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2017 Mazda CX-9 Azami long-term car review

By Toby Hagon, 02 Sep 2017 Car Reviews

2017 Mazda CX-9 Azami

Wheels Magazine's Car of the Year winner for 2017, the 2017 Mazda CX-9, arrives in our garage

MAZDA’S CX-9 arrives in our garage with plenty of pedigree, having recently been announced as Wheels Magazine's Car of the Year for 2017.

Now, all that COTY goodness get puts to the real-world test as the seven-seat Mazda finds itself enlisted for six months of family duties and general around-town running.

There will be school runs, loaded-to-the-gunnels holidays and plenty of peak-hour grind, as well as the occasional fast blast down a challenging back road to test the handling mettle that contributed to the model’s COTY crown.

Our CX-9 is the top-spec Azami finished in Soul Red. Armed with the all-wheel-drive system that half of buyers opt for, it’s the most money you can spend in a Mazda dealership; the RRP is $63,640 before dealer and on-road costs (we also scored floor mats and a tow bar).

But there’s plenty included for the coin, including leather (we chose the cream hue that contrasts nicely with the black dash and roof lining), a 12-speaker Bose sound system, electric front seats, a colour head-up display and radar cruise control as part of a more advanced active safety suite. As with all CX-9s it also gets sat-nav, reversing camera, blind spot monitoring, three-zone auto air-con and auto braking in forward and reverse.

Mazda CX-9

It was straight into action with a run to the country with the family on board. The kids (a four-year-old and a seven-year-old) quickly figured out the retractable side blinds and centre arm rest complete with cupholders, covered storage and a pair of USB inputs (double bonus!).

Unfortunately, they’ve also worked out the rear air-conditioning controls.

Early signs are that the fuel use is a big improvement over the thirsty previous model but perhaps not the game changer some might have been expecting.

A 110km/h freeway run was followed by a few hundred kays of country cruising with the occasional full-throttle blast to overtake. Consumption hovered close to the claimed 8.8L/100km average, but some city driving quickly shoots that back into double digits.

More impressive was the general driving experience. The torquey 2.5-litre turbo does a beautiful job of summoning the full 420Nm to comfortably maintain pace up hills, giving the CX-9 an effortless, diesel-like flexibility across the mid-range.

That said, it’s not exactly sporty in its nature, relying more on the low to middle part of the rev range to produce its best.

Mazda CX-9

Similarly, the six-speed auto is intuitive without being particularly sharp. For that there’s a Sport button, which is (curiously) separate to the gear selector; why Mazda doesn’t just copy Ford, BMW and others and have the main gear selector choose the tranny’s Sport mode is a mystery.

There are new levels of refinement for the mainstream seven-seat SUV class, too. Our country trudge was made easier with impressive suppression of wind and road roar. The fact the engine doesn’t rely on revs removes yet another noise source from the NVH equation.

One gripe was the occasional 100km/h tyre roar on coarse-chip bitumen from the 20-inch Bridgestones.

It only happened occasionally and on poor quality surfaces, something we’ll be monitoring as the tyres wear.

Mazda CX-9

Part of our inaugural CX-9 trip involved something very un-SUV-like – fast gravel roads, a change in surface the Mazda did an equally good job of dealing with.

The only concern was those Bridgestones, which provide respectable grip on both bitumen and dirt, but aren’t designed to deal with sharp rocks.

The prospect of a skinny 17-inch space saver as a backup meant we backed off the pace, just in case.

There will be more dirt during our time with the CX-9, but for now it’s beaches, ’burbs and school runs.

And keeping a close eye on the fuel gauge.

Drinking top-shelf

The CX-9 is designed to run on regular 91-octane fuel, on which the 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo produces the claimed 170kW.

But fill it with 98-octane premium unleaded and it’ll muster up to 186kW thanks to the top-shelf fuel’s superior knock resistance and the extra boost/ignition timing this allows.

Our time with the car has kicked off with the 98 RON brew, but later in the CX-9’s life we’ll switch to using regular unleaded and monitor changes to performance and economy.

Four with more

The second-generation CX-9 dumps its Ford-sourced 3.7-litre V6 for a new Mazda 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo.

