphics and a low-rent map rendering that seems aftermarket. Switching between screens is also a bit slow compared to many rivals’ efforts. The newer Mazda3/CX-30-based version is far more pleasing to the eye.

Driver front/side vision is also hampered by massive door mirrors, thick A-pillar bases and a narrow rear window, so you’re left to rely on that smallish camera screen as well as the (thankfully effective) RTCA/driver-assist safety systems. And the climate-control buttons are too easily activated/deactivated by the placement of phones in the storage slot below.

The second row is where the CX-8 really starts to diverge from its shorter sibling.

Longer doors which very helpfully open to almost 90 degrees provide ample entry/egress, to a classy environment thanks to the SP’s smart, monochromatic (black) presentation, that lush seat trim and broad attention to detail. These include large centre air vents with full climate control (including heating for outboard occupants), one-touch power windows that go all the way down, a wide centre armrest that matches the front ones, offering cupholders, minor hidden storage and a pair of USB-A ports for charging duties. Grab handles, reading lights, coat hooks, huge door storage and map pockets further underline the Mazda’s family-friendly focus.

The second row has a monochromatic (black) presentation, that lush seat trim and broad attention to detail. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis) The second row has a monochromatic (black) presentation, that lush seat trim and broad attention to detail. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis)

And take note other manufacturers. Mazda has gone to the trouble of putting the smaller portion of the 70:30 sliding middle seat on the kerbside, meaning that only one occupant needs to vacate it for third-row access. It’s a small but important distinction that aids rather than hampers life in this seven-seater SUV.

The under-cushion sliding mechanism is easy to operate, and provides more-than-adequate legroom for taller riders. Plus, the middle-row backrests recline a few degrees, boosting their firm yet comfortable set-up, while forward and side vision is also unobstructed, giving the CX-8 a vast, airy feel. Interestingly, while not as wide as the CX-9, it’s certainly roomy enough for three people, even if their shoulders may be touching.

Finally, there’s the two rearmost seats, accessed via a simple push of an electric button on either side, followed by a gentle push forward, to reveal a sizeable gap for passengers to clamber past. Thanks, longer doors. It’s not too bad given this is a stretched midsized SUV.

There are two rearmost seats, accessed via a simple push of an electric button on either side, followed by a gentle push forward. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis) There are two rearmost seats, accessed via a simple push of an electric button on either side, followed by a gentle push forward. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis)

Your tester is 178cm tall, and there’s sufficient space for two similarly-sized adults to travel back there. Head and shoulder room are fine. But it’s really best for smaller people, as the knees-up posture can get tiring after a while. The backrest is quite upright and doesn’t recline either. And you won’t find body-facing air vents back there – though in 31ºC summer heat and humidity the air-con could be felt, mercifully.

The CX-8 with all seatbacks erect can take 209 litres. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis) The CX-8 with all seatbacks erect can take 209 litres. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis)

For a tight third-row environment, it’s not too bad. Thankfully there’s space for big shoes to tuck underneath the second row; big windows flood light in; the folding full-sized headrests mean heads are neither touching nor baking beneath the back window; there’s storage and cupholder access; and exiting is child’s play thanks to a single-lever action that’s clearly defined.

Further back, the CX-8 with all seatbacks erect can take 209 litres, extending to 242L with underfloor storage, while folding the third row boosts boot volume to 742/775L. The temporary spare lives underneath the floor.

Folding the third row boosts boot volume to 742/775L. The temporary spare lives underneath the floor. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis) Folding the third row boosts boot volume to 742/775L. The temporary spare lives underneath the floor. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis)

Not bad at all for a sub-$50K medium-ish sized SUV. We see the CX-8’s showroom appeal for families.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

As with most Mazdas, the CX-8 offers a 2488cc 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine with direct injection, twin cams and variable-valve timing. It's known as SkyActiv G.

The CX-8 offers a 2488cc 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine with direct injection, twin cams and variable-valve timing. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis) The CX-8 offers a 2488cc 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine with direct injection, twin cams and variable-valve timing. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis)

In our Touring SP’s case, it delivers 140kW of power at 6000rpm and 252Nm of torque to the front wheels, via a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Unfortunately, no manual is available.

Tipping the scales at 1799kg, this CX-8 has a power-to-weight ratio of 77.8kW/tonne.

How much fuel does it consume?

Our CX-8 managed a very commendable 9.7 litres per 100km in a mixture of urban, freeway and country-road commuting. Not bad for an 1800kg-plus seven-seater petrol-powered SUV. The stop/start system probably helped out here.

The CX-8 managed a very commendable 9.7 litres per 100km in a mixture of urban, freeway and country-road commuting. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis) The CX-8 managed a very commendable 9.7 litres per 100km in a mixture of urban, freeway and country-road commuting. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis)

The official combined-average claim is 8.1L/100km, for a carbon dioxide emissions average of 187 grams/km. Urban and Extra Urban figures are published as 9.7L/100km and 7.52/100km respectively.

Fitted with a big 72-litre tank, the CX-8 2WD petrol owner can average almost 890km between refills of 91 RON unleaded petrol, though 94 RON E10 ethanol petrol can also be used – and that’s often the cheapest.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

Tested in July 2018, the CX-8 diesel scored a five-star ANCAP safety rating, and performed well across each of the adult protection, child protection, vulnerable road-user and safety assist categories, achieving 96 per cent, 87%, 72% and 73% respectively.

