2018 Mazda CX-8 Sport FWD
(4 / 5)
There are two ways of looking at this car: Firstly, as a stretched CX-5 with two extra seats in the back, or secondly, as a diesel version of the CX-9.
To do the latter would be a mistake. The all-new CX-8 isn’t just a CX-9 tarted up in different clothes and with an oil-burner under the bonnet. Instead, it’s a stretched version of the CX-5.
And that’s no bad thing. We love the CX-5 and its dominant quality is its quality.
The CX-5’s build is far superior to anything in its category and puts it almost into luxury crossover territory. So does the CX-8 have the same blessing? Definitely.
The CX-8’s interior has those beautiful soft-touch plastics, the same attention to detail, the same layout in fact. So it’s both familiar and easy on the eye.
Mazda’s infotainment system (Mazda Connect) has been left unchanged and that’s no bad thing. With its iDrive-like controller and easy to navigate menus, it’s a doddle for anyone new to the system. There’s digital radio as standard, Bluetooth phone and streaming, sat-nav, and USB connectivity.
The stereo is reasonable for this price point and doesn’t distort when cranked up, however it’s best to leave the bass off its highest setting as it can get a little boomy; though some people will undoubtedly like that sort of thing.
Where the CX-8 does feel a little strange is its seats. Not that they’re uncomfortable – far from it – but the seat material’s long grain is a bit weird to the touch. It’s used in the seat base and backs, and the sides are trimmed in a fairly cheap cloth which just doesn’t quite fit with the quality image that Mazda is trying to portray.
To solve that you can jump to the Asaki trim level which brings leather and heated seats, but that is a whopping $19,000 more than the Sport trim that we have on test. Worth the extra money? We don’t think so. In fact, the Sport trim level is so well stocked with gear, you have to wonder if it’s even worth paying the extra even for the all wheel drive version.
The safety suite is comprehensive: Plenty of airbags, lane keep assist, autonomous braking (and forward collision warning), blind spot monitoring, speed sign reader, radar-based cruise control, seatbelt pretensioners – you name it, it has it.
There’s also a very handy head up display which tells you speed, the speed limit, how your lane departure is going and the distance to the car in front. It also tells you whether you’re following too closely or not.
But what you really want to know is whether it’s worth paying extra over the CX-5 for those third row seats, right?
There’s no doubt it’s definitely handy having them – and there’s even 209 litres of space when the third row is in place – but you can always make more room available by dropping them down, which gives you a larger luggage compartment. With the third row stowed away, the luggage space is a massive 742 litres.
But if you’re thinking that you can put adults back there, you may want to think again. My six-foot frame struggled to get in and out, and the headroom is lacking for anyone other than young teenagers. Legroom is also compromised unless you slide the second row right forward, but doing that simply compromises legroom in the second row.
Think of this more as a five seater with two occasional chairs and it makes a lot of sense. Especially for this price point.
Under the bonnet is Mazda’s excellent 140kW 2.2L SKYACTIV-D twin-turbo diesel engine, which gives you 450Nm of torque. Couple that with the recalibrated automatic and the drivetrain is an excellent pairing to this car.
You can tell the CX-8 has been played with a little bit by how it likes to hang onto second and third gears a little more – it’s heavier than its smaller sibling, so needs to use the torque for a bit longer – however it gives you plenty of punch when need be and the shifts are very smooth.
We also used just 7.4-litres/100km for the week we had the vehicle. Not bad at all for a seven seat SUV.
The steering has a good weighting, it turns in a little less sharp than its little brother, but it has enough dynamic enthusiasm to not leave you feeling cold. At 1840kg, it’s not the kind of vehicle you throw around, but on winding open country roads it holds its own.
The ride on these smaller 17-inch wheels is excellent, far better than the Asaki’s 19-inch hoops and its noise suppression is very good indeed. Overall, it’s a pleasant thing to drive.
The Mazda CX-8 isn’t quite as lovely as the CX-9, but it’s cheaper, too. And for anyone wanting seven seat capability and a diesel motor, it’s definitely worth looking at. For young families, it’s a smart, well built and nice-to-drive alternative to a Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe.