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