What stands out?

The Mazda CX-8 bridges the gap, in size and price, between the CX-5 and CX-9, and offers three-row seating, fastback styling, an elegant and quiet cabin, enhanced handling and a choice of petrol and diesel engines. Autonomous emergency braking is standard.

What might bug me?

How often you have to drop the car off for service. It’s every 10,000km (or 12 months), which could mean twice a year if you drive a lot.

Dealing with a flat tyre when you’re out of town. All CX-8s have a space-saver spare tyre, which limits the recommended top speed to 80km/h. It is skinnier than the regular tyres on the car, and so has less grip.

No longer having an option to buy a FWD diesel CX-8 which was cheaper and slightly more efficient than the AWD version.

What body styles are there?

Five-door SUV-style wagon only.

Petrol CX-8 versions only drive their front wheels, the diesels drive all four wheels.

All-wheel-drive CX-8s use an on-demand AWD system. Most of the time it sends most of the engine’s power to the front wheels, to optimise fuel economy. When the sensor-based, predictive system thinks the front wheels are about to slip, it sends a greater proportion of power to the rear wheels.

The Mazda CX-8 is classed as a large SUV, lower priced.

What features do all Mazda CX-8s have?

An 8.0-inch central screen, sound system with AM, FM and Digital (DAB+) radio, Aux and USB inputs, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls and audio streaming, and at least six speakers.

Satellite navigation, a reversing camera, and rear parking sensors.

Rear cross-traffic alert, which looks to either side behind you when you are reversing, and warns if a vehicle is approaching.

Seven seats.

Aluminium alloy wheels.

Six-speed automatic transmission.

Adaptive cruise control, with slow-speed stop-and-go function.

Active safety suite which includes autonomous emergency braking that works at low and medium speeds, forward obstruction warning, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, rear-cross traffic alert and driver attention alert.

A head-up display that projects information on the windscreen near your line of sight, including speed, blind-spot, sat-nav directions and Mazda’s Traffic Sign Recognition, which displays the last speed-limit sign you passed.

Leather on the gear handle and steering wheel, and controls on the wheel for operating the cruise control, the sound system, and your phone.

Three-zone climate control with second-row control and vents

Headlights and tail-lights illuminated by LEDs, which are brighter than conventional halogen bulbs and last much longer.

Rain-sensing windscreen wipers, and windows tinted against sun penetration.

Auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

Keyless entry and push-button start

Roof-rack rails.

Electronic stability control, which can help you control a skidding car. All new cars must have this feature.

Six airbags. (For airbag placement, and for more on CX-8 safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)

The CX-8 is covered by a five-year warranty, with no limit on distance.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

The 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D turbocharged diesel engine that’s shared with the smaller Mazda CX-5 and wagon is the most efficient engine in a CX-8, consuming just 6.0 litres/100km on the official test (city and country combined).

The diesel pulls well and is well-suited to country driving, though it also accelerates smartly around town.

This was the sole engine option in the CX-8 when it was introduced to the Australian market to provide a diesel alternative to Mazda CX-9, which only comes with a 2.5-litre turbo petrol engine.

In 2020 Mazda introduced a to the range, a 2.5-litre Skyactiv-G petrol engine that’s also available in the CX-5. It’s not turbocharged like the CX-9's so is less powerful. The petrol CX-8 has a combined fuel economy rating of 8.5L/100km.

The main reason you wouldn’t choose the diesel over this is that you want to pay less for your CX-8. The diesel powertrain adds $4000 to the price of a CX-8. One of the reasons for the price hike is that all diesel CX-8s have AWD, while the petrol versions only drive the front wheels.

All four CX-8 specification grades have a FWD petrol and AWD diesel version.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The least costly CX-8 is the Sport FWD which comes with the petrol engine front-wheel drive, cloth seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, six-speaker audio system, and the features common to all CX-8s. Spend more money and you can have a Sport diesel AWD. As with the other CX-8 variants, you’ll pay about $4000 more for the diesel AWD version.

