2018 Mazda CX-9 AWD Touring Review
Isaac Bober’s 2018 Mazda CX-9 AWD Touring Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The big Mazda CX-9 offers seven seats in a stylish package.
2018 Mazda CX-9 AWD Touring Specifications
Price From $52,890+ORC Warranty five-years, unlimited kilometres (From August 1) Service Intervals 10,000km/12 months Service Price From $332-$375 for five services Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol Power 170kW at 5000rpm Torque 420Nm at 2000rpm Transmission six-speed automatic Drive front-wheel drive Dimensions 5075mm (long) 1969mm (width) 1747mm (height) 2930mm (wheelbase) Weight 1845kg Seats seven Turning Circle 11.8m Boot Space 230-1641L Spare Temporary Fuel Tank 74L (AWD) Thirst 8.8L/100km (claimed combined); 9.8L/100km (as tested)
THE FIRST Mazda CX-9 lobbed Down Under in 2007, this current (second-generation) model arrived in 2016 and while it adopted Mazda’s KODO design language (it was the final vehicle in the range at that time to be updated), the brand said its primary aim with the thing was to build a vehicle that “would enhance the various aspects of their [customers] lives”. At the time of the launch, Mazda was proud of the grunt from the four-cylinder engine, indeed at the time the 420Nm rivalled the output of a naturally-aspirated V8 engine.
When the CX-9 went on-sale its pricing was a reduction on the outgoing model despite being an all-new car and equipped with a lot more gear as standard so it represented decent value and still does today. Fuel consumption was improved by up to 25% too.
In August last year a number of tweaks were made to the CX-9 like changes to the second-row seats which allowed them to tilt further forward to make climbing into the third-row easier. Top tether anchors were also added across both rows of seats.
What’s in the range and how much does it cost?
The Mazda CX-9 range offers both front-wheel drive and on-demand all-wheel drive drivetrains petrol engine only – for a diesel you need to go to the slightly smaller CX-8 which we’re currently testing. There are four variants in the range, including Sport, Touring, GT and Azami. Interestingly, you can have a front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive version of every variant in the range.
In terms of pricing, the CX-9 kicks off at $42,490+ORC and runs to $59,390+ORC for front-drive variants, choosing an all-wheel drive variant adds $4000 to the sticker price. Our test car is the CX-9 Touring (one up from entry) and it lists from $52,890+ORC (AWD). Key features, include LED fog lights, auto on/off headlights, rain-sensing wipers, leather seats and trim, 8.0-inch touchscreen MZD Connect infotainment system, sat-nav, blind-spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, reversing camera and more.
There are seven colours to choose from with Soul Red added to the list in August last year costing $300, as does Machine Grey Metallic, the other colours are Snowflake White Pearl, Sonic Silver, Jet Black, Deep Crystal Blue, and Titanium Flash.
What’s the space and practicality like?
There are seven seats in the CX-9 with the two third-row seats folding flat into the floor via small lever-style handles. The second-row seats are a 60:40 split-fold arrangement and it while it would be nicer if they were 40:20:40 set-up they fold easily providing an ‘almost’ flat boot floor.
With the third-row seats in-use there’s 230 litres of storage space which is enough for the average weekly shop, the load lip is 805mm off the ground which makes loading and unloading easy for anyone of average height. Fold down the third-row seats and there’s up to 810 litres of storage space (bigger than many of this car’s competitors); the third-row seats are raised and lowered via a lever on the back of the seat. The space measures 1282mm long and third-row folds totally flat into the floor.
Fold down the second- and third-row seats and storage grows to 1641 litres and measures 2158mm long and around 1489mm wide. The second-row seats don’t fold totally flat but they go close to it. Some CX-9 variants offer a powered tail-gate but our test car didn’t, however, the door is easy enough to open and close with one hand.
Getting into the third-row seats isn’t overly difficult, you simply slide and tilt the second-row seats forward and then climb through the gap. It’s not a huge gap and Mazda admits it’s been designed with teens in mind rather than adults.
Once in the back the seats are comfortable and there’s enough headspace for someone like me (I’m six-feet tall) although leg and foot room isn’t amazing. But, in Mazda’s defence it only advocates adults use the third-row “in a pinch” and I agree with its assessment that early teenagers will be comfortable.
Into the second-row and there’s plenty of room with good head, shoulder, elbow, leg and foot room no matter how tall you are. The doors open out nice and wide, and the opening is big, so getting in and out is generally easy. It’s not so easy, though, if you’re in a tight parking space; the doors are quite bulky with the door bin making it tricky for bigger passengers to slide out through the gap.
Our test car offered a fold-down armrest for those in the back which holds a storage bin and twin USB outlets. The CX-9 offers tri-zone climate control, meaning those in the back can set the temperature and fan speed independent of those in the front.
In the front of the CX-9 and like other Mazda SUVs the aim has been to create a dashboard and driving environment that’s more like the Mazda6. I particularly like the two-tone interior, meaning the bottom half is black while the roof lining is white; it sounds like I’ve described a Top Deck chocolate and I guess I kind of have but the white roof lining creates a sense of roominess in the cabin. Clever.
The front seats are comfortable enough for both short and longer stints behind the wheel and there’s good forwards vision out of the thing. The rear three-quarters is a little slabby so you match the blind-spot monitoring to your shoulder checks when changing lanes.
In terms of size, this second-generation CX-9 is shorter than its predecessor (by 31mm) measuring 5075mm although the wheelbase of 2930mm is 55mm longer than the first-generation CX-9. The new car is 33mm wider (1969mm) than the old CX-9 and it stands 1747mm high. The CX-9 is big, it’s longer than a Toyota Prado and it’s both longer and wider than some of its key competitors.
