You’d be forgiven confusing Mazda’s CX-8 and CX-9.
Both seat seven and parked side by side they look very much alike.
In fact, they have exactly the same 2930mm wheelbase, but the newer CX-8 is actually 175mm shorter, bumper to bumper.
The major difference, however, lies in the fact that the CX-8 comes with the diesel engine that budget-conscious families have been demanding for so long.
CX-9 on the other hand is available only with a petrol engine.
It started life with a big, thirsty petrol V6 under the bonnet, but these days is powered by a less thirsty 2.5-litre turbo — still no diesel though.
What’s it cost?
There’s three versions of the car, with prices starting from $42,490 for the front-wheel drive Sport.
The same car with all-wheel drive is $46,490 or you can dig deep for the top of the line all-wheel drive Asaki at $61,490 — all prices before on-road costs.
The latter represents a large jump in price and is coincidentally the model we are looking at here.
CX-9 in comparison is priced from $43,890 to $64,790.
CX-8’s level of standard equipment is high, with cloth trim, three-zone climate control air, 17-inch alloys, LED head lights, auto lights and wipers, auto dimming mirror, auto high beam, rear park sensors and the latest traffic sign recognition.
Satellite navigation is also part of the deal, with digital radio and six-speaker audio — plus a host of active safety systems including automatic emergency braking.
Asaki doesn’t want for much, with the addition of Pure White or Dark Russet Nappa leather and real wood inserts, plus 19-inch wheels, daytime LEDs, front park sensors, power operated tail gate, adaptive cruise, 360 degree monitor, heated seats front and back and even a heated steering wheel — not to mention a 273 watt, 10 speaker Bose sound system
It does however miss out on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, suffice to say the cabin is a warm, pleasant space in which to pass the time.
What’s it go like?
It’s easier to hide the inherent rattle of a diesel in the larger, well insulated dimensions of a seven-seat SUV.
In fact, unless you’re a “car person” you probably won’t recognise that it’s a diesel, because it is so smooth and quiet.
But a diesel it is, a twin turbo 2.2-litre four cylinder with a redline of 5000rpm that produces a sizeable 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque, the latter from a low 2000 revs.
It’s paired with a 6-speed auto in all models, with auto engine stop-start to save fuel — but misses out on gear change paddles.
Frankly, it doesn’t need them, not with this much torque on tap.
Fuel consumption is a best in class 5.7L/100km, with that figure rising to 6.0L/100km with all-wheel drive.
Sliding into the car for the first time we were impressed by the upmarket feel of the cabin, a quantifiable step up on the flagship CX-9 that we drove previously.
The white leather trim in our test vehicle looks schmick, but is perhaps not the ideal choice for a family hauler — we’d opt for the Dark Russet instead.
The cabin is roomy with plenty of legroom front and back, although the third row of seats is suited to young children only.
The second row slides fore or aft as required, but with the third row in use there’s not much space for luggage behind the back seat.
The airconditioning offers three zone temperature control, with separate controls for second row passengers but strangely no outlets for the third row where they are needed most.
In terms of performance, the dash from 0-100km/h takes a 9.2 seconds, or 9.6 with all-wheel drive, but it feels stronger and faster than that — much faster.
It’s quick off the mark, with strong mid-range acceleration and I’d be very surprised to hear any complaints about the way it goes (or the amount of fuel it uses).
Traffic sign recognition keeps you posted on the current speed limit, work zones included, with the speed indicator repeated in the nav, speedo and heads-up displays — although the latter is difficult to see with polarised sunnies.
The ride is firm, sporty but not harsh virtue of its size, with steering that is light and responsive.
Gear changes are intuitive gear, but there’s an annoying twitch from the lane keeping assist system that makes it tempting to turn off.
We were getting 7.3L/100km after close to 600km, with another 260km left in the 72-litre tank — you’ve gotta love that!
What we like?
Oodles of power
Excellent fuel economy
Smooth and quiet
A step up in fit and finish
You can hardly hear diesel
What we don’t like?
Nothing worth mentioning
Oh, you can’t see the heads up display with polarised glasses
The bottom line?
Impressive. Slick, powerful, practical. The CX-8 is perhaps everything the CX-9 should be, just a fraction smaller (not that you’d notice).