The CX-8 Touring brings a few additional features such as black-leather trim, heated power-adjustable front seats, front parking sensors, front fog-lamps, second-row USB ports, advanced keyless entry, and one-touch switch to lower second-row cushions for easier third-row access.

Paying more again for a CX-8 GT brings LED headlights/daytime running lights, sportier 19-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, second-row heated seats, third-row USB ports, power-operated tailgate, and a 10-speaker BOSE premium audio system.

The most expensive CX-8 version, the Asaki, brings more premium Nappa leather upholstery, and a more appealing dashboard finish, LED ambient lighting, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, and a 360-degree parking monitor.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

Seven colours are available on a CX-8, five of them at no extra cost. Soul Red Crystal and Machine Grey attract a $300 premium.

How comfortable is the CX-8?

This CX-8 uses classy looking materials, with Mazda placing more emphasis on presentation and refinement.

Even the less-costly CX-8 Sport uses metal-look finishes prominently, and supplies a chunky leather grip for the height and reach adjustable steering wheel. Both front seats are height adjustable too, and the steering is pleasantly light.

Seats are very comfortable, with good upper body support. While the leather trim feels plush, the less slippery cloth seats hold you in place more effectively around corners.

The cabin whilst driving is noticeably quiet thanks to Mazda’s ongoing war on noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels. The CX-8 has extra sound proofing applied to the inner of the rear guards and at the base of the D-pillar to make things quieter in the third row. And the tailgate is better sealed to help cut wind noise. Road noise is also low, even on the GT and Asaki’s 19-inch low-profile tyres, and diesel clatter is a lot less noticeable than in the CX-5.

The CX-8’s suspension is tuned for comfort and takes most road surfaces in its stride, with occasional jarring over modest-sized ruts. Ride-handling balance also sensibly prioritises keeping the occupants comfortable and relaxed, rather than the ability to enthusiastically negotiate bends.

What about safety in a CX-8?

The CX-8 was the first car to be tested under the tougher Australasian new Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) testing regime, and passed with the top 5-Star safety rating.

Every CX-8 has the mandatory stability control, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, a rear cross-traffic alert, and six airbags. It is a comprehensive package, focusing jointly on crash protection and crash avoidance.

Two airbags protect the driver and front passenger from a frontal impact; two more are placed outside these front occupants at chest level to protect from a side impact; and curtain airbags, extending down each side at head level to protect occupants in all three rows from side impact.

Mazda calls the CX-8’s auto braking Smart City Brake Support [Forward/Reverse]. It operates over a broader speed range than the similarly named system in the outgoing CX-8, using camera-based sensors to scan the road ahead for obstacles – typically a car that has slowed unexpectedly, but also a pedestrian. It can apply the brakes automatically in an attempt to avoid a crash, at speeds up to 80km/h. The system works in the same way, albeit only up to 8km/h, when you’re reversing.

Meanwhile Smart Brake Support system uses radar sensors and a forward sensing camera to monitor vehicles and obstacles ahead, helping avoid front-end collisions from 15km/h or more and includes support for highway speeds.

Blind-spot monitoring uses rear-facing radar sensors to check for vehicles at your rear corners that might not appear in your mirrors, warning you of them if you attempt to change lanes.

Rear cross-traffic alert uses the same sensors when you’re reversing, checking for vehicles crossing behind you and telling you if you’re about to back into danger.

Lane-keep assist warns that you have started to drift out of your lane (perhaps from distraction), also providing gentle steering assistance to bring you back. And a Driver attention alert checks your control inputs over time, warning you to take a break if they become erratic.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

Mazda’s CX-8 drives more like a heavier, slighter softer-riding CX-5, rather than a more nimble CX-9.

The upgraded 2.2-litre diesel is strong and frugal.

We’re yet to drive a petrol version but, if similarly-powered CX-5s are any guide, the engine will probably have to work quite hard in the heavier CX-8 at highway and overtaking speeds.