Are the controls and infotainment any good?
The general controls are well positioned and easy to use even when driving. While familiarity improves the user experience with Mazda’s MZD Connect infotainment system, the rotary-dial controlled system can be a little fiddly once you start deep-diving into things like sat-nav. The unit offers touch control too but the screen seems to be prone to showing finger print smears in direct sunlight.
Connecting to the system via Bluetooth and then making calls or streaming music is easy, but if you’re jumping between tracks, etc you need to use your phone and, as we know, this is illegal. The infotainment takes a while to get started again and reconnect to your phone if you’ve been parked but it will generally pick up from the track you left off. Call quality, according to those I called, was good. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and while this is coming to Mazdas, I think the Japanese car maker should have embraced the smartphone connectivity much sooner. Digital radio is standard across the range.
What’s the performance like?
There’s only one engine available for the CX-9 and that is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol (if you want a diesel you’ll need to look at the CX-8). This engine makes a healthy 170kW at 5000rpm and 420Nm of torque at 2000rpm. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and for our test car the claimed combined fuel consumption is 8.8L/100km; in our week of testing we averaged 9.8L/100km. The fuel tank for the FWD variants measure 72L while the AWD has a slightly larger tank of 74L. There’s stop-start (called i-Stop) but I switched it off as I found it slow to react.
As its on-paper numbers suggest this engine is strong and the six-speed automatic is well matched to it while throttle response is about as good as you’ll get anywhere. Touch the throttle from just about any speed, or on any incline and the gearbox will work back through the gears quickly and smoothly with almost instant urge. The engine might be turbocharged but you wouldn’t know it given the lack of lag. Like the throttle, the brakes are nice and progressive making this an easy car to drive whether you’re cruising on the highway or crawling in stop-start traffic.
The all-wheel drive system is pretty clever. In general driving it’ll send 100 per cent of drive to the front axle but it can shuffle as much as 50:50 front to back. If it detects slip it’ll likely send around 20-30 per cent to the rear. And, even if it doesn’t detect any slippage, if the system detects you’re driving pretty hard, it’ll still send some drive to the rear axle to help minimise understeer.
What’s it like on the road?
As mentioned, the engine, transmission and pedal response for both the throttle and brakes are excellent. And those things go a long way towards making the CX-9 one of the better big SUVs to drive.
The CX-9 borrowed engineering laid down for the CX-5 and that means things like longitudinal structural members that are straighter are the same across both models, as is the design for the suspension which is straighter than it was on the old CX-9. This, combined with a more torsionally rigid body means the thing smothers mid-corner bumps rather than reacting to them.
Across the Practical Motoring road loop, the CX-9 felt comfortable and capable. The thrusty engine and responsive transmission meant that diving into and out of corners was, if not ‘fun’, confidence inspiring. Even across dirt roads there’s bags of traction; I didn’t see the traction control light come on once even when I was trying to provoke it. While it’s impossible to ‘feel’ the all-wheel drive system cutting in and out, I did notice when driving through a series of corners that there was a sense of the rear adding a little push on turn in and firing out of the corner…but that could have been my mind playing tricks on me.
The steering is nice and direct and consistent in its action, although it is lacking in feel and can feel a little too keen to self-centre at times. The suspension, as touched on, does a good job of controlling the body and insulating passengers from the worst of the road. Across one section of rutted dirt, the CX-9 rolled with the road offering a nice cushioned ride. And the body, and underneath, is well insulated from road, wind or engine noise. In all, the CX-9 is a comfortable car whether you’re driving around town or across the country.
What’s it like to park?
Around town and carparks, the CX-9 feels big, something that’s not helped by the slow-ish steering. I found that in tighter parking spaces I needed to take a couple of bites, although familiarity with the thing and learning to trust the cameras made things easier.
Does it have a spare?
Depending on the variant the wheels and tyres package runs from 255/60R18 (18×8.0in) to 255/50R20 (20×8.5in). The spare is standard across the range and is a temporary steel jobbie measuring 17×5.5in with 185/80 rubber beneath the boot floor.
Can you tow with it?
Mazda claims a 2000kg braked towing capacity for the CX-9 (but only when fitted with a Mazda towing kit) but the maximum towball download is just 100kg, so, a lot less than the recommended 10% for towball download. Kerb weight is from 1845kg but Mazda doesn’t publish GVM or GCM data – we’re chasing this up and will update this section when we hear back from Mazda.
What about ownership?
Mazda has today (August 1) updated its warranty from three-years, unlimited kilometres to five-years unlimited kilometres on all vehicles sold after August 1 which is good news. But the service schedule of 10,000km or 12 months is a little low compared with some competitors. Mazda offers capped price servicing on the CX-9 which for this FWD variant alternates between $332 and $375 and covers the first five services. The extras not covered by capped price servicing costs are replacing the brake fluid which needs to be done every 40,000km or two years and costs $86, and replacing the cabin air filter which needs to be done every 40,000km and lists at $91. Servicing costs are the same for both the front-drive and all-wheel drive variants.
What about safety?
The CX-9 offers a five-star ANCAP rating across the range. The CX-9 also runs what Mazda calls its i-ActiveSense suite which incorporates a range of active safety features, including blind spot monitoring which can see up to 50m behind the vehicle; if it spots a car and determines that it will be in ‘your’ danger zone within 5.5secs of its then position (and you’ve flicked the indicator) it will flash a warning. There’s also both forward and reverse city-based (read: speed limited) collision warning (AEB), rear parking sensors only on our Touring spec, reversing camera, roll stability assist, traction and stability controls and airbags for the front and back as well as rear cross traffic alert. There are top tether anchors across both rows of seats (second- and third-row). Things like acitve lane keep assist are only available on the top-spec variant.