What is it?

Back in 2008, Mazda launched its first large SUV and while the Japanese company was something of a “Johnny-come-lately” into the segment, it was a case of better late than ever.

While the big Mazda CX-9 was a pretty good vehicle, it had a couple of major shortcomings.

The first was a way-too-thirsty V6 petrol engine and the second was that its noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) was disappointingly not up to par.

In July last year, Mazda launched the second-generation CX-9 range and the big change was the dropping of the V6 and its replacement by a turbocharged 2.5-litre petrol engine that employs all of the company’s best technology. It was a major improvement.

Now, 15 months later, the company has upgraded the CX-9 for 2018 and while the new car is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, the result is a way better vehicle that Aussie families will really enjoy.

Sadly, there’s still no diesel on offer but what Mazda engineers have been able to achieve with this petrol engine – especially in the torque department – certainly softens the blow for oiler fanciers – one of whom is me.

I’ve just completed one of the most thorough reviews of more than a thousand I’ve done over the years and the variant in question was the front-wheel-drive CX-9 Touring.

 

What’s it cost?

The FWD Sport opens the batting at $43,890 (plus dealer and statutory charges) and this rises to $50,290 for the FWD Touring, then on to $58,790 for the FWD GT before topping out at $60,790 for the FWD Azami – the one with the lot.

Opt for four-wheel-drive and you add $4000 to each version.

One question I am often asked by friends, and even friends of friends in the market for a new SUV – is do I need to spend the extra on the four-paw variant?

The fact is while there are vast numbers of AWD SUV’s out there, many of their owners don’t really need drive going to all-four wheels.

There are of course exceptions, such as families that travel regularly to the snow or country drivers who are forced to spend much of their motoring on poor-quality gravel roads.

That said, for urban family chariot duties, front-wheel drive is perfectly adequate – a fact confirmed by the CX-9 Touring test car with its not-insignificant torque being delivered via the front wheels.

As already mentioned, going FWD will save you $4000 over an AWD variant and because it’s lighter, the FWD’s fuel figure is 0.4 of a litre better at 8.4L/100km.

Looking through the spec sheet for the Touring and comparing its standard fruit with that of its CX-9 siblings, I reckon it’s the pick of the bunch in terms of value for money.

Sitting back in the beautifully sculpted, partial-leather seats, surveying the goodies that surround you, it’s hard to dispute the car’s value-for-money credentials.

The interior ambience is achieved through a classy and tasteful blend of leather and plastic and this, coupled with great interior styling makes it feel more like being in a premium European SUV – with double the price tag.

Standard goodies include three-zone climate air, a reversing camera, rear-parking sensors, cruise control, electric heated front seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, a multi-function, leather-wrapped steering wheel, front LED fog lights, Bluetooth connectivity, power windows and exterior mirrors, satellite navigation and Mazda’s MZD Connect system with console-mounted rotary control knob.

With eight-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat (six for the front passenger) and a height and reach-adjustable steering wheel, dialling up the perfect driving position is a breeze.

One of the big surprises delivered by the CX-9 is its 2.5-litre double-overhead-cam turbocharged petrol engine that boasts a maximum-power figure of 170kW at 5000 rpm and a diesel-like peak torque figure of 420Nm that is on tap from a remarkably relaxed 2000 rpm.

The engine is mated with a six-speed sequential-sports-shifting automatic and like all Mazda transmissions – manual or automatic – it’s excellent.

While the Touring doesn’t come with steering-wheel-mounted change paddles, you can still play with manual gear changes with the console-mounted shifter.

While Mazda claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 8.4L/100km for the engine and it can run on 91 RON of E10 petrol, during nearly three weeks of driving in all road conditions, our figure was closer to 11 litres.

 

 

What’s it go like?

When the current-generation CX-9 emerged in July last year, the really big difference – among a raft of improvements – was under the bonnet.

Until then and since its original launch back in 2008, the big Mazda had been powered by a thirsty V6. I well remember the original media launch all those years ago, when my co-driver and I recorded a figure in the low 20s – admittedly during a stretch of serious punting.

In contrast this new engine is a delight, including as it does all the best and latest technology that Mazda has developed in recent years. While it can’t match diesel-powered competitors for fuel economy, it’s still pretty handy.

The other really noticeable improvement, is in the area of noise, vibration and harshness – an area for which Mazda has copped a lot of media flak over the years.

This new updated model is as quiet and refined as any SUV out there – Mazda has taken on board the criticism and done something about it.

After picking up the Touring in Melbourne, my wife and I spent a week in and around the city and suburbs.

It’s been five years since we moved from Victoria to far north-eastern NSW, so we really noticed how much worse traffic has become in the world’s most-liveable city.

