This big family-hauler is one of the most popular seven-seat vehicles in the country because it blends luxury with great driving ability.
Mazda’s flagship seven-seat SUV enjoyed a refresh early this year, with enhanced design, specification and infotainment. Petrol power only – the CX-8’s your diesel alternative – but still 11 variants to choose from. We sampled the near tree-topping GT AWD.
At $68,500 drive-away the all-wheel-drive GT costs a hefty $21,500 over the entry-level front-wheel-drive CX-9 Sport. All CX-9s have the same 2.5-litre turbo petrol engine and advanced i-Activsense safety, so the GT must deliver on style and luxury at this price.
Four of the leather seats are heated, front chairs are electric and there’s a small power glass sunroof – rivals have panoramic ones. Bose audio, a sharp 10.25-inch screen, colour head-up display, three-zone climate control, USB points in all three rows, wireless phone charging, rear window sunshades, hands-free tailgate and 20-inch wheels are included.
Some similar priced rivals include a digital dash, ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, ambient lighting, 360-degree monitor and third-row ventilation control, but the CX-9 GT misses out.
Do you really need all-wheel-drive? Save $4000 (and some fuel) by going front-drive instead.
Warranty is five-years/unlimited kilometres and it’s a pricey $2643 for five years/50,000km servicing.
Leather seating – electric up front – is plush and driver’s visibility strong. Huge rear doors open really wide for easy middle row access, and this bench splits for separate folding and sliding for great versatility. Middle seats recline, while a button electrically shifts one forward for third row access. Two adults are well accommodated back here with decent leg room if the middle seats are forward, although six-footers have limited headroom.
Quality dashboard layout is simple rather than flashy, while a 810L boot is huge, and still offers a usable 230L with seven seats in place.
Key for families, curtain airbags give total coverage to third row passengers, plus child seat tether points – many rivals fail here.
When crash tested in 2016 it achieved five stars and a superb 35.87 out of 37 score. Since testing more active safety has been added to now include AEB, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition, blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert. Radar cruise control and parking sensors all around ups the convenience.
Despite its size the CX-9 punts along at a decent rate thanks to its eager and smooth 170kW/420Nm turbo engine, with low-down torque pull particularly impressive. Steering wheel paddles give control over a slick six-speed auto gearbox, and it feels safe, composed and comfortable even in tight corners.
The 20-inch wheels win on style but also manage to keep the ride plush over bumps, while outside noises are very well suppressed. Mazda’s done a brilliant job of balancing comfort and handling, and the CX-9 feels as at home on pitted roads as it does the highway and city. A great all-rounder.
We returned an average of 10.2L/100km against a quoted 9.0L/100km, while towing capacity is 2000kg.
Beats its Hyundai and Kia rivals for drive experience, but trails them on specification and cabin wow factor for the money. Nevertheless, a superb all-rounder.
Kia Sorento 3.5 GT-Line, about $64,300 drive-away
Our Car of the Year runner-up loaded with tech, safety and premium-rivalling plush cabin. Cheapest here and longest warranty, but 9.7L/100km petrol version is front-drive only. $3000-more AWD diesel a better choice for most.
Hyundai Santa Fe V6 Highlander, about $67,000 drive-away
As with the Sorento the diesel’s the smarter pick. Hyundai’s V6 petrol is a thirstier 10.5L/100km while third row seats not as generous as rivals. Seriously plush cabin with heated Nappa leather and drives well for a big unit.
Toyota Kluger GXL AWD Hybrid, about $67,000 drive-away
Arriving in June, the new Kluger should prove hugely popular, especially the Hybrid. With 2.5-litre four-cylinder plus two electric motors, here’s a 184kW petrol seven-seater promising excellent 6.6L/100km economy.
MAZDA CX-9 GT AWD VITALS
Price: About $69,500 drive away
Engine: 2.5-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol, 170kW/420Nm
Warranty/servicing: five years/unlimited km, $1910 over five years
Safety: 5 Stars, 6 airbags, AEB, radar cruise, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert
Cargo: 810L (230L with third row up)