2016 Mazda CX-9 Sport review
Stephen Williams’ first drive 2016 Mazda CX-9 Sport review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The Mazda CX-9 is finely designed, in all three rows, to fit in with frenetic family life while delivering mum and dad a bit of serenity in business class.
2017 Mazda CX-9 Sport
Pricing From $42,490+ORC Warranty Three-years, unlimited kilometres Safety five-star ANCAP all variants Engine 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol Power/Torque 170kW/420Nm Transmission six-speed automatic Body 5075mm (L); 1969mm (W); 1747mm (H) Angles 16.0-degree approach; 21.1-degrees departure Ground Clearance 220mm Turning Circle 11.8m Weight 1845kg-1924kg GVM Not supplied Towing Capacity 2000kg braked 750kg unbraked Towball download 100kg Spare Space saver Fuel Tank 72-74 litres Thirst 8.4L/100km – 8.8L/100km combined
HITTING THE SPOT with families is what the first-generation Mazda CX-9 seven-seater failed to do. Initially, it was too pricey and it always slurped too much of its petrol. Its monthly sales have averaged 350 compared with the 1000-plus of some rivals.
Mazda’s goal for the recently launched new-generation version is to uptick turnover to more like 500 a month. That would complement nicely the sales of the brand’s hot-selling SUVs, the CX-3 and CX-5. They’ve been zoom-zooming out of showrooms at 1300 and 1900 a month.
Family-SUV buyers are tough markers. Due to the ever-increasing quality of van-based people movers and seven-seat SUVs, they’ve come to expect their multi-seater to fit glove-like with their often frenetic lifestyles.
We grabbed the entry-level CX-9 Sport (Azami pictured) to see if it could handle a short family trip away. I took my little ones – Isla, 10, Ronan, 7 and Stampy, 1- for a four-day getaway, south of Perth to Rockingham, a seaside paradise famous for creatures such as fairy penguins and seals.
What is it?
The new-generation CX-9, priced $42,490-$63,390+ORC, is the last Mazda in the line-up to receive the brand’s SkyActiv treatment and the first to get a turbo-petrol engine, but more about that later. Our test car is the entry-level CX-9 Sport which kicks off pricing at $42,490+ORC.
The move from the old to the new has seen the CX-9 slightly shortened, by 31mm to 5075mm, but that shortening is mainly due to shorter overhangs. Where it matters most, the new CX-9 is actually bigger growing its wheelbase by 65mm and becoming 33mm wider. These dimension changes have allowed Mazda to eke out a little more room inside the CX-9, particularly around in the second row and access to the third-row.
As previously, the CX-9 has two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive ranges (our test car is the two-wheel drive CX-9 Sport – the all-wheel drive is priced from $46,490+ORC), The range consists of Sport, Touring, GT and Azami with both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive variants available in each specification. The AWD variants, which come at a $4000 premium over an equivalent front-wheel drive, are not about rough-road adventuring, though. Rather they’re more about the safety-net of having all four wheels gripping on slippery surfaces.
Mazda CX-9 pricing:
- CX-9 Sport FWD auto – $42,490+ORC;
- CX-9 Sport AWD auto – $46,490+ORC;
- CX-9 Touring FWD auto – $48,890+ORC;
- CX-9 Touring AWD auto – $52,890+ORC;
- CX-9 GT FWD auto – $57,390+ORC;
- CX-9 GT AWD auto – $61,390+ORC;
- CX-9 Azami FWD auto – $59,390+ORC; and
- CX-9 Azami AWD auto – $63,390+ORC.
What’s it like on the inside and how practical is it?
Time to find out how the Mazda CX-9 handled a family getaway, starting with loading. Just the GT and Azami get a powered tailgate, so I had to risk my dodgy shoulder. But raising the rear tail-gate wasn’t particularly tricky thanks to the gas struts, and it wasn’t a wrench to close either. I could stand under it without bumping my head and I’m around 5ft8in tall.
The boot, with the third-row in place has a stroller-eating 230L capacity (Mazda assures us it will also hold two golf bags, but we didn’t put that claim to the test) and two covered wells. The deeper one looks good for cans on ice, the other a valuables hidey hole. Provided are a light, luggage hooks, 12v socket, provision for one top-tether child seat, and steel space-saver spare.
