Eighty percent of sales for Mazda’s CX-9 are in North America, and this has clearly influenced the specification of this prestige SUV. All models are powered by a new 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine from Mazda’s SKYACTIV family, counter to the trend towards diesel for vehicles of this size and weight.
At 1924kg kerb mass for the GT model, the challenge for Mazda’s engineers was not only good performance but reasonable fuel economy in a seven-seat family wagon. Despite recording 8.8L/100km on the government test cycle, our overall average during a week of driving was 11.0L/100km, comparable with its petrol competition but well shy of most diesel alternatives. Those who only use CX-9 around town are unlikely to do better than 13.0L/100km.
Mazda’s engineers were, however, targeting real-world drivability, which effectively means an engine that delivers good pulling power from low engine speeds. With an impressive 420Nm of maximum torque from 2000 rpm, courtesy of the unique turbo charger and tuned exhaust manifold, this high-
compression engine delivers more linear per-formance re-sponse and better flexibility than might be expected. There’s a conventional six-speed automatic transmission only, although again it’s cleverly tweaked with Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology. It provides the smoothness of a torque converter on take-off and during gear shifts along with performance and some economy enhancement through early converter lockup, reducing slip.
CX-9s have a premium cabin presentation, and our GT in particular had excellent seat shaping and comfort in the first two rows, as well as space for an average-size adult in the third row. Overall length makes it tricky in tight parking spots and driver vision restrictions are an issue, particularly with the thick windscreen pillars, yet seven-seat practicality and load space versatility are impressive. While luggage capacity is quite limited with all seats in use, the ease of split-
folding the third row, along with rake and travel adjustment in the 60/40-split second row, mean a wide variety of loading configurations. Thoughtful features for rear passengers abound, including one-touch seat tilt/slide for easy access from either side, inbuilt window blinds and full climate control.
The dash layout initially appears quite busy with its complex mix of angles, textures and highlights, yet it has Mazda’s typical sharp presentation and works efficiently. A quiet, well-insulated cabin and compliant ride also reflect an American influence, although 20-inch wheels and overly quick electric power steering, designed for a sporting feel seem at odds with this large, comfortable cruiser.
All models have the same engine and transmission combination with the option of two or four-wheel-drive. Interestingly, towing capacity does not change with four-wheel-drive, and the maximum of 2000kg comes with the limitation of a 100kg ball load. The four-wheel-drive set-up is tailored to North American winters, using an array of electronic input signals to provide stability and traction in snow and mud rather than clearances and gearing for arduous rock crawling in the Australian bush.
Pricing starts at $42,290 plus on-road costs for the Sport, $48,890 for the Touring, $57,390 for the GT and $59,390 for the Azami, plus $4000 extra for four-wheel-drive in any model. Stepping up from Sport to Touring brings a trim upgrade to leather along with powered front seats, driver lumbar adjustment and an eight-inch touch screen. GT models add a swag of features, notably seat position memory, colour head-up display, Bose sound, glass sunroof, remote powered tailgate, proximity key, digital radio and front parking sensors. The top-spec Azami adds to the solid safety package with Driver Attention Alert, Forward Obstruction Warning, Lane Keep Assist with departure warning, Smart Brake Support and adaptive LED headlights.
Premium build quality, good performance and excellent seven-seat family accommodation make Mazda’s CX-9 an attractive proposition. Only fuel economy around town and driver vision restrictions detract from its appeal.