Seven seater comparison review: Mazda CX-9 Sport

It's time to embrace the best post-Ford Mazda that isn’t an MX-5 - the Mazda CX-9. The last time we were this pumped about a large SUV, it was 12 years ago, it wore a Territory badge, and it won Car of the Year.

Mazda CX-9 Sport

First published in the October 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia's best car mag since 1953.

It's time to embrace the best post-Ford Mazda that isn’t an MX-5 - the Mazda CX-9. 

Can’t wait to see the final score? Jump to the verdict now.

Since Mazda’s CX-5 kicked off the newly independent Japanese brand’s ‘SkyActiv’ model renaissance back in 2011, each proceeding model has earned widespread respect, if not universal acclaim, tempered mostly by persistent road-noise intrusion.

To Hiroshima’s credit, minor sound-suppression measures have been implemented with each respective facelift. But this second-generation Mazda CX-9 is a massive leap forward, finally breaking the noise, vibration, and harshness hex that has plagued Mazda for decades. It’s almost like driving with earmuffs on.

Mazda CX-9 seven-seaterYet this SUV makes the right noises in other areas. Consider, for example, a large and wide cabin offering a welcoming and quality environment. Supportive seats, a stylish dash, lovely steering wheel, classy instruments, tactile switchgear, abundant storage, and slim pillars for decent all-round vision all come through loud and clear. 

The second row is also generously packaged, bringing with it firm theatre-style cushions with slide adjustment, reclinable backrests, and passenger-configurable climate control.

While seats six and seven lack air vents, reading lights, and reclinable backrests, both offer adult-friendly accommodation (Mazda says it was designed to fit a pair of 170cm ‘Junior High’ kids). Beyond that, cargo capacity is ahead of this pack, but at 230 litres with all seats in use, the new CX-9 is 37 litres shy of its longer, heavier, and thirstier predecessor. 

Quibbles are few, but they do include a weirdly oily and clammy dash-top finish, and an oversized centre console lid that fouls a wheel-twirling driver’s left elbow during fast cornering – something the CX-9’s deliciously limbre dynamics encourage.

Mazda CX-9 seven-seaterDumping the old Ford-sourced V6 for a 70kg-lighter, seemingly less powerful 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo might sound like a recipe for high-strung lag, but the 420Nm torque peak arrives at a lowly 2000rpm. And if you put 98 octane in it, Mazda’s boosted SkyActiv-G will give you 186kW instead of a modest 170.

Combined with alert gearing, the CX-9 is quick off the mark and strong on throttle response, for punchy point-to-point performance. At 7.7sec to 100km/h, it concedes nothing to the other’s six-pot powertrains, yet real-world economy is up to 20 percent better in some cases.  

Our 11.6L/100km average is impressive considering how eager everybody was to cane the CX-9 Sport. It’s that sort of car (sorry, SUV), thanks to precise yet fluid steering, agile and controlled handling, and pleasingly supple suspension compliance. Even on low-grip tyres, the driver feels connected and the CX-9 feels planted, without the usual punishing ride compromises. This is real progress. The only worry is a soft brake-pedal reaction, which at higher speeds requires a hefty shove before full stopping force is applied.

Mazda -CX-9-seven -seater -interiorStill, this is the only SUV with core dynamic DNA, not tacked-on sportiness like in the overly firm Santa Fe. Additionally, it leads with standard Autonomous Emergency Braking, blind-spot monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, brake-energy regeneration and stop/start tech, upping the $42K Sport’s value quotient when a reverse camera, sat-nav, three-zone climate, and push-button start are also factored in.

The last time we were this pumped about a large SUV, it was 12 years ago, it wore a Territory badge, and it won Car of the Year. Ironically, then, the CX-9 is that dying Aussie Ford’s spiritual successor, and the first SUV to evolve what the Ford Territory started.

Hush now, baby

This TC-series CX-9’s SkyActiv chassis is actually a generation 1.5 evolution of the CX-5’s, with 24kg instead of 7.5kg of sound insulation, as well as a significantly thicker-steeled floorpan, to help cut NVH pathways.

Also helping out is a 65 percent torsionally stiffer body with more high-tensile steel (compared to the old CX-9), tighter panel gaps, improved aerodynamics, better sealing, and thicker glass. Result? On coarse roads at 100km/h, there is a 2.5dB noise cut.


Price as tested: $42,740 *includes metallic paint ($250)
Engine: 2488cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Power: 170kW @ 5000rpm
Torque: 420Nm @ 2000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B): 5075/1969/1747/2930mm
Weight: 1845kg
Cargo capacity: 810 litres
Tyres: Yokohama Geolander H/T 255/60R18 108H
Test fuel cons: 11.6L/100km
0-100km/h: 7.7sec
0-400m: 15.6sec @ 146.5km/h
80-120km/h: 5.2sec
3yr resale: 54%
Plus: A brilliant all-rounder that’s high-quality and great value
Minus: Soft braking response; obstructive centre armrest
Verdict: 8.5/10



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Ellen Dewar
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