Mazda CX-9

Style-savvy seven-seater wraps first SkyActiv turbo engine

RYAN LEWIS

SPECS

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale ele renthyee Mazda CX-9 Azami AWD 2488cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 170kW @ 5000rpm 420Nm @ 2000rpm 6-speed automatic 1924kg 8.5sec (estimated) 8.8L/100km $63,390 Now

AS A rule, purely functional seven-seaters are a snooze-fest.

Space-hungry families requiring a third row are often forced to choose between lacklustre high-riders and the coma-inducing boredom of owning a people-mover.

Driving either is like an early night on New Yearís Eve Ė thereís a lot youíre missing out on.

Mazda is taking aim at the status quo, its all-new CX-9 loaded in the chamber. And the carís second coming injects a welcome dose of design flair to a large-SUV segment dominated by the dowdy and drab.

It is almost a decade since its FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE predecessor launched, and CX-9 is now an entirely grown-up and genuinely interesting proposition, still majoring in practicality and providing an image-conscious choice for more discerning buyers.

Itís also cheaper, lighter (by as much as 162kg), thriftier, quieter and is available in a broader range than before.

For 2016 the line-up consists of Sport ($42,490), Touring ($48,490), GT ($57,390) and Azami ($59,390), and for the first time Mazda is making all-wheel drive available on them all as a $4000 option.

That means a new CX-9 Sport AWD costs a full $10K less than the cheapest AWD of the previous generation.

Itís quite a big change, then, and we havenít even mentioned the 2.5-litre turbocharged fourcylinder centrepiece. This engine is the first to couple Mazdaís SkyActiv engineering philosophy with forced induction, producing outputs of 170kW and 420Nm.

Fuel economy is where it excels, sipping 8.4L/100km in FWD models, and 8.8L/100km in AWDs. Thatís markedly down from the 11.0-11.3L/100km of the outgoing 3.7-litre V6.

The turbo-petrol four-pot is the only engine available. Its 34kW deficit to the silky V6 it replaces is made up for by the effectiveness and delivery of its s he extra 53Nm.

Adding a turbo hasnít muffled the four potís vocal nature, with a harsh edge to its note that can be intrusive at higher revs.

Thankfully, the full force of its torque is available from a low 2000rpm so thereís little need to approach the redline.

Even before the CX-9 has turned a wheel, itís ahead of its competitors in terms of showroom sizzle. In topspec Azami trim, with an LED headlight package and larger p ,

GO TO THE SOURCE

01Starting over for the second generation allowed Mazda to make big strides in cabin comfort. New approach to lowering NVH minimised the number of noise sources to begin with, rather than leaving engineers to mask them.

AUSSIE FEEDBACK

02Mazda involved Aussies in development from day one, visiting local customers in their homes to study the way they use their cars. CX-9 packaging is well considered and legitimately useful as a result.

FIVE-STAR SAFETY

03CX-9 is armed to the teeth with safety tech. Every variant gets six airbags, blind-spot monitoring, auto braking, brake-force distribution and crosstraffic alert. Azami adds lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist.

20-inch alloys, the CX-9 bridges the gap between the current crop of humdrum seven-seaters (weíre looking at you Toyota Kluger and Holden Captiva) and even more upmarket offerings such as the Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7.

Up front, a squinty gaze and huge chrome grille form the latest and most striking incarnation of Mazdaís Kodo design language.

The sheer size of the CX-9ís dramatic bodywork verges on imposing, yet it retains handsome proportions and an athletic form that when studied closely reveals a level of subtlety and attention to fine detail rivalling more premium brands.

Itís even better inside. The front half of the cabin is a refined composition of textural materials and elegant styling.

Mazda has deliberately created a feeling of separation from the two rows behind. Its hushed and well-equipped interior houses a full suite of safety technology as standard (see breakout). Only the base model misses out on leather trim and the larger, dashtopmounted touchscreen.

Smarter packaging has created more room inside by pushing each wheel further toward the corners of the stretched CX-5 platform.

The wheelbase is 55mm longer than the old CX-9ís, though the body is 31mm shorter at 5075mm.

Boot space is a useable 230 litres with the third-row seats deployed, rising to 810 litres when theyíre not, and a mighty 1641 litres with the second and third rows stowed.

Passengers in the nosebleeds miss out on third-row vents, but wonít feel short-changed thanks to great visibility through generous window apertures, while head-room and legroom is accommodating enough to host adults for short trips.

The CX-9ís ride shows initial polish. Mazdaís trustworthy dynamic competency is felt in its well-controlled tautness, though the 1.9-tonne wagon canít disguise its heft when thumping over sharper deviations. Braking lacks bite at the top of the pedal travel, and asks for more input than expected even in stop-start city traffic.

A weighty steering tune requires a fussy amount of wheelwork at times, and that makes the car seem big. U-turns feel similar to the orbit of a small moon, requiring some 11.8 metres of road Ė almost a full metre more than the Hyundai Santa Fe. These are the difficulties faced by cars of this size, and in its class the CX-9 strikes a favourable balance between ride and handling.

Mazda has fired a bullet into the customary blandness of seven-seater load-luggers and delivered an SUV that extends beyond the mundane task of putting bums on seats.

Hiroshima has cracked the code.

CX-9ís athletic form reveals a level of subtlety and attention to detail

Moving forward

Under the bonnet is where the CX-9 moves the game forward most.

The SkyActiv-G 2.5T is remarkably strong in the low-to-mid rev range, even for a turbo.

Technology called Dynamic Pressure Turbo reroutes exhaust gases at low rpm to virtually eliminate turbo lag and give smooth, linear throttle response.

Efficiency is its other strong suit. The Ďi-Stopí engine shutoff and Ďi-Eloopí energy recovery system were added at Mazda Australiaís request; the local arm wanted its biggest and most expensive model to have all available technology.

OR TRY THESE...

Toyota Kluger Grande $49,490

Cuts a roomy and functional figure in the seven-seater segment, though no longer made in Japan and lacks stimulating features. Its 201kW/337Nm 3.5-litre V6 sounds good and goes well, but used some 13.3L/100km on our last road test.

Kia Sorento Platinum $55,990

Showcases Koreaís modern-day engineering nous. Won our five-way seven-seater comparo last year thanks to attractive looks, interior ambiance and equipment level.

Punchy 147kW/441Nm diesel makes it the choice if oiler is a must.

PLUS & MINUS

Engine note; dull brakes; demanding steering Styling elegance; fuel efficiency; practical packaging