The load height, at the very rear of the vehicle is just 85cm off the ground, so loading and unloading isn’t a chore. There’s no boot lip. The third-row seats are 50:50 split which is good and means you can raise or lower each one individually of the other – dropping just one of the seats expands the boot to 520 litres.
Fold the third and second-row which is 60:40 split liberates 1641L, sufficient for two mountain bikes. I folded, via easy-use mechanisms, two single seats on the left to take the kids’ 1.9m kayak and other gear. When flattening the third-row seats, the headrest automatically folds inwards to make everything fit. Nifty.
My seven-year-old took the vacant third-row seat. To access it, the second row slides forward easily, leaving a wide opening. For anyone up to about 160cm tall, such as a teen, it’s okay back there, with good seats, handy side armrest with combined cup/knick-knack holder and curtain airbag coverage, a feature that’s missing in some rivals – odd for family-focused vehicles.
Missing here, though, are air-conditioning vents and, typical of such cars, the height of the rear windows precludes pre-teens from seeing much more than treetops and sky. So don’t play Spotto with them, unless it’s around identifying cloud types.
The second row (air conditioning vents are available for the second row) was for the 10-year-old and a harnessed-and-tethered Stampy, who I forgot to mention is a Cavalier dog (in case you were feeling sorry for a child called that). Features here include sliding seats with adjustable pitch, two ISOFIX child-seat fittings for outboard seats and centre armrest with tablet-size compartment with two USB ports. Thoughtful. The car’s width increase allows three adults to fit comfortably, though there’s a raised transmission tunnel, which means the middle passenger will need to share footwell space with the two to either side of them and the seat itself is more perch-like.
There’s knee room aplenty, aided by concave sculpting of the front-row seatbacks, which have classy leather dual-pocket storage. Tri-zone climate control is standard in all models, meaning second-row occupants can choose temperature, fan speed and direction.
This model acquires sound-insulating glass in the front doors and windshield, one of many new strategies to improve cabin quietness, which has been a weakness. I was able to converse easily with third-row occupants while driving.
What’s the infotainment and communication system like?
The CX-9 communication and infotainment system, which Mazda brands MZD Connect, is packed with desirable kit, even in the Sport variant. Standard are a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen, satellite navigation, internet radio integration (Pandora, Stitcher and Aha), six-speaker audio and multi-function commander control.
The Touring increases the display size to 8.0 inches. The GT and Azami deliver luxe sound via a Premium Bose system, with 12-speakers, a 294W amplifier and digital radio. These top-two variants also get a full-colour head-up display, branded Active Driving Display. Mazda says it designed the cabin to minimise driver distraction, a philosophy it calls Heads-Up Cockpit. An example of the idea in practice is the perching of the tablet-style screen high on the dashboard, but that doesn’t necessarily work in practice…
In similar fashion to Audi and other such premium brands, Mazda’s system requires you to take your eyes off the road to use it, at least until you become familiar with it. Although it does offer a touch mode that can’t be operated while driving… There are shortcut buttons around the rotary dial that allow you to dive quickly into the system and they work well.
When driving, the driver can operate the system using voice command, the commander dial or, for a few functions, steering-wheel buttons. Programming radio stations is a bit of a back-and-forwards through the touchscreen menus chore but, once set up, I was able to flick through my favoured stations using just the steering-wheel buttons.
What’s the performance like?
The first-gen CX-9, powered by a 3.7-litre V6, imbibed petrol at the rate of a drunken sailor – 11.0L/100km FWD and 11.2 AWD. Compare the latter figure with the following AWD petrol autos and the previous model’s sales problem is stark: Hyundai Santa Fe (9.6), Kia Sorento (9.9), Nissan Pathfinder (10.2), Ford Territory 2WD (10.2) and Toyota Kluger (10.4). Accentuating the difficulty was that buyers in this segment lean towards diesels, which meant the CX-9’s fuel use was even more off the pace. Diesel figures include the Santa Fe (7.7), Sorento (7.8) and Territory (8.8).
