2017 Mazda CX-9 Azami FWD – $60,790
(4.5 / 5)
Australians flock to Bali every day. We’re almost a plague, a swarm that takes over and gets more intense as we draw closer to the holiday period.
One of the things about a Bali holiday is we normally return with more belongings than we left with.
Suitcases are filled, crammed with new threads that have been bought from the markets.
The haggling is part of the appeal, but the fact that the clothes we buy are cheaper than what you’ll find in department stores.
The reason? They’re usually knock-offs, and if they only lasted a few months, most people wouldn’t care.
Yet these clothes look, feel and last just as long as the genuine article.
It just goes to show, you don’t have to pay top dollar to get something that’s fit for purpose.
That same principle applies to the Mazda CX-9
Here we have a car that’s built well, looks great, rides beautifully and has plenty of space.
Previously, these were qualities that cars like the Audi Q7 capitalised on.
But the CX-9 is genuinely like a cut-price Q7. Seriously.
Let’s talk about the styling
Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you’ll struggle to find anyone who thinks the CX-9 is ugly.
With such a large machine, there’s no getting around the size, but it’s been styled to look smaller than it is.
The bodywork flows beautifully and it’s very balanced.
What about the interior?
Open the doors and you’re also greeted with a fabulous build, with everything put together with precision.
The material quality is – let’s put this delicately – Germanic.
That’s to say it looks and feels very high end.
The soft-touch dashboard plastics, the soft leather, the large centre screen – it’s all premium grade.
The seats, for example, are electrically adjusted, heated and swathed in top quality hide. But we’re not just talking the front seats either.
The second row (which can be slid forward and backward) also receives the same excellent padding and soft leather.
The legroom and headroom in the second row is huge and you can fit three adults across the back seat easily.
The lever at the bottom allows the backrest to fold down flat, or you can use the top lever which flips the backrest forward and slides forward to access the third row.
Here’s where it usually falls apart
Most seven seaters – this side of the Land Rover Discovery – end up with spaces only fit for ten-year-olds.
The CX-9, however, can fit adults in the back row.
You know, adults who are actually full grown – this writer is just on six-foot and the headlining is just brushing my hair, but it’s not a squeeze or a squash.
The CX-9’s packaging is remarkable. And it’s the boot space that shows this.
Even with all three rows in place, there’s still a 230 litres available (enough for a few small shopping bags), but if you drop seats six and seven, you get 810 litres.
Drop the second row and there’s 1641 litres of space to stash your Swedish flatpacks, or Bunnings plant pots.
And the tech?
Mazda’s infotainment system is also a very well thought-out piece of software.
It’s quite basic in its presentation but it’s easy to understand and work through, and with its rotary controller, it’s simple to use.
Connecting with Bluetooth takes seconds, and the music streaming is clear and quick.
The Bose stereo is also very well balanced in its sound and volume.
Plus there are USB inputs and a 3.5mm AUX jack, and you can connect up Pandora and Stitcher, or just stream Spotify though your Bluetooth.
So inside, there’s plenty of tech, connectivity, practicality and quality.
But how does it drive?
Here could be the sticking point, because it’s a huge car and all the power goes through only the front wheels.
Drive it and that misconception melts away.
The CX-9 runs a 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which makes 170kW and 420Nm.
Not bad figures for a petrol engine, but thanks to Mazda’s proprietary SkyActive technology, it behaves like a diesel.
That means loads of low down torque, effortless delivery and quite good fuel economy, considering the car’s size.
On paper, it delivers 8.4L/100km on the combined cycle, but in practice you’ll be be burning around 9.5L/100km.
The torque comes on nice and early, allowing easy progress and thanks to the deliciously smooth six-speed auto, it gets to the speed limit easily.
Overtaking on country roads is also easy – from an acceleration point of view – but because it’s front-wheel-drive, there is a bit of torque steer which can catch you out.
When overtaking, be sure to hang onto the wheel properly and not turn too sharply both when pulling out and when pulling back in again.
It sounds strange, but unless you’re warned first, it can be a bit disconcerting. Once you’re used to the torque steer at full throttle, you can drive to suit.
The CX-9 also handles a lot better than its size and shape suggests; physics will dictate you not being too ambitious when cornering, but at eight-tenths, the CX-9 feels quite enjoyable on the road.
The suspension may not be set to run ‘Ring lap times, but it does deliver a lovely ride at all speeds, proving you don’t always need adaptive suspension to get a comfortable ride.
The steering is also beautifully weighted, provides good feel and is consistent throughout the lock.
The brakes work very well, with excellent pedal feel and it never feels to big on the road.
Dynamically, it’s very accomplished for a seven-seat SUV.
What about safety?
It has plenty of gear to keep you safe, too.
Dual frontal, side chest and side head-protecting airbags (curtains) are standard in the CX-9.
The three rows have head-protecting side curtain airbags in crash testing it received 35.87 points out of a possible 37.
Here’s the real story
At $60,790, the CX-9 represents seriously good value for money.
If you didn’t want to worry about torque steer, or you live in a particularly rainy area there’s an all-wheel-drive version for an extra $4000 – that’s a pretty good deal, really – but nine times out of ten you’d never need it.
You can buy cheaper grades as well, but with everything on it, the Azami trim level wants for nothing.
It’s a beautiful machine and proves you don’t have to buy a top end brand to get a decent product.
Oh, it will also last a lot longer than a Bali t-shirt.
Can you take the Mazda CX-9 off road?
Not this one. It’s front-wheel-drive which precludes any off-roading.
But the all-wheel-drive version may struggle with anything more than a flat dirt road.
The ground clearance isn’t quite enough, and the traction control isn’t set up for it.
You’ll need a bit more cash for a Q7 or Discovery.