The Mazda CX-9 gets a welcome reboot.

Story by Bruce McMahon

North American tastes dictate that the latest generation Mazda CX-9 arrives here with a petrol power plant and automatic gearbox. Some 80 percent of the 50,000 CX-9s built each year are expected to head to North America. Petrol, or ‘gas’, prices are relatively cheap in the United States, Canada and Mexico and there remains scepticism about diesel engines for passenger cars in those countries. 

In the case of the 2016 Mazda CX-9, a deal of engineering brainstorming was harnessed to produce a petrol engine to better match SUV diesel motors for both fuel economy and torque characteristics.

Mazda was also keen for their flagship seven-seater wagon to have ‘real-world’ performance rather than just good-looking catalogue specifications. To that end, engineers in the US followed parents from school pick-ups to sporting paddocks to determine what performance families wanted from their SUV.

The sweet spot for the most torque to be delivered was at 2000rpm. So the CX-9’s turbocharged 2.5-litre engine comes on boost early and delivers its peak torque of 420Nm at 2000rpm. This, along with other engine and transmission developments, plus a lighter body, helps the Mazda four-cylinder supply smart acceleration from any road speed and keep claimed fuel figures under 9 litres per 100 kilometres.

There is, of course, much more to the CX-9, the first reboot for this model in nine years. The new body is handsome. It’s longer in the wheelbase, yet shorter and taller than before, and has a touch more muscle tone to its style. The fresh specifications allow for more interior space, aided by thinner seat backs and a lower floor in part. 

The third row of seats remains best for children or small adults, and the second row can be folded and slid forward for easier rear access, even with a child seat in that second row, according to Mazda. There are two ISOFIX anchors and three tether points for child seats in the middle row.

This middle seat offers good accommodation for two Australian-sized adults, though the darker of two headlining colours can lead to a perception of less headroom.

The front-seat accommodation – for both passenger and driver – is much appreciated, for it well disguises the thought that, in essence, the CX-9 is just a well-dressed people mover. 

The fitting of panels and parts, and some of the finish of this cabin matches more expensive European SUVs. There is a premium feel to the design and finish of dashboard and centre console controls, even in the entry-level Sport model.

The CX-9 Sport, from $42,490, is topped by the Touring, GT and Azami models, with the dearest CX-9 costing $63,390. There is the choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

All boast a range of safety and convenience features from satellite navigation to blind-spot monitoring and electronic-chassis aids to help keep the Mazda on the straight and narrow. All have a five-star crash rating and a full-sized spare.  Dearer models offer the likes of premium Bose sound systems and, in the case of the GT and Azami, a head-up display that projects information such as road speed and lane warnings onto the windscreen ahead of the driver.

For all drivers, there is a sporting approach to the Mazda’s seating, ergonomics and instrumentation. Some may appreciate a tad more lift for the steering wheel; otherwise there are few complaints. This is a comfortable place to be, whether waiting for the kids to finish sports practice or pushing on with confidence down a country road.

Along with a reworked accommodation package and clever petrol engine, there are advances, too, in the Mazda wagon’s on-road dynamics. The ride is supple, even on upmarket models’ 20-inch alloy wheels and with a very handy 222 millimetres of ground clearance. Noise, vibration and harshness levels are good across the range.

The 2.5-litre motor is always willing and the six-speed auto transmission keen to kick down when the powertrain is asked for acceleration. There is little to no lag in responses and gearbox upshifts are always smooth and polite.

Steering feel and response is also well weighted, but the all-wheel drive versions feel better balanced on country drives.

This seven-seat Mazda CX-9 may not match a Toyota Prado in the real rough stuff, but it will better most traditional SUV wagons as a cross-country tourer for the Australian family – even without a diesel-engine option.

This story excerpt is from Issue #109

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2016