ON ITS BEST BE­HAV­IOUR

To ride in or steer, Mazda’s CX-9 is even more pol­ished AT A GLANCE

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - CRAIG DUFF

Mazda Aus­tralia reck­ons it has the wood on its main­stream ri­vals for in­te­rior qual­ity and now it has the in­lays to prove it. The launch of the up­dated CX-9 in­cludes a new pre­mium vari­ant, the Azami LE, with tim­ber pan­els in the cen­tre con­sole and doors.

It’s not so much chal­leng­ing pres­tige bands as giv­ing ex­ist­ing and prospec­tive buy­ers of the flag­ship SUV lit­tle rea­son to con­sider them.

The lat­est ver­sion of the seven-seater launched in 2016 and still looks sharp, so Mazda has de­voted the bud­get to im­prov­ing the ride, qui­eten­ing the al­ready hushed in­te­rior and adding to the stan­dard equip­ment.

CX-9 de­signer Shinichi Isayama says the Azami LE’s in­te­rior is in­tended to high­light hand­made crafts­man­ship rather than masspro­duc­tion pro­cesses.

“We were par­tic­u­lar about us­ing au­then­tic ma­te­ri­als. The idea was to cre­ate a re­lax­ing, el­e­gant space that looks pre­mium,” he says.

The de­fault kit now in­cludes au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing up to 80km/h, blind spot mon­i­tor­ing, lane keep as­sist, auto-fold­ing side mir­rors, adap­tive cruise con­trol and rear cross traf­fic alert.

All ver­sions have traf­fic sign recog­ni­tion, head-up dis­play pro­jected on to the wind­screen and, for the first time in a Mazda SUV, An­droid Auto/Ap­ple CarPlay con­nec­tiv­ity.

The five-grade line-up starts at $44,990 plus on-road costs for the Sport with auto wipers and LED head­lamps, seven-inch in­fo­tain­ment touch­screen and black cloth up­hol­stery.

Spend $51,390 for the Tour­ing and the kit ex­pands to an eight-inch screen, leather up­hol­stery, pow­ered and heated front seats, key­less en­try, sec­ond-row cen­tre arm­rest and USB ports.

The GT then adds 20-inch wheels, sun­roof, heated sec­ond-row seats and 12-speaker Bose au­dio for $59,390.

The Azami starts at $60,990 with head­lamps that turn with the wheels, sur­round-view cam­era, seven-inch LCD dig­i­tal driver’s dis­play, heated steer­ing wheel and ven­ti­lated front pews. All-wheel drive adds $4000 to all

ver­sions. Fi­nally the AWD-only Azami LE packs that tim­ber trim, brown Nappa leather, be­spoke over­head con­sole and am­bi­ent light­ing in the cen­tre con­sole for $66,490.

Mazda con­ser­va­tively ex­pects 6500 sales in the next 12 months. Of those, the Azami is pre­dicted to ac­count for about 30 per cent, closely fol­lowed by the GT at 27 per cent. About 57 per cent of buy­ers will choose the cheaper, gen­er­ally smarter front-drive option.

Ex­tra equip­ment and sound dead­en­ing adds about 25kg across the range, with kerb weight vary­ing from 1878kg-2000kg. De­spite this, the 2.5-litre turbo still claims 8.4L/100km for front­drivers and 8.8L for AWD ver­sions. The tow rat­ing is un­changed at 2000kg but the ball weight has im­proved from 100kg to 150kg.

ON THE ROAD

Re­vised re­bound rates for the dampers can’t stop the Azami’s 20-inch rims from rid­ing

firmly over road rip­ples. The CX-9 atones for the low-speed pat­ter by not hav­ing the side­wall dis­tort and cause body roll and jig­gling un­der the near two-tonne weight when loaded up through sweep­ing cor­ners.

For those who don’t want that level of driv­ing dy­nam­ics, opt for the Sport or Tour­ing ver­sions on more com­fort­able 18-inch rub­ber.

Dis­able the lane keep as­sist and point the big Mazda at some typ­i­cal Tas­ma­nian back roads and it tracks true re­gard­less of the cor­ner ra­dius and road sur­face. On tight turns, you can just feel the Mazda’s tricky soft­ware pull it to­wards the apex if mo­men­tum threat­ens to carry the SUV straight on.

The steer­ing feels marginally more re­spon­sive and has de­cent feed­back for a car this size. A mo­men­tary light­ness to the wheel on hard cor­ner ex­its hints at the turbo’s power be­fore the AWD shuf­fles grunt to the rear wheels and you dart out of the cor­ner.

In terms of its on-road han­dling, the CX-9 still feels like the best be­haved seven-seater you can buy for less than $70,000.

The head-up dis­play shows the pre­vail­ing speed limit, as read by the traf­fic sign recog­ni­tion cam­era, along with your rate of progress and, if you’re us­ing the sat­nav, the di­rec­tion and dis­tance to the next turn.

VER­DICT

Added safety and fea­tures re­in­force the CX-9’s strong cre­den­tials. There are cheaper sev­enseat SUVs out there but none with this level of pol­ish and pre­ci­sion.

FIRST DRIVE

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