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 …
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.
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.