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