Life is confusing for car buyers these days. You can get into a car from a luxury brand for less than $40,000 and you can spend north of $80,000 on a work ute.
Our newest arrival in the garage, Mazda’s CX-9, is a case in point. In top-of-the-range Azami LE guise, you won’t get much change from $80,000.
That sounds very expensive until you shop it against an Audi or BMW of the same size and power and realise they’d cost well into six figures.
In the metal, the flagship of the Mazda fleet is an impressive looking beast. The “polymetal grey” paint job – new to the range from the end of last year – is conservative but classy looking.
That conservatism is carried through to the cabin. Our press car was dominated by rich walnut brown Nappa leather, mahogany inserts in the doors and centre console and dark soft-touch surfaces throughout. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can have pure white leather, with lighter dash trim.
The CX-9 cabin is beautifully executed but a little old-school. Rivals have configurable digital screens in front of the driver, but the Mazda has traditional analog dials and needles. While the dash lacks the hi-tech wow of a Volkswagen, the CX-9’s head-up display compensates by projecting your speed, the prevailing speed limit and navigation directions on the windscreen. In a neat touch, it also displays a warning if there’s a car in your blind spot.
The LE model follows a less costs more philosophy. While all the other models in the range have seven seats, the LE’s second row has two business-class style “captain’s chairs” and a centre console that doubles as an armrest. Individual USB outlets and climate controls complete the up-market ambience.
The LE also has one-touch, push-button access to the third row of seats. The seat backs fold and move forward to create easy access. It sounds impressive but in reality it’s not as quick and easy as the old style manual flip-down feature on many rivals. The six-seat layout also means one less child restraint anchor for the family minded.
On the plus side, you can mix and match legroom between the third and second rows and recline the second-row seat backs. With the middle seats slid forward the CX-9 will swallow four golf bags.
When the third-row seats are in place, their occupants are well looked after. They get aircon vents and USB ports not found on cheaper models, while legroom is good for kids and passable for adults on short journeys. Most importantly the curtain airbags run all the way to the rear of the vehicle, unlike the rival Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento.
In our first couple of hundred kilometres of predominantly city driving, the Mazda has impressed with its smooth ride, impressive control and abundant power.
It’s spacious inside but doesn’t feel like a big bus in carparks and tight inner-city streets. It’s also easy to park, thanks to a birdseye view reversing camera and sensors.
The 2.5-litre turbo four-cylinder has plenty of low down urge, while the six-speed auto shifts smoothly and quickly when asked.
Be prepared for frequent trips to the petrol station though. On our daily commute, which admittedly is in heavy traffic, we’re seeing consumption of about 15L/100km, well above the claim of 11.7 in the brochure.
Our next report will include a long freeway run, so it will be interesting to see if we can match the official highway claim of 7.3L/100km.
MAZDA CX-9 GT AWD
Price: About $69,500 drive away
Engine: 2.5-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol, 170kW/420Nm
Warranty/servicing: five years/unlimited km, $1910 over five years
Safety: 5 Stars, 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, radar cruise, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, traffic-sign recognition, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert
Cargo: 810L (230L with third row up)