The CX-8’s steering feels nicely weighted and responsive around town, but increase the pace to country cruising, though, and you can feel a little play in the wheel from centre. Expect the petrol versions to handle a little better because of the lighter engine.

Overall, the body control and general dynamics are good, but arguably more noteworthy is the ride comfort and quietness in the cabin, even on the GT and Asaki’s bigger 19-inch wheels.

The CX-8 mostly just cruises along with ample compliance and a general imperviousness to the road surface that would make some higher-priced Euro SUVs look stiff-legged and restless by comparison.

How is life in the rear seats?

The third row is designed to accommodate occupants up to 170cm tall, which makes it a little tight for most adults. Once they squeeze in though, most people will cope with a 20-minute run across town. Kids, meanwhile, won’t have too much to gripe about in terms of leg and shoulder room, although visibility for shorter bodies is not brilliant, and there are no dedicated air vents back there.

If there’s only a sixth passenger to be accommodated, the third row can be split to allow extra luggage space over the folded seventh seat.

The third-row seats in the GT and Asaki versions have their own USB ports.

The second-row seats are much roomier, can recline 22- and 30-degrees from vertical, and have a fold-down centre armrest with storage and two USB sockets in all but the Sport variant. The middle-row has dedicated heating/cooling vents and independent air-conditioning controls. The two outboard seats in the GT and Asaki are heated.

The CX-8’s rear doors open out to 80-degrees to make getting into each row easier, and to help with loading items through the side, or placing infants in child seats or capsules.

How is the CX-8 for carrying stuff?

With the third row in use, the Mazda CX-8 holds 209 litres of luggage space, which Mazda reckons is enough to hold two golf bags. There is also a sub-boot below the main boot floor with a large opening and a depth of 100 mm, offering 33 litres of underfloor storage space, which is especially useful for valuable or fragile items.

With the third-row seatback folded away, the available luggage capacity increases to a sizeable 742 litres. Folding down both the second and third-row seatbacks brings a capacious 1727 litres and creates a flat floor space large enough to hold two bicycles.

The entire luggage area, including the sub-boot space, is covered in a hard-wearing, non-woven material.

The GT and Asaki versions come with a power-operated tailgate.

Petrol FWD CX-8s can tow up to 1800kg braked loads, while the diesel AWD versions can tow up to 2000kg. Each has a 750kg unbraked towing capacity.

Where is the CX-8 made?

All CX-8s are produced in Japan.

Are there any rivals I should consider?

The CX-8’s main diesel seven-seater SUV competitors include the Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Mitsubishi Outlander, Peugeot 5008, Skoda Kodiaq and new Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace.

The Ford Endura and a href="https://www.whichcar.com.au/subaru/outback" target="blank">Subaru Outback are also worth a look if you're not after seven seats.

If you’re not too fussed whether your SUV has a diesel or petrol engine, all of the above models have petrol versions as do the Holden Acadia, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Kluger and of course the Mazda CX-9.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

The CX-8 range now has more choices and the new Touring spec offers great value in terms of price and upper-spec features.

Petrol FWD or diesel AWD is up to you, but considering the CX-8 was always meant to be a diesel alternative to the CX-9 we’d go with the latter, which offers more power, fuel economy and AWD traction.

If you prefer petrol power we’d be inclined to go with a CX-9 Touring, however, if you spend most of your time driving around inner-city areas the narrower CX-8 could prove more convenient in tight streets and parking spots.

Are there plans to update this model soon?

The CX-8 first went on sale in Japan (where the bigger Mazda CX-9 isn’t available) in late 2017 and entered the Australian market in June 2018 with Sport and Asaki variants.

It received a slight update in March 2019 that brought improved handling, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, tyre-pressure monitoring, a revised air-conditioning control panel.

In February 2020 Mazda added the 2.5-litre petrol engine to the range and added mid-spec Touring and GT variants.

Don’t expect any upgrades until early 2021.