The quieter achiever
The recommended retail price of $52,890 is a $4000 premium over the front-drive version. That’s on par with what other Japanese brands charge but Kia gives you AWD and a diesel engine for just $3500 on its excellent Sorento. Standard features include built-in satnav, leather seats and three-zone aircon with temperature controls for the second row. Mazda doesn’t charge for most of its metallic paints, unlike its rivals. Warranty is only average at three years/unlimited km and servicing costs are on the high side at $1673 for four services at 10,000km intervals.
Mazda has done a good job with noise suppression on the CX-9. In the past, the brand has struggled to quell road noise but this model is quiet and refined. The heated front seats are big and comfy for long-distance cruising, with enough support to keep you from sliding around on the leather. Second-row leg and headroom are generous and the third-row seats have more room than most. You can also mix and match the legroom with the second and third rows. One glaring omission is the lack of air vents for the third row — older rivals have them. There’s no auto tailgate either. There are plenty of USB outlets, including two in the secondrow armrest, which also has a handy storage space for phones.
Mazda is an industry leader in standard driver assistance technology that is optional on much more expensive vehicles. The CX-9 is no exception. Apart from the mandatory reversing camera, it has blindspot monitoring, emergency brake assist and rear cross traffic alert for driveways. For slippery surfaces there is hill start assistance and the car also has seat belt warning lights for all positions, so you can make sure the kids are all buckled up. It got 35.87/37 in crash tests, earning it five stars.
Some rivals have diesel engines for better fuel economy and towing ability but the Mazda sticks with petrol power to shift its nearly two tonnes. The 2.5litre turbo four-cylinder is punchy, though, delivering brisk acceleration off the mark and impressive urge when asked to overtake. In the frontdrive version, the power sometimes overwhelms the tyres and the steering wheel will tug under full power — AWD quells that, delivering more traction, especially in the wet. The CX-9 handles corners and bumps impressively for such a big heavy wagon, sitting flat when changing direction and delivering good feedback through the steering wheel.
Toyota Kluger GXL, from $55,190
Big and comfortable, with a powerful V6, but beginning to show its age. A new model is due this year.
Kia Sorento Platinum, $55,590
More expensive but better equipped and comes with a frugal and punchy diesel engine. Was our 2015 Car of the Year.
The CX-9 is a solid choice for family motoring. It feels sportier than its rivals and there’s plenty of space for the kids and luggage. The interior is well finished, if lacking the modern feel of some in the class, while the engine is a ripper.