Standard safety fare for the SP Touring includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB – dubbed Smart City Brake Support with forward and reverse functionality in Mazda-speak), as well as forward collision warning, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with full stop/go functionality, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, speed sign recognition plus Intelligent Speed Assistance (that keeps the vehicle below the posted limit), front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, driver-fatigue monitor and tyre-pressure monitors.

Mazda CX-9 performed well across each of the adult protection, child protection, vulnerable road-user and safety assist categories, achieving 96 per cent, 87%, 72% and 73% respectively. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis) Mazda CX-9 performed well across each of the adult protection, child protection, vulnerable road-user and safety assist categories, achieving 96 per cent, 87%, 72% and 73% respectively. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis)

Note that the CX-8’s AEB is operational between 4km/h and 160km/h. Meanwhile, Smart Brake Support works at higher speeds 15km/h to 145km/h) to help reduce or eliminate a collision by applying the brakes as required.

Also fitted are six airbags (dual front, side and curtain for all outboard occupants including those in the rear-most seats), anti-lock brakes with brake assist and brake-force distribution, traction and stability control and two middle-row ISOFIX points as well as five top tethers for straps in rows two and three.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

What's it like to drive around town?

A slick powertrain and a smooth, quiet ride are the hallmarks of the CX-8’s driving experience.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Compared to most conventional rival combustion powertrains, Mazda’s is a cracker. Like all of the brand’s latest petrol engines, the 2.5L engine roars into life with a metallic howl that only lasts a few moments and is necessary for emissions purposes, before settling down to a calm idle.

With intelligent gearing and a generous well of torque from low revs to draw upon, the CX-8 leaps feels eager off the line, with none of the lag or languidness of most dual-clutch or continuous variable transmission alternatives, and remains lively, alert and linear in its smooth and fuss-free power delivery throughout. No jolting turbo kick to disturb resting occupants. It’s a difficult set-up to fault.

The same recipe is applied to the Mazda’s steering. It’s light and reasonably tight for easy parking (the radius is 11.6 metres), yet involving, so you feel confidently connected to the road. What this all means is that the CX-8 shrinks around you, and so seems no less wieldy than a regular midsized SUV.

Maybe the most impressive aspect is how insulated from the road the controlled and composed suspension feels, like you might imagine a more premium model’s set-up should be. Employing struts up front and a multi-link out back, the ride is smooth over most road surfaces.

Even wearing substantial 225/55R19 Toyo Proxes R46 tyres, bigger bumps are rode over rather than fully absorbed, revealing an underlying firmness around town, but it isn’t by any means uncomfortable or bouncy. If you’re familiar with earlier CX-5s, this is big progress for little Mazda.

The 2.5L engine. It pulls hard from the get-go, pulling strongly right up to 6500rpm and with a bit left to spare beside. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis) The 2.5L engine. It pulls hard from the get-go, pulling strongly right up to 6500rpm and with a bit left to spare beside. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis)

At higher speeds the CX-8 continues to shine, thanks to an engineering ethos that has produced a family SUV that’s also enjoyable to drive and easy to relax in

Take the 2.5L engine. It pulls hard from the get-go, pulling strongly right up to 6500rpm and with a bit left to spare besides. In typical Mazda style, there’s plenty left in reserve for fast and effortless overtaking, accompanied by a lustful exhaust note. Our CX-8 felt faster than its 10.9-second 0-100km/h sprint time suggests, probably owing to the engine’s comparatively high mileage for a press vehicle (6000km).  

And while six forward speeds might seem insufficient in 2022, the engineers have tuned the transmission to reflect the driver’s style, adapting to throttle inputs for more instantaneous responses as required.

Alternatively, the Sport mode will hang on to each ratio longer if you’re really keen to hoof along (though the busy revving might drive others spare around town), while a well-placed set of paddle shifters act as surrogate manual manipulation if you’re in the mood. Keep in mind that the auto lever’s forward-down/backward-up shifter is also set up to please enthusiasts.

While not quite possessing the exceptional poise and fluency of the CX-9, the Touring SP’s connected steering feel, controlled handling and assured roadholding still make it a driver’s SUV, backed up by a smooth and progressive set of brakes.

Difficult to fault dynamically given its role in life (and dorky design), the CX-8 proves yet again that Mazda really is the BMW of Japan.

Finally, its braked towing capacity is 1800kg ­– 200kg shy of the diesel AWD versions.

We admit that the thought of a week in a CX-8 seemed like it was going to be a dull affair, but in fact proved to be one of the more enjoyable seven days in an SUV for a while now.

The Touring SP’s sporty visual makeover goes some ways in hiding the styling’s frumpiness; the 2.5L’s performance and economy proved as pleasantly surprising as the driving dynamics and refinement; and – most revealingly – when you weigh up how much car and kit you get for the money, the Mazda’s value is compelling.

But many Australians have already figured most of that out, if the booming sales figures are any indication. So, if you’re after an attainable and accommodating seven-seater SUV with a bit of athletic attitude, the CX-8 is more than enough.

$47,890

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4.5/5

Urban score

4.5/5
Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.