Euro vibing in the Mazda CX-8 and CX-9

I love it when I get into a vehicle, or in this case two vehicles, and I am completely taken by surprise by how good they are! This was the first time I had driven any Mazda vehicles and I have to say the experience left me with a very good first impression.

I spent a week each with the top of the line CX-8 Asaki AWD and the top of the line CX-9 Azami AWD; the two large, seven seat SUVs in the Mazda model line-up. The first notable point I would like to make about these two SUVs is they do actually have seven usable seats. On top of this are the use premium quality materials on the interior, thoughtful design features, a good looking exterior and a comfortable ride quality.

The major difference between the two models I drove was the engines, which are both paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. My CX-8 had a 2.2 litre, 4-cylinder, twin-turbo diesel engine that produces 140 kW and 450 Nm of torque. The claimed combined fuel consumption for the AWD diesel is 6.0L/100km and for my week I used 8.5L/100km.

While the CX-9 I drove had the 2.5 litre, 4-cylinder, petrol turbo engine that produces 170kW of power and 420Nm of torque and I could feel that the CX-9 had more power than the diesel and it was quicker off the mark. The claimed combined fuel consumption for the CX-9 AWD is 9.0 l/100km and for my week I used 11.6L/100km.

Both had a quiet cabin and rode over our rough Australian roads well. I didn’t notice the diesel engine noise while driving mostly; it was only on start-up and under hard acceleration that I could hear the diesel engine note. Both also had the fuel saving auto stop/start system that Mazda call i-stop. I like to have this feature turned off when I drive cars, but I could not work out where to shut it off on these two SUVs.

Back to those first impressions and as soon as I sat in the CX-8 I felt comfortable and immediately liked it. In the CX-8 the seats are covered with dark russet leather and in my CX-9 the seats were brown Nappa leather and other than that the two interiors were identical. The only complaint I would have about the interior was I felt the climate control took a long time to warm up in both cars.

The CX-8 front seats.

The front seats come standard with heating and cooling in these models. I found the heating worked well and the cooling was okay, which is pretty standard for most car companies. The driver’s seat has 10-way power adjustment including lumbar support with two memory positions. While the passenger seat has six-way power adjustment with no memory positions.

The leather covered steering wheel is also heated and the controls are logically laid out. Like many other car brands, the voice control button has a silhouette of a man’s face. I found the voice control worked well for making phone calls, but I could not get the voice control system to set a destination for me on the sat nav. These are the two things I use voice control for the most when I am driving and they are my standard tests.

Under the arm rest is a SD card holder, two USB ports and one AUX input and there are two cup holders in front of the arm rest. I am not a fan of the gloss black surrounding the gear selector and on these two SUVs it was already starting to show signs of scratching around the park brake button. A couple of other notable things were the 12V outlet was also oddly located on the passenger side of the centre console and the door cubby was large, but a bit shallow.

At the centre of the soft-touch dash is a 9” infotainment screen that is easy to navigate using the rotary knob, so there is less need to touch the screen and cover it with finger marks. Both SUVs had Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and the other media options to listen to on the 10-speaker (including subwoofer) Premium Bose 273-watt amplifier sound system include AM/FM, DAB, aha, Stitcher, Bluetooth and USB.

The driver’s dash is still analogue in these two Mazda models, but to make up for this was an excellent head-up display system that projects a lot of information for the driver directly in front of them on the windscreen, including the blind spot alert, allowing me to keep my eyes forward on the road.

I also had good vision out of the rear view mirror even with the third row seats up, but I think vision would be impeded if there was a car seat in the centre seat of the second row. To counteract this both SUVs have a 360o view camera with front and rear sensors and I liked that I could turn the camera on easily when I wanted it for driving forward because in some cars you can’t do this or it only works after you have had the car in reverse and then select drive.

As I previously mentioned these two SUVs can carry seven people in relative comfort and there are five child seat anchor points as well. The second row seats have two ISOFIX/three rear tether child seat restraint points and with careful selection three cars seats can fit across the second row. If the centre seat is not in use it can be folded down as an arm rest with a storage cubby in it that has two USB ports and an area to place two small devices and in front of the arm rest are two drink holders.

The two outer seats of the second row are also heated, something my children appreciated. The climate control for the rear seats has temperature, mode and fan speed control. This can also be turned on and off from the front, but not adjusted. There are also manual blinds on the windows and drink bottle storage in the door cubby.

With second row seats fully back there is enough head and leg room for two adults to fit comfortably and with the seats fully forward to give maximum room for third row passengers there was just enough leg room for me to sit in there, but my knees were touching the front seats.

The third row is accessed using an enhanced one touch walk-in switch added to the left and right seat cushion sides on the second row. The seats fold down with a single touch making simple work of third row entry and egress even for adults. The third row passenger can also manually push the second row seat forward to get out using a lever on the outer shoulder of the second row seats.

With second row in its most forward position there is enough leg room for a small adult in the third row, but head room is limited and my knees felt like they were up high. With second row back as far as it goes there is still enough leg room for children to sit comfortably in the third row. There are two rear tether points in third row and one USB port on each side with drink holders and a storage cubby in the wheel arches.

Air is blown into the third row from under the second row seats and there are large side windows for an open cabin feel. The mat across the third row covers all areas where you stand to get in and out so protects the carpet well and can be easily removed for cleaning.

The boot has power open and close from both inside and outside of the SUV and additionally the CX-9 also has a gesture open feature. With third row seats up there is enough room for five school bags to fit thanks to the sculptured nature of the boot behind the rear wheel arches.

The rear seats are manually lifted up and down and are 50/50 split folding and with these laid flat there is ample room for the weekly shop and a pram in these two large SUVs. There are thoughtful details like hooks to stow the third row seat belts when not in use so they don’t flap about or get in the way. There is one 12V outlet, two hooks and four tie down points and also a removable floor to provide extra storage and you get a space saver spare tyre, but there is no cargo cover for the boot.

The CX-8 and CX-9 feature numerous driver safety aids including adaptive cruise control that holds your speed even when going downhill. Plus you get blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, and lane departure warning. The lane keep assist technology used is basic and it tended not to stay centred in the middle of the lane. These SUVs also have Smart Brake Support and Smart City Brake Support (Forward/Reverse) and rear cross traffic alert.

Both SUVs have six airbags including dual frontal, side chest-protecting and side head-protecting (curtain) airbags. The Mazda CX-9 has a 5-star ANCAP (2016) safety rating and the CX-8 also has a 5-star rating but for 2018 instead. The CX-8 ANCAP rating also reports an adult protection rating of 36.7 out of 38 (96%) and a child protection rating of 42.7 out of 49 (87%).

All new Mazda models come with a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and five-year Mazda Premium Roadside Assistance. Base scheduled maintenance is due every 10,000 km, but no longer than 12 months, whichever comes first and for the first fives services this costs $1,885 for the CX-8 and $1,905 for the CX-9.

The CX-8 Asaki AWD starts at $65,440 and as tested including the floor mats my CX-8 was $65,736. The CX-9 Azami AWD starts at $69,303 and with premium paint, front and rear floor mats my CX-9 was $70,204 as tested.

Both of these large seven-seat SUVs offer a premium European feel without the premium price tag. So your only choice here really is do you want the power from the petrol or economy from the diesel engine? Visit your preferred Mazda Dealer to explore the range for yourself.

ProsCons
Ride is quiet and comfortableClimate control took a long time to warm up
Seven usable seats, with five child seat anchor pointsVoice control did not work for entering an address
Many standard creature comfortsI couldn’t work out how to switch the i-stop off

Photographs by Driven Women Magazine.