Big CX-9 gets better with age

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What is it?

Mazda’s second generation, seven-seat CX-9 has been one of the segment’s most upgraded cars since launch back in July, 2016.

The biggest improvement came with the dispatch of the pretty ordinary (and thirsty) V6 petrol engine, replaced by a super-slick 2.5-litre turbo-charged unit with torque that gives some turbo-diesels a run for their money.

The original suffered from significant noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), and its replacement was a vast improvement.

This time, more work has gone into reducing NVH, the suspension and steering have been revised and for the first time in a Mazda, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have been included.

The company’s long-standing three-year warranty has also been expanded from three to five years.

A new range-topping variant – the Azami LE – was added back in September.

All but the LE are available in both front- and all-wheel-drive configuration.

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What’s it cost?

The FWD Sport opens the batting at $44,990, followed by the FWD Touring at $51,390, FWD GT at $59,390, FWD Azami at $60,990.

Our test vehicle, the top of the line AWD-only Azami LE caps things off at $66,490.

AWD adds $4000 to the cost of other models.

The Azami LE’s shopping list makes impressive reading.

Goodies include head-up display, tyre-pressure monitoring, Mazda’s MZD Connect infotainment system, 8.0-inch colour touch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite navigation, a classy-looking frameless rear-vision mirror, power windows and exterior mirrors and front fog lights.

Also standard is leather trim, rain-sensing wipers, remote keyless entry, premium Bose 294 watt audio with 12 speakers including a sub-woofer, DAB+ digital radio, three-zone climate-control air, 20-inch alloys with 255/50 tyres, slide-and-tilt sunroof and a remote powered tailgate.

Electronic-driver-aids are equally impressive, with radar cruise control with a stop-and-go function, smart brake support, lane-departure warning, lane-keep-assist system, traffic-sign recognition, high-beam control, smart city brake support (forward and reverse), blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and driver-attention alert.

Autonomous emergency braking (offered for the first time) works below 80km/h and includes pedestrian detection — it also works in reverse.

The list goes on and includes front-seat ventilation, a 360-degree view monitor, instrument-panel-mounted 7.0-inch multi-information display, heated steering wheel and a windscreen de-icer.

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What’s it go like?

As petrol engines go, CX-9’s 2.5-litre double-overhead-cam turbocharged unit is a gem.

But, while it delivers diesel-like torque, it still can’t match a turbo-diesel for fuel economy.

Turbo-diesel engine fanciers will be disappointed they can’t specify a CX-9 with one, but the smaller CX-8 offers an alternative.

The 2.5-litre turbo delivers 170kW of power at 5000rpm and a diesel-like torque figure of 420Nm at just 2000rpm.

Mazda claims fuel consumption of 8.8L/100km in AWD guise – well above the CX-8’s 5.7L.

During two weeks over the Christmas/New Year period, our Azami LE came in at 10.2L/100km under various road and traffic conditions in both city and country.

The engine is mated with a six-speed sequential auto and like all Mazda automatics, it works a treat.

The Azami LE’s cabin takes things to a whole new luxurious level.

The front seats are beautifully shaped and supportive with plenty of bolstering and the driver’s seat has a two-position memory function and 10-way power adjustment.

The front pews are also heated and ventilated.

All that adjustment combined with a height- and reach-adjustable multi-function and heated leather-wrapped steering wheel means finding the perfect driving position takes seconds.

Last Christmas I spent two weeks in the front-wheel-drive Touring model over and an extensive mix of city, suburban and country roads.

While most of the time it’s hard to pick the difference between the FWD and its four-paw siblings, the LE’s AWD system and its sure-footedness stood out on country gravel roads – in fact many of them were the same roads as last year.

The big Mazda rides on a MacPherson-strut front-suspension and a multi-link rear set-up, with stopping power delivered via 320mm x 28mm ventilated front discs and 325mm x 11mm solid discs at the rear.

Suspension upgrades include reduced damper friction, new urethane top mounts for the rear dampers and new rebound springs for the front-and-rear dampers.

More refinement has been achieved with the adoption of new vertical-spring characteristics for the engine mounts.

CX-9 continues to boast a five-star ANCAP safety rating, scoring an impressive 35.87 out of a possible 37 points during its 2017 test program.

There’s no doubting CX-9 is a hugely practical seven-seat family SUV that delivers car-like capability with the second and third-row seats out of the way.

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 and it’s a cavernous 1641 litres with a cargo length of 2158mm and a 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.

What we like?

  • A five-year warranty . . . at last
  • All that lovely torque
  • AWD surefootedness on gravel and wet roads
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto now standard
  • Ventilated as well as heated front seats

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What we don’t like?

  • Space-saver spare
  • MZD Connect still too fiddly
  • No third-row air vents
  • Third-row pews really only suitable for kids
  • 11.8 metre turning circle  

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The bottom line?

Not content to sit on its laurels, Mazda continues to make its range-topper an even better, large family SUV.

It’s beautifully built and finished with an interior that wouldn’t be out of place in something with a fancy European badge – and fancy European price tag. It is spectacularly equipped and extremely safe.

While the exceptional 420Nm of torque is diesel-like, it still can’t match a diesel for fuel consumption.

In last year’s review of the FWD Touring, I wrote the CX-9 “. . .  like a good wine, has improved with age.”

That still holds true, but a year down the track — the wine is even better drinking.

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Mazda CX-9 Azami LE, priced from $66,490
  • Looks - 8.7/10
  • Performance - 8.9/10
  • Safety - 9/10
  • Thirst - 7.9/10
  • Practicality - 8.3/10
  • Comfort - 8.5/10
  • Tech - 8.6/10
  • Value - 8.8/10

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