by Brad Leach - 12/12/12
We just don’t get it - in the Mazda world, record-breaking sales of Mazda Australia are at odds with sluggish sales in other markets. And there’s no secret to the local operation’s success – it’s just great products, sharply priced.
Look no further than the luxury Mazda CX-9 seven-seat ‘Crossover SUV’. Now a few years into its model cycle, the CX-9 remains one of the very best in a segment which has attracted more than its fair share of excellent all-new models.
Mazda has just updated the CX-9 for 2013 – better looks and the same hallmark outstanding driving dynamics we’ve grown to love with Mazda’s seven-seater. Now that’s a combination which is hard to beat.
For 2013 the Mazda CX-9 gains a fresh new exterior look, an enhanced interior which is even more upscale than the current model and extra technology including Mazda’s i-ACTIVESENSE safety which brings Lane Departure Warning, Forward Obstruction Warning, Blind Spot Monitoring and High Beam Control.
The range is:
FWD Classic $44,525
FWD Luxury $52,980
AWD Luxury $57,480
AWD Grand Touring $63,828
In the front-wheel-drive lineup, the ‘Luxury’ model adds 20-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, Tom Tom satellite navigation, a Premium Bose 10-speaker audio system, power glass sunroof and some extra chrome trim.
For the all-wheel-drive variants, the range-topping ‘Grand Touring’ adds to the already well-equipped ‘Luxury’ model with the i-ACTIVSENSE safety technology, remote operated power tailgate and Bi-Xenon headlights with LED DRLs.
No changes under the bonnet – Mazda’s silky-smooth 3.7-litre V6 delivers 204kW at 6250rm and peak torque of 367Nm at 4250rpm. Drive is via Mazda’s six-speed automatic transmission with sequential manual mode (via the gear-lever, no steering wheel paddle-shifters). Fuel economy is rated at 11.0l/100kms (2WD) and 11.2l/100kms (AWD).
Looking at similarly-powered rivals, Toyota Kluger delivers 201kW/337Nm from its 3.5-litre V6 while the Ford Territory’s 4.0-litre straight-six is good for 195kW/391Nm.
Our Mazda CX-9 was sitting in the car park at Melbourne Airport, but we had to wait for some colleagues from interstate to arrive so we climbed right in…to the third row seat. As we remembered the extra row is the Mazda CX-9 is: (a) spacious – just a tad tight on head-room, (b) comfortable with good legroom and a nice seating position (some rivals are too flat), (c) easily accessed.
Then we took-in the rest of the upgraded 2013 interior. Mazda focused on improving the look and feel of the CX-9’s interior – giving it a more up-market stature.
The dashboard adopts a black look with white instrumentation, the audio/navigation unit gains a piano-black finish and decorative panels are finished in Bordeaux-colour (with a metal underlay giving them a 3D lustre), leather seats have a perforated centre panel and range-topping GT adds a suede insert for the door panels.
Audio systems have been improved with the latest AVRCP Bluetooth profile and, where fitted, the Tom Tom satellite navigation with SD card updates includes optimal routes, estimated arrival times and more.
The front seats are supportive and the high-quality three-spoke steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach for a perfect driving position. Access to the second row seats is easy thanks to 72-degree opening rear doors and the seat itself has rake and slide adjustments for leg-room and cargo versatility.
Like all seven-seaters, luggage capacity in the Mazda CX-9 with all seats in place isn’t massive, but at 267-litres it is one of the best in the segment. Fold all the seats flat and you get 1911-litres in ‘Classic’ model or 1887-litres in ‘Luxury’ and ‘Grand Touring’.
Pleasingly, a reversing camera is standard across the range.
The standout styling changes for the 2013 Mazda CX-9 are found in the front-end. To say it adopts the styling of the just-launched CX-5 would be stretching things too far…but they’re certainly similar.
Mazda calls it ‘Kodo – Soul Of Motion’ and this is the company’s current styling genre. So the CX-9 adopts a much deeper grille with the ‘Kodo’ chrome wing-shape trim highlights, new headlights (including DRLs on some models) and an aero-look front bumper.
We got to sample just about the entire Mazda CX-9 lineup in our day behind the wheel – including the entry-level FWD ‘Classic’ and the range-topping AWD Grand Touring – and covered a mixture of suburban, rural and dirt roads. Of course it was a re-acquaintance as there are no mechanical changes this time around for drivetrain or the MacPherson strut front/multi-link rear suspension.
And it was just as we remembered the Mazda CX-9 – everything dominated by that gorgeous V6 engine with its sumptuous refinement and plentiful performance.
Both 2WD and AWD version corner flat, turn-in nicely and are nicely balanced (even for a 2.0-tonne seven-seater). If we wanted to be really prickly we would say the traction control/ESP operation is a tad intrusive but that’s at the absolute limit and for most it will be fine.
For on-road dynamics appreciated by performance drivers the Mazda CX-9 sits alongside the Ford Territory and all-new Hyundai Santa Fe as the segment benchmarks. But there’s no denying the CX-9 range-topper (AWD Grand Touring) tips the scales at 2086kgs and, riding on those 20-inch alloy wheels, the ride is firm and taut – like a European performance vehicle.
We reckon it’s spot-on and we’d happily drive a Mazda CX-9 every day…but some going from say a passenger car or older SUV may find it a tad too firm.
We’ve always been fans of the Mazda CX-9 – real family-friendly space combined with refinement, sharp on-road dynamics, that silky V6 and Mazda’s hallmark quality get our vote.
For the 2013 model, Mazda’s styling changes have hit the sweet spot – the modern CX-5-like front-end replaces a weak point in the bland appearance of the previous model. And the extra technology brings the CX-9 right up-to-date with later rivals.
There’s a new addition to the ranks of Car Showroom Favourites in this segment – Hyundai’s all-new Santa Fe. Unlike the Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Kluger, the Hyundai Sante Fe offers a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine but the 2.4-litre petrol engine is of course outgunned by Mazda’s silky 3.7-litre V6. Entry-level Hyundai Santa Fe Active (the only petrol model) is priced at $36,990 while the range-topping Highlander (diesel only) is superbly equipped and priced at $49,990.
Toyota Kluger has a pricing advantage (2WD starts at $39,990, AWD at $44,490) however Mazda CX-9’s 3.7-litre V6 packs slightly more punch and the on-road dynamics are a tad more refined.
Likewise Ford’s excellent locally-made Territory (2WD starts at $39,990, AWD at $48,240). Territory also offers an excellent 2.7-litre turbo-diesel alternative to the six-cylinder petrol engine. Territory’s ride and handling is only just matched by the Mazda CX-9 and Hyundai Santa Fe but CX-9 is ahead for refinement and rear seat accommodation.
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