City driving also confirmed what a big vehicle the CX-9 really is.

A couple of time we found it nearly impossible to park the car when someone had already cribbed a foot or two over the white line that delineates the boundaries of parking spaces.

An 11.8 metre turning circle can also make things a bit difficult in the confines of narrow city and suburban streets.

But the generous proportions of the big Mazda mean it is a hugely practical seven-seat family SUV that can just about double as a delivery van.

With the third-row seats occupied, there’s still 230 litres of luggage space. Fold them flat and this rises to 810 litres.

Drop the seat backs of both rows and this becomes a cavernous 1641 litres, with a cargo length of 2158mm and width of 1489mm.

As well, there are plenty of cup holders, door pockets, a console bin and a good-sized glove box for a family’s bits and pieces.

After our time in the city and suburbs we headed up the Hume Freeway to visit friends at Benalla. They used to have a property near our former farm but have now left the farm to run a fine B-and-B in their retirement.

Out on the Hume the Touring proved itself to be a refined, comfortable cruiser with excellent NVH that restricted road and wind noise and allowed for easy listening either to music or conversation.

This new-found level of cabin calmness has been achieved by things such as using thicker floor and firewall steel, adding more insulation and using sound-insulating glass.

After Benalla it was back on the Hume as we headed south to climb up on to the Strathbogie ranges to a township called Terip Terip to visit more friends.

Calling it a township is drawing something of a long bow. There’s a small community hall and a superb set of tennis courts but nothing else other than farms that specialise mainly in sheep, cattle, cropping and some grapes..

Having run a 129 hectare sheep and cattle property at Terip Terip for 27 years, it’s an area I know well.

Most of the time the roads – a mixture of narrow bitumen and gravel – are sadly in need of repair but the southern gravel section of Terip Terip’s main thoroughfare, Top Road, had been recently graded and was about the best I’d ever seen it.

While the big FWD Mazda loped along the gravel with ease, I treated the drive with slightly more respect than I would have in an AWD version.

Because the Touring’s engine is such a torquey unit, tramp too enthusiastically on the go pedal and the front wheels spin – even on bitumen. There is also a hint of torque steer in some circumstances.

One real positive that adds to the CX-9’s overall credentials is its five-star ANCAP safety rating and the Touring comes with six air bags, ABS brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, electronic brake-assist, front-and-rear autonomous emergency braking, traction-and-stability controls, front-and-rear collision warning, a blind-spot detector and trailer-sway control.

The big Mazda rides on 255/60/R18 rubber and a MacPherson-strut front-suspension system, with a multi-link rear set-up.

Stopping power comes from 320mm x 28mm ventilated front discs and 325mm x 11mm solid rear discs.

While there’s no argument that it’s an SUV, even in AWD guise, the CX-9 is not designed to venture far off the beaten track . . . especially given its space saver spare.

Although it faces some tough competition from Kia’s Sorento, the Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota Kluger, by just about any measure, the big Mazda more than holds its own.

It’s beautifully finished, has a classy, refined and comfortable interior and it delivers excellent driving dynamics.

One area where it doesn’t shine is the miserly three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty that simply doesn’t cut the mustard when compared with the Kia’s seven-year warranty or the Hyundai’s five-year deal.

 

What we like?

  • Top-line safety credentials
  • Classy interior and build quality
  • Silky-smooth highway cruising
  • Diesel-like torque from a petrol engine

 

What we don’t?

  • Space-saver spare
  • Stingy three-year warranty
  • Big A-pillar can block visibility on winding roads
  • No third-row air vents

 

The bottom line?

The 2018 CX-9 Touring is a fine, handsome family seven-seater that like a good wine, has improved with age.

 

Mazda CX-9 FWD Touring, priced from $50,290
  • 7.5/10
    Looks - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 9/10
    Safety - 9.0/10
  • 7.5/10
    Thirst - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8.0/10
  • 8/10
    Comfort - 8.0/10
  • 8/10
    Tech - 8.0/10
  • 7.5/10
    Value - 7.5/10
7.9/10

Crawf

Ian Crawford has had a life-long love affair with cars, confirmed by some of the cars he's owned, including a twin-cam MG A, Capri 3000 GT, Alfasud Ti, HK GTS V8 Monaro, BMW 633 CSI, Porsche 928 S and his current toy - a Nissan 350Z roadster. He made his debut in motoring journalism as a youthful motoring editor of the Launceston Examiner. At this time he was also Tasmanian correspondent for Wheels and Sports Car World magazines. Years later he made a comeback as motoring editor of the Canberra Times and more recently as a freelancer he has written for CarsGuide, RACQ, The Motor Report and Just 4x4s.