Mazda. The first and so far only Japanese manufacturer to win Le Mans, with the 787B, an ineffable aural and visual pleasure . The only company to carry out successful production of the Wankel/Rotary engine (Area 51 tech) with such hits as the RX-3, Cosmo and RX-7. The company that democratized open-topped fun with the most successful roadster of all time, the MX-5. Every car company has a story, but Mazda’s history is truly unique. Throughout their history, facing challenges such as World War II, the company takes pride in its ‘Hiroshima Spirit’; the drive to be different and persevere.
More recently, Mazda has been probably the only manufacturer to present a truly unadulterated Japanese perspective on design and technology, with their KODO design language, and Skyactive range of engines. After years of taking on Japanese rivals, Mazda have truly stepped up, and now one can’t help but compare Mazdas with ‘premium’ European brands as well.
Fresh from riding shotgun in their latest MX-5, I sat primed to take in what the CX-9, had to offer. As usual, I followed my pre-test routine of looking at pictures of the car and absorbing the spec sheet, but nothing prepared me for the first sighting.
The CX-9 has a similar stance to the handsome CX-5, already on our shores. There is, however, an extra helping of elegance, with big-brother CX-9. The tailgate is typically new-age Mazda, continuing with their inspired KODO design. The rear is exceptionally sporty, with twin exhausts, sleek lamp clusters, and an integrated roof-spoiler.Lot of chrome too. Perfect.
The sleek side profile of the CX-9 is probably one of the best interpretations of the Mid-size SUV. Mazda have managed to clothe the normally awkward proportions of cars in this class in what can only be described as ‘metallic-art’. Easily distinguishable as a delegate of Hiroshima, the designers have struck near-perfect equilibrium, as though there are no sharp creases and every contour is crafted with subtlety, when combined, the CX-9 looks rather cutting-edge. This is achieved without any jagged-edge character lines as seen on some of its stablemates, like the 2 or the MX-5. Even the ride height is well measured, and the CX-9 can be termed an ‘SUV’ rather than some Europeans in this class that look like awkward, high-riding station-wagons.
Approach the CX-9 head on, and what you would first notice is the substantial real-estate occupied by the trademark ‘5-point’ grille, unobstructed by the number-plate as on the cars in the Mazda line-up, given the extra space to mount it right below. On the CX-9, being Mazda’s flagship SUV, this is a ‘Thomas Chrome Affair’. I have mentioned chrome a few times already, but Mazda, though generous with its application, have been restrained in its execution, if that makes any sense.
The headlamps are, in keeping with the design language, compact, sleek and very sharp. The xenon headlights are surrounded by chrome, giving the CX-9 ‘eyes’ and as a result, plenty of character. Our test car was finished in black, with very sporty 5-spoke alloys nested in a wheel arches surrounded by protective plastic. The CX-9 has a positive, ‘practical-elegance’ vibe about it and with adequate default ride-height, looks quite the part.
Mech & Tech
The new CX-9 comes with a 2.5 litre turbocharged SkyActive unit pushing 250 hp and delivering 470 Nm of torque. SkyActive is MAzda’s umbrella term for technologies developed to increase fuel efficiency and performance. This motor is married to a 6 speed automatic transmission, which can also be shifted manually through the gearshift in sport mode.
The CX-9 is an All-wheel Drive vehicle, or termed Predictive ‘I-Active ‘ by Mazda. This translates to a system that autonomously adjusts the deliver of torque all around the vehicle, in order to maintain optimum traction given the surface it is on, as well as the weather, ranging from full front wheel drive, to full four wheel drive, given the scenario presented.
In typical Motor fashion, we took the CX-9 across a mix of driving environments in Colombo. This would be the natural habitat of a vehicle like this, which would ferry Mom & Dad to work in the hands of a driver, dropping the kids off along the way. Then off to the supermarket for a daily replenishment of groceries and run some errands. Come school time, the CX-9 will be gently piloted through rush hour traffic, in between the Caravans, Hiaces, and VIP convoys, then ferry the promising miniature humans to sports, music or extra-tuition classes. Potholes, wayward tuk drivers and more…
Groceries and kids aside, we replicated this run with 80-90% accuracy. The CX-9 feels right at home on our irregular road surfaces, absorbing bumps and ruts with grace. The driving position is spot on and this is barefaced hint of what to expect of the CX-9s driving characteristics. Even in the ‘normal ‘ driving mode, the CX-9 feels a lot less heavy than it actually is, making negotiating traffic a breeze. Step up into ‘Sport’, and you will have yourself the perfect balance between practicality and performance. The CX-9 is noticeably sharper in Sport, and results in an exhilarating experience for the driver. Changes in direction are handled with expert composure, and that 2.5 litre turbo unit whines and sings in unison, with a slight lag at lower RPMs. This cadence actually becomes enjoyable after the power kicks in, making you hold your breath, expecting the serving of pure joy that is to follow. The 6 speed auto is more than adequate, and in manual mode, really does perform like a manual, even holding the gear for a lot longer than other transmissions, letting the driver have total control. With such sprightly acceleration and handling you would normally expect in a much (much - a la MX-5) smaller car( the CX-9 weighs nearly 2 tonnes), and the added bonus of practicality, the CX-9 left us genuinely in awe.