But the new CX-9, like the rest of Mazda’s range, has benefitted from its SkyActiv approach which is really just a fancy of way saying it’s worked hard to make the cars lighter (up to 100kg lighter depending on the model), but stronger and more rigid, the engines more efficient but without losing grunt. Indeed, fuel consumption has been slashed by 25% over the old model, but even at 8.4L/100km in front-wheel drive guise, it’s still a little off the pace against key diesel-powered rivals.
It’s worth mentioning that the CX-9 was developed primarily to suit American buyers which is why, you could argue, there’s no diesel engine offered. At all. Anywhere. Mistake?
Our test car runs a 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that makes 170kW at 5000rpm and 420Nm of torque at 2000rpm and this is mated to a conventional six-speed automatic transmission with stop-start technology. Mazda’s CX-9 development program manager Masashi Otsuka referred to the key goals for new 2.5-litre turbo-petrol engine, saying it “was engineered to deliver usable torque on par with a 4.0-litre V8 while also allowing the model to achieve best-in-class listed and real-world fuel economy”.
The Mazda CX-9 has plenty of oomph and throttle response is nice and linear with a virtual lag-free attitude that feels more like the sort of power delivery you’d expect from a big V6, or even as Mazda suggests a meaty V8. It tends to accumulate speed rather than show any steps in power delivery.
And don’t let the fact it’s only got a six-speed automatic put you off. While other makers are moving to eight, nine and even 10 speeds, Mazda claims this is done largely to hide torque spread deficiencies. And it says this isn’t the case with the CX-9, hence the six-speed unit, but at the same time, the brand hasn’t actually said what it’s torque spread is. But, based on a seat of the pants impression the CX-9’s petrol engine and automatic transmission work well together.
Indeed, the transmission is responsive to even just a little extra pressure on the throttle dropping down through gears when you need it, without hunting or running straight to top gear the moment you ease off. In all, it’s not just one of the better six-speeds on the market, but one of the best engine and transmission combinations on the market. While the CX-9 is likely to be driven sedately by most owners, it has a Sport button to liven performance, such as holding gears for longer (in Normal mode the shift point under load is 5000rpm, but it’s higher in Sport) and snapping through downshifts while braking.
What is the ride and handling like?
As mentioned, Mazda has made the new CX-9 lighter, by up to 100kg depending on the model. At the same time, it’s added more sound deadening and its NVH that’s always been Mazda’s Achilies heel, even if they wouldn’t ever admit it. The CX-9 now offers a nice quiet cabin across all types of road surface.
The CX-9’s electric power-assisted steering is a key factor in the Mazda CX-9’s light, easy and smooth driving experience. The steering is nice and consistent and well weighted but there’s not a huge amount of feel through the wheel. In all, though, it’s wholely in-keeping with a car that’s pitched as a high-riding people mover.
The CX-9 offers decent body control in daily driving with suspension that errs on the soft side to absorb the worst of the roads imperfections, but with damping that works well to keep it from becoming sloppy. Find some more difficult corners and the body will start to roll and it will understeer when pushed, but this is a seven-seater and not a sports car.
The brakes are strong and the pedal is nice and progressive, but even brushing them lightly will see the nose dive.
How safe is it?
The Mazda CX-9 gets a five-star ANCAP rating, achieving 35.87 out of a possible 37 points when it was tested in July 2016. Standard safety features include: six airbags, reverse camera, LED lights all round, rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and city-braking support. The Touring adds front LED fog-lamps and auto lights and wipers while the GT adds a head-up display and front parking sensors. The Azami offers adaptive cruise control, adaptive headlamps, driver-attention alert, lane-departure warning, lane-keep Assist and Smart Brake Support (SBS).
Mazda’s City Brake Support works in both forwards at speeds between 4-30km/h, and reverse between 2-8km/h. There’s an infrared sensor at the back of the rear vision mirror that scans to the front of the vehicle and an ultrasound sensor in the rear bumper that scans out to just two metres behind the car. The aim of the system is to avoid a collision if possible, but mainly just to reduce the level of impact.