The force-fed donk’s 170kW on regular unleaded is down from the 204kW of the V6, however, torque has taken a big step in the right direction, with the new model peaking at 420Nm, well up on the 366Nm of the outgoing atmo engine.

Even better is that the torque peak now arrives at 2000rpm, less than half the revs of the V6 needed to deliver max twist (4250rpm).

Fuel use has dropped from a claimed 11.2 litres per 100km (it was higher in earlier iterations of the same car) to 8.8L/100km.

Update #2

Two days. That’s all it took out on the street for the reigning Wheels Car of the Year to succumb to thousands of dollars of damage.

For the first five weeks at Chateau Hagon the still-new CX-9 long-termer had been tucked safely away in my carport. But the arrival of an MX-5 RF test car saw it relegated to life on the streets, which is when things went wrong.

The culprit? Ice. Big chunks of it falling from the sky. I wasn’t even home when the biggest hailstorm in years hit Sydney’s north, destroying thousands of cars and stripping leaves from trees.

Mazda CX-9

To be fair, the CX-9 wasn’t destroyed. Golf ball-sized stones left more than a dozen dings in the roof and bonnet, but no windows were smashed. From 10 metres away you’d struggle to spot the damage.

Still, for $63K of new car it’s less than ideal. And the aluminium bonnet is likely requiring replacement due to the metal’s reluctance to be beaten back into shape.

From now on, though, the Azami AWD will be back under cover, something that often provides a source of excitement for my kids. They love it when I reverse towards the plants at the back of the carport and let the auto braking system grab the anchors hard, which is accompanied by a graunching sound as the ABS does its thing.

My wife isn’t as enamoured and refuses to take part in such skylarking. She’s a bigger fan of the 12-speaker Bose sound system (complete with a subwoofer in the boot) coupled to the digital radio tuner. There’s decent bass and crisp treble, making for great 80s blasts.

Mazda CX-9

However, the digital radio reception isn’t as strong as it is in a Toyota, Holden, Audi or Mercedes-Benz. You can be happily bopping along to Whitney Houston (the missus, not me…) on full bore, proud of how in-tune you are and how well you’re hitting the high notes … before being hit with the sound of silence when the reception strikes a black hole. Somehow the CX-9 finds plenty of them.

It’s then you realise how out of tune you are. And how you’re at least two octaves shy of hitting those high notes.

Update #3

Serenity is a good thing in a car.

I say this with some authority, having driven everything from a Lotus Elise on a rainy freeway to a Toyota LandCruiser with kids and in-laws aboard on a long country Christmas run. Neither is much fun, although forced to choose the Elise would win out...

Those character-building experiences made me appreciate my last month in the CX-9 Azami that little bit more.

Sure, the kids were occasionally squawking and bickering, but otherwise peace prevailed.The distinct lack of tyre noise on a country road is a welcome change for a Mazda. After all, serenity is something Mazda owners haven’t always had, courtesy of an early-2000s edict to strip weight (some of it sound deadening) and focus on dynamics.

Being designed primarily for those freeway-loving Yanks, the Mazda CX-9 comes suitably attired for the 60mph cruise, ably hushing the hum from the 20-inch Bridgestones. It’s impressively quiet, making everything from a Sunday morning croissant run to a high-speed cruise that little more relaxed.

Mazda CX-9

But it’s the 2.5-litre turbo that contributes most to the peacefulness of the CX-9’s cabin. Having a full 420Nm under your right hoof from 2000rpm means there’s rarely a need to delve beyond that beautiful bulge of torquey goodness. Gentle squeeze, turbo quickly wakes up and off you go, the six-speed auto swiftly slotting through its cogs to maintain that torque focus.

Sure, there’s more on tap if you tramp the throttle – enough to briefly spin the front wheels before the computer diverts drive rearward – but that’s only needed 
when you really want to smash the traffic-light grand prix.

It also makes the Sport button for the transmission largely redundant for all but a backroad fang. Sure, it sharpens responses, but the insistence of the transmission to drop down a ratio bypasses the torquey low to mid range in the hunt for high-rev power.

