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The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Road Test -

WE’RE hav­ing kids much later in life — it takes 15 years to scrape a house de­posit to­gether first — and, sup­pos­edly, fewer of them. You’d think de­mand for seven-seat fam­ily freighters would be fall­ing, right?

Not a chance. Sales are boom­ing and if you want to carry a tribe of kids around you can now have your seven-seater in more flavours than ever be­fore, in­clud­ing the new breed of con­verted 4WD one-ton­ners such as the Ford Ever­est and Toyota For­tuner.

Mazda’s sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion CX-9 has just ar­rived, with the brand claim­ing a record 82,000 po­ten­tial buy­ers regis­ter­ing in­ter­est even be­fore it landed.

So per­haps a lot of peo­ple did in­deed take for­mer Fed­eral Trea­surer Peter Costello’s ad­vice in 2010 to “have one for Mum, one for Dad and one for the coun­try.” Or maybe two for the coun­try …

DE­SIGN

We’re test­ing the base model CX-9 Sport. Sport im­plies ath­leti­cism, sex and ex­cite­ment. The Mazda does none of those. If your life re­volves around chil­dren, do you re­ally have the time or the en­ergy for all that stuff ?

It’s a big, close to two tonnes, front-wheel drive, seven-seater SUV. A fam­ily bus, in other words, but no­body would buy it if they called it that.

Priced at a pretty fair $42,490, the base CX-9 is hardly loaded yet stan­dard gear in­cludes some high-value equip­ment in the fam­ily wagon con­text. Mazda, hav­ing thought about what par­ents re­ally want, de­liv­ers it.

Safety is the ob­vi­ous pri­or­ity and here the Mazda ex­cels, with five stars from ANCAP, a rear cam­era, low speed (be­low 30km/h) ob­sta­cle de­tec­tion/ au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing that also works in re­verse (at drive­way speeds of 2-8km/h),

MAZDA CX-9 SPORT

PRICE $42,490 WAR­RANTY 3 years/un­lim­ited km CAPPED SER­VIC­ING $3740 over 100,000km SER­VICE IN­TER­VAL 12 months/10,000km SAFETY 5 stars EN­GINE 2.5-litre 4-cyl turbo, 170kW/420Nm TRANS­MIS­SION 6-speed auto; FWD THIRST 8.4L/100km DI­MEN­SIONS 5075mm (L), 1969mm (W), 1747mm (H), 2930mm (WB) SPARE Tem­po­rary TOW­ING 2000kg rear cross traf­fic alert, blind spot mon­i­tor­ing, full-length cur­tain airbags, four Aus­tralian Stan­dard and two Isofix re­straint an­chors and seat belt indi­ca­tors for all po­si­tions.

The spa­cious, com­fort­able 60-40 split middle seat slides on ei­ther side to ad­just legroom or let kids into the back. It’s el­e­vated and the win­dow sills are low so kids can watch the world pass by and be happy.

Third-row ac­cess isn’t quite as easy as Mazda claims. Even the sin­gle middle seat on the kerb side is fairly heavy to slide fore and aft and re­ally re­quires two hands plus a bit of heft to op­er­ate.

Back there, the seats are fine for pre-teens but they’re close to the floor so older kids and adults squat rather than sit.

The Sport also has prac­ti­cal, smart stuff that makes life easy and com­fort­able for ev­ery­body, such as tri-zone air­con with in­de­pen­dent con­trols for the sec­ond row, rear seats that fold into the floor and re­quire no ef­fort to raise or lower and a use­ful-sized boot even with all seats in use.

Par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive are the qual­ity of ma­te­ri­als and the fit and fin­ish in the cabin, which is su­perb for a base model. It ri­vals Ger­many’s best — Audi — and by in­tent looks sim­i­lar too, right down to the sleek, min­i­mal­ist, mono­tone de­sign, the style and op­er­a­tion of the in­fo­tain­ment and even the knurled, al­loy-look knobs.

It’s a shame, then, that the test car had a per­sis­tent, loud rat­tle from the front pas­sen­ger’s seat. These things hap­pen.

AROUND TOWN

Mazda’s driv­e­train is tuned to suit its load-lug­ging pur­pose. The 2.5-litre four-cylin­der turbo and six-speed auto de­liver strong per­for­mance off the line, easy pulling power at low revs and turbo diesel-like torque, so there’s never a need to thrash it.

In fact it’s a bit too easy to break trac­tion at the front and smoke the bags (well, not quite, but you could …) if you’re vig­or­ous on the ac­cel­er­a­tor. The kids will think you’re a star but it could cause po­ten­tially nasty prob­lems in the wet. Trac­tion con­trol needs to kick in ear­lier and with greater fi­nesse.

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