WHAT IS IT?
The CX-9 is Mazda’s flagship SUV, a former Wheels Car of the Year winner, and an all-‘round good thing. It competes against other large, three-row wagons and is now available in five trim grades with a choice between FWD or AWD for all but the new, all-wheel-drive-only range-topper. Prices span from $44,990 to $66,490.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
Mazda raised the bar for the seven-seat segment when it launched the CX-9 in 2016. Its competitors are still catching up, yet Mazda is pushing forward with further updates for its market-leader having already introduced a round of improvements early on. This time the Japanese brand has added a new variant at the top of the range, called the Azami LE, which could cement its crossover appeal to buyers of European SUVs.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The CX-9 remains as convincing as ever, with even less scope for buyers to nit-pick now that its minor spec discrepancies have been addressed. This large SUV is an attractive proposition at every tier of the line-up, so simply set a budget and buy accordingly.
PLUS: Refinement; ride comfort; family friendliness; turbo torque
MINUS: LE’s brown dash won’t appeal to everybody; still no third-row vents
THE WHEELS REVIEW
WE’RE now two years into the second-gen CX-9’s tenure and already talking about update number two. On face value that smacks of a car company trying desperately to make an uncompetitive car more appealing, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The COTY-winning CX-9 was the best large SUV on the market when it launched, and Mazda’s internal drive to make it an even stronger proposition is only making it harder for rivals to catch up. The existing range has had the material quality to make buyers of premium SUVs think hard about the value of a badge, and now there’s an even ritzier CX-9 range-topper on offer.
Dubbed Azami LE (for Luxury Edition) the new flagship variant, priced at $66,490, stretches the CX-9 range to five and elevates the star seven-seater’s upmarket feel even further. It sports hand-stitched Nappa leather upholstery in brown with black detailing, genuine timber inserts applied to the shifter surround and doors, matching steering wheel stitching and ambient lighting for a $1500 premium. Look too closely and the treatment can appear a little patchy – hard lower dash plastics are never too far from the high-end tinsel – but overall the LE does what it sets out to do.
Power comes from an unchanged and strong 2.5-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder, producing 170kW/420Nm. One engine across the board is good, as it means there’s no major penalty when shopping at the low end of the range. Sport, Touring, GT and regular Azami variants are available in either FWD, or AWD for an additional $4000. The LE is exclusively all-wheel-drive.
Getting into a base model Sport now costs $1100 more than before at $44,990, but Mazda has added equipment in all variants including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, addressing one of the few things the model tripped up on previously. Sport now has a head-up display as standard, while Azami and Azami LE grades receive ventilated seats and a heated steering wheel, a 360-degree camera, windscreen de-icer and the Mazda 6’s instrument panel incorporating a 7.0-inch LCD screen.
Read next: Mazda CX-8 vs CX-9: What’s the difference?
Engineering advances for this update include thicker headliner to further reduce noise levels in the already quiet cabin, and adjustments to steering hardware that correct the sometimes unnatural feeling early cars had, while honing off-centre response. Subtle suspension tweaks aimed at increasing stability and ride comfort were difficult to assess in isolation, but the CX-9’s progress remains smooth over mixed surfaces including gravel, even on the LE’s standard 20-inch wheel and tyre package.
Mazda has put together an extremely convincing model line-up with the CX-9. Virtually every variant has something going for it, meaning shoppers can simply set a budget and buy accordingly. A flagship version that verges on $70K won’t appeal to every CX-9 buyer, but in the context of posh alternatives from European brands, with which it competes on spec and challenges for refinement, the Azami LE doesn’t seem unreasonable. The only thing holding it back in that fight is good old badge snobbery.
Read next: Mazda CX-9 range review
Model: 2019 Mazda CX-9 Azami LE AWD
Engine: 2488cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 170kW @ 5000rpm
Max torque: 420Nm @ 2000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 8.5sec (est.)
Fuel economy: 8.8L/100km
On sale: Now