MAZDA’S EIGHTH WON­DER

Fam­ily-friendly CX-8 SUV given stylish up­date by Mazda

The West Australian - - WEST WHEELS | QUICK DRIVE -

VALUE

Pitched as a Goldilocks so­lu­tion for grow­ing fam­i­lies, the CX-8 sits be­tween its pop­u­lar five-seat CX-5 and much larger seven-seat CX-9 cousins.

Com­par­a­tively long and nar­row, it bor­rows from both and is the only way to get a seven-seat Mazda with a diesel en­gine — the CX-9 is petrol-only.

A mild up­date in March, just nine months af­ter it ar­rived, added smart­phone con­nec­tiv­ity to the in­fo­tain­ment, which al­ready had sat nav and a re­vers­ing cam­era.

There were re­vised air-con con­trols and a new dark fin­ish on the al­loy wheels.

The range-top­ping Asaki tested here shares the seven-inch dig­i­tal dash­board read­out with the new Mazda3.

The changes add $1100, tak­ing the Asaki to $62,590 plus on-road costs (about $68,000 drive-away).

The high-rid­ing wagon has a five-year, un­lim­ited kilo­me­tre war­ranty and ser­vice in­ter­vals of 12 months or 10,000km, capped with an­nual av­er­age of $354.

COM­FORT

Fruit of Mazda’s pre­mium push is ev­ery­where you look in the Asaki, which adds ven­ti­la­tion to the leather-trimmed and heated seats and am­bi­ent light­ing.

As stan­dard kit, there are gen­uine wood in­lays, pow­ered memory seat ad­just­ment and head-up dis­play. The 10-speaker Bose au­dio has plenty of grunt, and con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment in re­duc­ing in­tru­sion of road noise means you don’t have to crank it up to 11.

It’s a com­fort­able place, with sup­port­ive seats and thought­ful ad­di­tions such as smart keys, power tail­gate and a drop-down cen­tre arm­rest with twin USBs.

Sec­ond-row oc­cu­pants get air-con vents and con­trols, the third row misses out.

SAFETY

Cur­tain airbags cover all three rows and there are com­pre­hen­sive driver aids.

Ev­ery CX-8 gets au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing with pedes­trian and cy­clist de­tec­tion, plus ac­tive cruise con­trol and blind spot and lane­keep­ing as­sist. It earned five stars in ANCAP crash tests.

DRIV­ING

Built for those who find the CX-9 in­tim­i­dat­ingly wide, the CX-8 is ef­fec­tively a stretched CX-5 with a diesel up front and an ex­tra row of seats dropped into its larger back­side. If it sounds like a less-than-dy­namic recipe, you’re on the money. Smaller and larger SUVs in the range feel more co­he­sive and sweeter to drive — ex­tra weight (about 200kg) in its com­par­a­tively tall and nar­row body doesn’t help the CX-8 when go­ing, stop­ping or turn­ing.

The 19-inch wheels of our test model ac­cen­tu­ate bumps, too. The cabin is a pre­mium place but the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence isn’t Mazda’s best. The sweet and ef­fi­cient diesel is helped by Mazda’s ex­cel­lent six-speed auto.

AL­TER­NA­TIVES

The Skoda Ko­diaq Sport­line, from $52,990 plus on-roads, is smaller than the CX-8 but able to ac­com­mo­date seven, the Ko­diaq is brim­ming with Skoda’s “sim­ply clever” at­ten­tion to de­tail.

The Ford En­dura ST-Line, from $57,990 plus on-roads. Want a diesel that’s bet­ter to drive? Ford’s five-seat En­dura may be worth a look, though the cabin isn’t as pol­ished as the Asaki’s.

Mazda CX-9 GT, from $64,620 plus on-roads. The CX-9 should be the de­fault pick for Mazda cus­tomers who want a seven-seater. If you can af­ford the higher (petrol) fuel bills and can han­dle its size, the CX-9 is the one to get.

David McCowen

The CX-8 sits be­tween the CX-5 and CX-9.

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