Ori­gin of a species

Mazda adds its tricks to a new class of fam­ily car, the front-drive SUV

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test - RICHARD BERRY richard.berry@cars­guide.com.au

FROM the launch of Mazda’s first two-wheel drive CX-9 comes a price cut and the truth.

The cut comes be­cause fewer wheels do­ing the driv­ing means it’s cheaper to make and sell.

And the truth is, while many of us don’t want the fuel bills or need the off-road abil­ity of a four-wheel drive, we still like the ride height, the space and size and the feel­ing of safety.

It’s not the first soft-roader to go front-wheel drive— not even the first Mazda SUV to do so. But with Mazda’s dy­namic know-how and sharp pric­ing, you can bet ri­vals such as the Ford Ter­ri­tory and Toy­ota Kluger will be trou­bled.

VALUE

Last year you had to fork out $51,015 to get into a base model CX-9 but the front-driver takes that down to $44,425 for the Clas­sic model. The Lux­ury ver­sion, which we drove, is $51,725 and cops leather seats (heated and elec­tric up front), sun­roof and 10-speaker Bose sound sys­tem. Sat nav is op­tional and takes the sticker price to $54,325.

It seems a lot to pay for an SUV with­out four-wheel drive but it’s well-priced com­pared to its ter­rain-chal­lenged ri­vals.

Ford’s equiv­a­lent Ter­ri­tory Ti­ta­ni­umRWDis $54,990 but the pack­age is show­ing its age de­spite an up­grade, while Toy­ota wants $60,990 for its Kluger Gran­deFWD— which is get­ting into Ger­man money. At the lower end is Kia, which is flog­ging its style-on-a-bud­get Sorento Plat­inum for $47,990. There are twoAWDCX-9s to choose from— the Lux­ury for $56,225 and the Grand Tour­ing for $62,106.

TECH­NOL­OGY

All CX-9s get the same 3.7-litre petrol V6 with vari­able valve tim­ing and out­puts of 204kW and 367Nm. The gear­box is Mazda’s slick-shift­ing six-

speed au­to­matic. Mazda claims the Lux­ury two-wheel drive is good for 11.0L/100km but af­ter 200km of pre­dom­i­nantly ur­ban roads, the trip com­puter in­di­cated 13.3L/100km.

DE­SIGN

The 2011 CX-9 has in­her­ited all the ap­peal­ing Mazda fam­ily traits, from its smooth curves and smi­ley grille to its fe­line head and tail-lights. But you can tell the CX-9 was de­signed to win over the Yanks be­cause it’s B-I-G. There’s noth­ing wrong with that— un­less, there are no park­ing sen­sors, such as in the CX-9 Lux­ury. Sure there’s a re­vers­ing cam­era, which does the job well dur­ing the day, but at night the pic­ture is as clear as Neil Armstrong com­ing down the lad­der. Park­ing sen­sors can be bought as an ac­ces­sory but they should come stan­dard on a beast this size.

On the plus side, I’m185cm and I could get out of the driver’s seat and sit be­hind it in the sec­ond row. I could get rea­son­ably com­fort­able in the third row but wouldn’t spend all day there.

A full load of peo­ple doesn’t leave much room for lug­gage. Use the third row and there’s a mea­gre 367 litres of space; fold the seats and there’s 928L.

SAFETY

The CX-9 is yet to be crasht­ested in Europe or Aus­tralia but in US test­ing it scored five stars. It’s def­i­nitely not lack­ing in safety fea­tures, with driver and pas­sen­ger front airbags, plus cur­tain and side airbags. Dy­namic sta­bil­ity con­trol is stan­dard along with elec­tronic brake­force dis­tri­bu­tion and emer­gency brake as­sist.

DRIV­ING

The size made me think it would re­act badly if prod­ded but de­lib­er­ate at­tempts to up­set its bal­ance pro­duced pleas­ingly few ad­verse re­ac­tions. For a large, 2-tonne SUV, it cor­ners, stops and goes with aplomb.

That said, the trans­mis­sion did sur­prise me with its choice of cog some­times. The elec­tric steer­ing as­sis­tance is wel­come in a ship this size, es­pe­cially as the turn­ing cir­cle is fairly poor and there’ll of­ten be more than three points to your in­ner-city turn. And front-drive is all you need in an SUV that will spend most of its life on the bi­tu­men.

VER­DICT

The CX-9 is a well-priced and well-built ex­am­ple of this new species of fam­ily car. At this price you’d pick the front-drive Lux­ury all day ahead of the equiv­a­lent Ter­ri­tory or Kluger but the base model Clas­sic would do the job just as well.

Ap­peal: The CX-9 front­drive has all the slick Mazda traits, in and out Pic­tures: John Fo­tiadis

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