Mazda CX-9 GT AWD seven-seater road test and review
SADLY, I am not a good driver to follow to a location that is new to you or even one you are not quite sure of. I will simply forget that you are there.
I'll be the one to just make an orange-tinged traffic light, or a late decision on an exit or even as I finally stretch out to leave those fast-lane squatters behind.
So clearly I wouldn't have proved the ideal candidate for Mazda's development testing for its new CX-9.
Luckily there were those that did.
For months engineers followed Californian families to the supermarkets and sports fields, family gatherings and days out to see just how they used their SUVs.
They took note of routes and driving styles and what they considered important in a family SUV.
Only then did they build the CX-9, and the attention to detail shows.
This iteration, almost a decade since our first look at the seven-seater, is new in everything but name. It is taller, wider, more stylish and better equipped. It is just more.
Any parent stuck in that black hole that is school drop-off and extra-curricular activities rejoices in the conveniences that modern car design affords.
And this new Mazda CX-9 certainly seems to have that covered.
Stylish and practical, the interior has the toughs and smarts too to cope with family living.
While materials feel nice to touch and are well integrated they are also easy to wipe clean so those back of the seat shoe prints and the melted chocolate at the bottom of a long-forgotten party bag loses a bit of its sting.
Instrumentation is clear and visible, the infotainment system easy to operate and all the necessary dials and buttons within easy reach of the driver.
Seats are decidedly comfortable for occupants in the first two rows as is head and leg room. This is less so for passengers in the third row although they do now have wider pews and more knee room.
Access is easier too thanks to a longer wheelbase with a weighted mechanism on the second-row slider making it child's play to operate.
On the road
Importantly, the old CX-9's thirsty 3.7-litre V6 has been replaced by the same turbocharged four that does duty in the Mazda 3, 6 and CX-5.
Now before you scoff, yes, on paper, power is down by 34kW to 170kW but torque increases by more than 50Nm. And it is the latter, available from 2000rpm, that makes a real-world difference to how the CX-9 moves.
It also makes a big improvement to fuel economy: the last CX-9 had a bit of a drinking problem, you see.
Okay, this is a big vehicle for just a four-cylinder, but despite the compromises made for efficiency, Mazda has equipped it with the zoom needed to carry a family and more than enough legs for speedy highway overtaking when needed.
Our AWD GT test-car was a relaxed and comfortable drive, holding the road even in slippery conditions and seeing off bumps without fuss.
Visibility is greatly improved from the outgoing model and the extra sound deadening materials also make the cabin a quieter place to be. The size does take a bit of getting used to in tight city driving conditions and it is a little bit hard to manouevre into parking spots but it definitely feels more well-rounded and accomplished than the car it replaces.
What do you get?
Our GT trim meant niceties like leather seats, 8.0-inch colour multimedia touchscreen, 12-speaker Bose sound system, retractable rear window shades, head-up display, sunroof, 20-inch alloys, reverse camera with parking sensors, height-adjustable power tailgate and keyless entry.
Safety features include cross-traffic alert, front and rear autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring as well as front, side and curtain airbags.
Thanks to the use of SkyActiv weight saving and efficiency technology Mazda offers official figures of 8.8l/100km for the AWD CX-9. We were around the 11l/100km after our week in the SUV which, given its size and capability, is nothing to be sneezed at. The CX-9 also comes with a three year unlimited kilometre warranty and a life-time capped-price servicing scheme.
The CX-9 has been playing in this space for almost a decade. For most of that time the Ford Territory has been master of the universe but will now no longer be on offer. The Kia Sorento and Toyota Kluger are strong here too as are the Hyundai Santa Fe and Nissan Pathfinder.
One of the things that irks about seven-seaters is that you often have to be something of a contortionist to access the third row. Well, thankfully Mazda has made it a touch easier by not only making the second row more maneuverable but also changing the orientation of the 60:40 split so that the sliding 40 is now on the curb side so it's also safer to enter and exit.
There's provision for five child seats too, although only two of these are Isofix, and you can move the 40 section even with a child seat in use. There are plenty of storage options and bottle holders in all three rows and while the boot space has dropped slightly to 810-litres it is still of generous size. The spare wheel has put paid to the underfloor storage though which is a shame.
With its sharper lines, Kodo design and huge chrome family grille, the CX-9 is instantly recognizable as part of the Mazda family. We like the bolder new looks and attention to detail. It is a hulking seven-seater but a nice-looking one.
The Mazda CX-9 is a world apart from the one it replaces. A decade will do that to you I suppose. But this is an SUV which has been designed with the future in mind. It is spacious and practical, comfortable to drive and has the safety aides and most of the technological features that families now consider important. It, too, will soon be a firm favourite.
Model: Mazda CX-9 GT AWD.
Details: Five-door all-wheel-drive seven-seat large SUV.
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol generating maximum power of 170kW @ 5000rpm and peak torque of 420Nm @ 2000rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed auto.
Consumption: 8.8 litres/100km combined.
Bottom line plus on roads: From $61,390.
What matters most
What we liked: Practicality, surprising performance, safety.
What we'd like to see: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, bigger infotainment screen.
Warranty and Servicing: 3-year unlimited kilometre warranty with servicing at 12 months or 10,000km.
Driving experience 17/20
Features and equipment 18/20
Functionality and comfort 18/20
Value for money 18/20
Style and design 17/20