Plush hour

Take seven in com­fort on a school run or a long hol­i­day — just keep the trailer light

Herald Sun - Motoring - - THE TICK -

PLUSH. It’s a re­cur­ring de­scrip­tion as I drive the new Mazda CX-9. It’s plush in the seats and cabin, plush in the tur­bocharged en­gine re­sponse and plush in the sus­pen­sion.

I’m not talk­ing Rolls-Royce Phan­tom-style plush, which takes a $1 mil­lion-plus bud­get. This is the sort of plush that will work for modern fam­i­lies who are shop­ping up to the lux­ury tax thresh­old in the $60,000s.

The CX-9 is much im­proved over the car that pre­vi­ously wore the badge. It’s taller and wider too, al­though it’s still a three-row seven-seater for car­ry­ing kids or blended fam­i­lies.

I’m sur­prised to find just a 2.5-litre four-cylin­der turbo in the nose, turn­ing a smooth sixspeed au­to­matic gear­box that sends drive to all wheels.

The am­ple safety gear runs to blind-spot warn­ing and au­to­matic safety brak­ing, though not the speed-sign recog­ni­tion I’ve re­cently en­joyed in the lat­est Mazda3.

Re­work­ing the CX-9 put a big fo­cus on fam­ily use. Longer rear doors (thanks to the ex­tra wheel­base) al­low eas­ier ac­cess to the sec­ond-row seats that are eas­ier to use and the third-row bench that’s now suit­able for oc­cu­pants up to 170cm tall.

Mazda’s Ja­panese engi­neers even con­sid­ered Aus­tralian needs, mov­ing the sec­ond-row slid­ing seat sec­tion to the foot­path side — some com­pa­nies with a US fo­cus keep

that fea­ture on the ”wrong” side.

The cabin lay­out is also more user-friendly, from the head-up speed dis­play to seats that ri­val an arm­chair for com­fort.

Ma­te­ri­als and fin­ish­ing are typ­i­cal Mazda qual­ity — but the quiet­ness is su­per-Mazda. The CX-9 cabin is bril­liantly iso­lated, in stark con­trast to re­cent com­plaints about ex­ces­sive road noise from Mazda3 own­ers.

The styling changes — par­tic­u­larly the ag­gres­sive grille open­ing with tiny ta­pered head­lights — prompt a mo­ment of re­flec­tion on Mazda’s choice of flag­ship ve­hi­cle. Who would have thought, just a cou­ple of decades ago, that the 929 limou­sine and Eunos 800 would be dumped in favour of an SUV?

The switch il­lus­trates that lux­ury has a new look, a new flex­i­bil­ity and a new rel­e­vance in the 21st cen­tury.

ON THE ROAD

The new CX-9 starts from $42,490 with plenty of equip­ment but this one is the fully loaded GT all-wheel drive at $61,390.

That’s a lot for a fam­ily car when you can get a Toy­ota Camry from less than $30,000 but you get a lot more space in the CX-9, nu­mer­ous con­fig­u­ra­tions in the cabin, leather seats and sun­roof. The head­lights are ex­cel­lent.

It makes a great first im­pres­sion. En­gine and trans­mis­sion are creamy smooth, it rides with great com­pli­ance and the driver’s seat sup­ports my shoul­ders and feels plush — there’s that theme again.

But the quiet­ness is most im­pres­sive. The cabin iso­la­tion is what I’d ex­pect on a $100,000-plus lux­ury car, not a seven-seat fam­ily bus that com­petes with the Toy­ota Kluger and Nis­san Pathfinder.

It is an ex­cep­tional ef­fort and a real trib­ute to the car’s NVH engi­neers (the team com­bat­ing noise, vi­bra­tion and harsh­ness), who have set a new stan­dard for the brand and the class.

More time with the CX-9 ex­poses a few flaws, mostly in the ride and han­dling. The cor­ner­ing grip is noth­ing spe­cial.

The sus­pen­sion can feel a lit­tle floppy on bro­ken sur­faces and there is a mis­match be­tween the front and rear set­tings that means the lat­ter can be a bit too bouncy at times. Worst, there is sig­nif­i­cant tug through the steer­ing un­der strong ac­cel­er­a­tion and the front end also tracks into bumps and un­du­la­tions in­stead of rid­ing over them. It’s like old­school torque steer, some­thing I don’t ex­pect in an AWD.

The en­gine pulls very well from low revs and I like the midrange torque (the peak out­put is 420Nm) but I’m won­der­ing how it would cope with tow­ing as it needs a bit of a rev. Per­haps that’s why it is only rated to two tonnes on the tail.

Per­son­ally, I would also like pad­dle-shifters for quicker re­sponse dur­ing over­tak­ing moves. Mazda has a sports set­ting for the en­gine and, for man­ual shift­ing, the touchchange lever is set in the “race” pat­tern — push for­ward for a down­shift and pull back to move up through the ra­tios.

Fuel econ­omy is agree­able — the stop-start sys­tem fires the en­gine up quickly, too — but I know it could get thirsty with a full load.

The third row is a lit­tle cramped and it would ben­e­fit from sep­a­rate air vents, as in some of the Korean seven- seaters, but the school run will present no prob­lems. All seats up, boot space is rea­son­able and with the third row folded away it’s quite good.

THE TICK

Yes. No ques­tion. This is one fam­ily SUV that makes life much, much eas­ier and it’s an easy pick for The Tick.

I’d hap­pily take the CX-9 on a long-range fam­ily hol­i­day, know­ing the su­per-quiet cabin and all-round qual­ity would be en­joy­able in­stead of some­thing to en­dure. It’s even good for car pool­ing and the week­end sports runs.

It’s go­ing to take a proper back-to-back com­par­i­son with the Kia Sorento, which was good enough to claim last year’s Carsguide Car of the Year crown, but for now the CX-9 is my bench­mark in the fam­ily SUV class.

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