That relaxed, low-rev acceleration also helps with decent – rather than exceptional – economy. This month’s 12.2L/100km was slightly up on the 11.1L/100km average, but it was achieved in mostly suburban running.

Thirst could head north from here, though; I’ve ditched the 98-octane for regular unleaded to see what it does to real-world performance and consumption.

One thing’s for sure: it won’t impact the serenity of what is a supremely relaxed and comfy family cruiser. And the quietest Mazda in decades.

Update #4

FUEL bills can be a sore point with anyone who’s stepped up to a seven-seat SUV. The prospect of lugging around upwards of two tonnes – especially in a spirited way – can easily lead to fuel use well into the teens of litres per 100km travelled.

Not ideal if you’ve also got some human food processors on board churning through your weekly salary concurrently.

Which is why we’ve been keeping an eye on the Mazda CX-9’s trip computer pretty closely, moreso over the past month.

For the first time in 3500km the 2.5-litre four-pot turbo has taken a gulp of regular unleaded. The cheaper fuel still achieves the 170kW claimed in the brochure, but it does without the additional 16kW kick delivered from a 98-octane brew. And the engine loses some of its top-end spark once revs lick past 5000rpm.

So, if you’re planning on flogging it on a back road or looking for that extra zip passing a road train you may be disappointed that things peter out that fraction sooner.

Mazda CX-9

But the reality is that’s not what this engine is about, at least for most people, most of the time. And this month the switch to regular hasn’t created a notable performance impediment, mainly because the Mazda CX-9 has largely been confined to the suburbs and the occasional city motorway.

There’s still a lusty 420Nm on offer from way down in the rev range. By the time that’s done its job the sizeable seven-seater is generally maintaining pace with traffic. That laziness is welcome and makes for a relaxed suburban runner.

But the big question is: how much fuel is it using? Well, the ULP does flow through the fuel lines that little bit more freely than PULP, but not outrageously so. After predominantly suburban driving, two fills this month have resulted in consumption of 13.6L/100km, up slightly on the 12.8L/100km figure we’ve gleaned from similar peak hour-infested driving on 98 RON.

From here the CX-9 will get one more freeway run with ULP and a last blast with 98 before it heads back to its home base. We’ll crunch the dollar figures then.

Farewell

Bath time in our house usually involves plenty of suds, rubber ducks, and the occasional soapy stoush.

But this time around it’s in the driveway and it involves our four-wheeled boarder, otherwise known as a Mazda CX-9. Something of a farewell pressie for a car that has endured plenty.

Mazda CX-9

Like carbon-dating rocks, the back seat is a receptacle for all that has gone on over its six months of duty.

Sand, crumbs, and the occasional raisin are expertly arranged with a plastic wrapper buried near a seatbelt buckle. All reminders of trips to the country, dozens of beach runs, and months of Saturday sport.

Mazda CX-9

Washing the Soul Red exterior reinforces the CX-9’s lofty dimensions. Extra stretching is needed to cover the extremities of the roof and, while it has 10-spoke wheels, their simple design makes it easy to sponge off a light coating of brake dust.

Its lengthy body was a boon for friends and family who hitched a ride. The ability to put a car seat in the very back row was a big win when employed occasionally, and was some consolation for the CX-9’s lack of air vents way aft.

Running on 20-inch rubber means some gribbles over small imperfections, but the inherent suppleness of its MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear made for respectable plushness. Mixed in with some meatiness to the steering, its mannerisms are something appreciated on a final fling up a local set of twisties.

Mazda CX-9

It’s quiet, too; for a brand with its fair share of tyre-roaring models, the CX-9 defies expectations, cementing its position as a seriously relaxed cruiser.

While its all-wheel drive was never wholly put to the test, its presence made it easier to utilise the full 420Nm on faster gravel blasts, and all but eliminates the front-wheel chirp of 2WD CX-9s, although firing out of an intersection can occasionally elicit some slip.

Alternating between ULP and 98-octane showed there was an edge with the latter. But it was mainly top-end, way out of the engine’s natural habitat.

Mazda CX-9

Besides, the chances of bettering its 8.8L/100km official figure on any fuel were slim, short of meandering along a country road.

For suburban duties there’s a higher price to be paid, right down to the (now departed) kid droppings.