Living With It
Mazda have always had a natural edge over Japanese manufacturers in terms of interiors, even back in the 80s, and evidently still possesses the ingredients needed to design a cabin that can impress. The CX-9’s cabin has an overall airy feel, owing to the large windows which also means great visibility. As you sit in the lovely leather seats, which are both comfortable and also supportive (esp when driving with haste), you will start to notice the simple, elegant and absolutely current design elements of the cabin. The dark wood inserts, the mix of piano black, chrome and aluminum and the beige leather in our test car, really made the cabin feel quite a special place to be in. The CX-9 has ample room for 7; the third row really does fit adults!
The driver’s seat, as described earlier, is a great place to be in, as the driving position is spot on. All the controls are laid-out intuitively and logically, so that even if you are sitting in the car for the first time, you will not be intimidated; unlike some cars that we’ve tested that on first impression seem more complex than a Kfir.
The analog tachometer and speedometer gauges are easy to read and understand, and there is also a useful multi-information display; all set in round binnacles with silver bezels, very reminiscent of other Mazdas and equally sporty. The steering wheel has volume and cruise control buttons as expected from a car in this class (and lower nowadays), but the placement and the seamless design must be commended. The dash has a pop-up display which seemed on par with rivals, with clear graphics, to help navigate through media and other settings. The gear-shift had a good, positive feel and was a joy to use in manual mode.
There is no question about the practicality of the CX-9. the cavernous interior and luxurious seats combined with a host of bins, cup/bottle holders and recesses dotted around the cabin would prove very handy to carry bits and bobs on a family trip. The boot is very generous, and even with the third row up, there is still space for luggage for a weekend getaway. Fold all the seats, and you get a flat loading bay which seemed similar to a smart cab, in terms of space.
Filled with safety features the CX-9 is fitted with side curtain and front driver’s and passenger’s airbags as well as side impact airbags as standard. 3-point seat belts for every seat, combined with features like Anti-lock brake system (ABS), electronic brake force distribution & brake assist, dynamic stability control, traction control and a host of other features ensure that you and your prized possessions are encapsulated in a cocoon of safety. The US based Insurance institute of highway safety or the IIHS named the CX-9 as their top safety pick for the year 2018 as well.
Fuel Economy and Price
Given the 2.5 liter power-plant, the CX-9 does not escape our nation’s well-thought out, logical tax structure (Sarcasm). At the time of writing the CX-9 was said to retail at 24.5 Million, without a permit, and around 18 Million with a permit. This puts the car in a highly contested slice of the market, with a load of competitors, from all over the world, in almost all shapes and sizes as well. This could be the Achilles heel of the CX-9, but the car comes with much more value and the serious buyer would easily be charmed to overlook this.
Economy is rated at around 10kmpl urban and this figure will sit a little higher on the highway naturally. These are outstanding figures, considering the size of the car, as well as the power that you will have on offer.
The CX-9 marks a new chapter in Mazda’s foray into the large SUV class. The manufacturer has always had a presence in the segment, but with the CX-9, they have truly created a vehicle that is both premium, and exudes a sense of usable luxury and quality.
Being a Mazda, you know that almost all the features will last for quite a long time, without having to replace bits of electronics periodically. Sadly, due to out tax structure, it has been placed placed Top Dead Center in the company of SUVs which Mazda target and try to offer the same value for much, much less in other markets.
However, even though going head to head price-wise, the CX-9 has all the right qualities to ensure it holds its ground in such company. Truly, for the ‘thinking’ buyer who would much rather go for something a little different, but no less worthy, something that would go about the run with minimum fuss, and behave like a sports car when asked to, the CX-9 would be the perfect choice.
Multilink / Independent
Disc, ABS, EBD
Kerb Weight: 1,924kg
Fuel Tank: 72L
Boot Space: 810L