Mazda CX-9 2013: Road Test

words - Marton Pettendy
Mazda's troop carrier gets a much-needed nip and tuck, but can its ageing platform continue the fight?

Mazda CX-9 Luxury
Road Test

Price Guide
(recommended price before statutory & delivery charges): $57,480
Options fitted to test car (not included in above price): N/A
Crash rating: N/A
Fuel: 91 RON ULP
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 11.2
CO2 emissions (g/km): 261
Also consider: Ford Territory (from $39,990); Hyundai Santa Fe (from $36,990); Kia Sorento (from $38,990); Toyota Kluger (from $39,990)

Powered by a sonorous V6 engine, boasting a flexible seven-seat interior and offering cloudless views from its lofty perch -- all wrapped up in an attractive package -- the face-lifted 2013 Mazda CX-9 makes a good first impression.

Gifted with a new face to more closely align it with the brand's evolving image (think Mazda CX-5 and Mazda Mazda6 ) the new seven-seat SUV gets new front-end sheetmetal that combines with new headlights and grille work.

The result is a vehicle with more visual appeal than its predecessor, and though there's no hiding from the fact that the rest of the car is ostensibly five years old, it has aged surprisingly well all things considered.

Beyond Mazda's trademark 'Kodo' design motif, the CX-9 has been gifted with extra features, or in the case of the Luxury model on test, 'feature', in the form of satellite navigation. This is supposed to add around $1300 worth of value, but I found the TomTom system to be average at best.

The sat nav is not as intuitive as it should be. Cancelling guidance in particular requires several steps -- not as easy as it should be. In its defence, the new sat nav's route directions are clear as day.

Other changes to the facelifted 2013 Mazda CX-9 models include interior upgrades, with a new look instrument panel, silver accents on the dash, red stitching for the leather seats and a new gear shifter. These updates add a premium feel to the cabin except the gear shifter, which both looks and feels cheap.

The updated CX-9 comes with the usual safety systems, including stability control, anti-lock brakes and six airbags. There are a few high-tech doodads available, including forward obstruction and lane departure warning systems, high beam control, and blind-spot monitoring, but they are standard only on top-spec Grand Touring variants.

Standard features for the CX-9 include Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity, a reversing camera, auto headlights and wipers, and three-zone climate control, while the mid-spec Luxury model we're testing here adds 20-inch alloy wheels, chrome highlights inside and out, heated mirrors with auto tilting function and memory settings, a sunroof, TomTom navigation, leather upholstery and power/heated front seats, plus a more powerful 10-speaker BOSE sound system.

The interior is presentable and there's acres of room -- which is of utmost importance for most buyers in this segment. With seating for seven passengers in three rows we found the second row to offer ample room for most, while the rearmost seats may get a little tight for lanky teens.

The middle-row seats slide fore and aft which is handy for loading larger objects in the boot (or fitting bigger passengers in comfortably) and folding/moving the seats is intuitive. Getting a baby seat attached to the middle row was relatively easy thanks to the tether point high on the rear of the seat.

The tailgate opening is wide which makes for easy loading of goods and though it's not a Hercules-sized cargo ship, offering a skimpy 267 litres with all seven seats in place, a more useful 1911 litres with second and third row seats folded flat.

Smaller touches like four flip-out shopping bag hooks in the boot made a return trip from the market rather orderly.

Some of the things I didn't like about this particular model were the lack of reverse parking sensors. A reversing camera is standard on all CX-9's which is nice a touch, but on a car that is as long (5106mm) and wide (1936mm) as this one, proximity sensors are a must.

If you want reverse sensors as standard you'll need to shell out $63,828 for the range-topping Grand Touring model. Or have after-market units installed by the dealer at the time of delivery.

Also, the car doesn't feel like a +1900mm wide vehicle, particularly when sitting in the front seats. I expected a chasm between driver and front passenger, but the reality is that it felt like a compact SUV. There's also surprisingly few incidental storage cubbies.

That's about it for the negatives, as the CX-9 is a by and large a very nice vehicle to exist in.

It's true that seven-seat vehicles are usually a purchase of necessity rather than desire, but the CX-9 manages to deliver a bit of sparkle in a segment that used to be staid and stagnant.

Mechanically identical to the CX-9 that's been soldiering along since 2007, the Mazda CX-9 is a comfortable, cruisey operator that doesn't make major sacrifices in the handling department.

If the kids aren't in tow and you throw the CX-9 into a corner, the big rig won't protest too much, able to hold a neat-ish line through a bend. It compares well to the Territory in terms of its car-like handling and doesn't wallow too much when tracking through corners, thanks to sensibly calibrated independent front and rear suspension.

The steering is more suited to highway driving and close quarters combat around shopping centres or schools than late-night escapes through the hills in that it doesn't have a lot of a feedback; but it is nothing if not responsive.

Of course when the family is in tow, the CX-9 is just as affable, ensuring a comfortable journey thanks to supple damping rates; ride quality is very good.

The pliant shock absorbers work in tandem with the springs to ensure only the deepest of ruts are felt in the cabin. Even on rougher surfaces and dirt roads the car glides along like a giant air-suspended coach, which was a pleasant surprise after being encouraged by the car's cornering attitude.

The only issue I had when driving the CX-9 was during the first half-hour or so acclimatising to its girth. It's a wide load. If you're usually drive a small car it'll take time to get used to its exterior width, especially on tight urban roads.

The high riding position is certainly a boon and motivation is not lacking either, thanks to Mazda's 3.7-litre petrol V6 engine. The bent six is hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission and though it's not particularly efficient, it a smooth powertrain.

Power and torque figures of 204kW/367Nm are roughly par for the course. However the engine emits a lusty burble when under load which in turn gives the car a touch of character. Throttle response is impressive and Mazda's largest model maintains the brand's energetic ethos, though I wouldn't go so far to say the vehicle is rapid.

The main problem with the car's charismatic engine becomes patently clear when you need to refuel, something its diesel rivals don't have to do quite so often. That the CX-9 will happily slurp down cheaper 91 RON petrol is a small bonus, but the claimed 11.2L/100km figure was a pipe-dream.

I managed 14.9L/100km after a week of covering just over 500km, which is closer to the urban-only rating of 15.2L/100km than the combined urban/city cycle.

Lined up against its contemporaries such as the Ford Territory and Toyota Kluger, the Mazda CX-9 may be a more expensive proposition but it's one that delivers a unique style that's easy to appreciate. And if AWD is not a necessity, save yourself $4800 and go with the front-wheel drive CX-9 Luxury variant.

Ultimately it's not the huge tragedy it could have been that Mazda didn't poke around inside the engine bay or fettle the chassis, because the CX-9 is well suited to Australian conditions and hauling around several people in relative comfort.

A diesel engine would have made this face-lifted squad carrier an even more enticing machine, but as it stands the pros still outweigh the cons.

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Published : Wednesday, 20 February 2013
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