Monday, 13 August 2018

[CAR REVIEW] 2018 Mazda CX-9 GT





Intro
Lets be honest, nothing beats the utility of a minivan with the same footprint. The only reason why we go for three-row crossovers instead of a minivan is because they simply look better, and are more fun to drive.

With that in mind, what car maker consistently delivers great looking vehicles that are also fun to drive? The first name that pops into my head is Mazda, and I am curious to see its take on the 3 row SUVs. Courtesy of Mazda Canada, I had just the chance to test drive the biggest car in its current lineup, the 2018 Mazda CX-9 GT. It is a three-row 5-door SUV that is capable of seating 7 people.

Exterior
One reason why this generation of Mazda vehicles seem to have very long noses, is because of the adaptation of a 4-2-1 exhaust system. Without getting into details, this exhaust system reduces residual gas flowing back into the engine to increase torque, with the trade off of needing more space for the complex exhaust pipes.

The longer noses make Mazda vehicles look sporty and aggressive, but could also look slightly out of proportion on smaller models. With the CX-9, because of its long wheel base, this is no longer an issue. The result is a well proportioned exterior that is simply beautiful to look at.

Looking at it from a distance, one wouldn't realize how big the CX-9 is. The Kodo design language translates well to a bigger size. The front fascia of the car looks sharp and classy. Some may find the slender headlights too small, but I find them sexy. Chrome trims highlight some of the design edges without looking obnoxious or cheap.

Mazda spent considerable efforts to make the side profile of CX-9 look lighter. A sharp recess breaks up the door panels to make them look smaller visually. And a thin layer of black cladding around the wheel arches and rockers makes the ground clearance looks higher and the wheels look larger.

The rear of the car is just as clean and elegant. I do find the taillights to be slightly too narrow in the back, but a chrome trim running across the tailgate provides an unique look and breaks up the rather large rear panel.

It is a stunning design that looks premium. During my one week test drive, it prompted quite a few compliments in various parking lots.











Interior
The interior of the 2018 Mazda CX-9 GT also feels premium. The aluminum trim running across the entire dashboard is sculpted to look expensive. The shift stick and the infotainment controls are clustered together and surrounded by chrome trims and piano black plastics. I find this assembly to take up a bit too much space. So much so, that a second 12V power socket has to be located under the assembly on the passenger side.

The heated front seats look great and are very comfortable. The lateral support is especially good with bolsters going all the way up to the shoulders. People with wider shoulders might find it slightly restricting though.

There are three seats in the second row. The middle seat can be folded down to function as an armrest. The legrooms are decent, but not as large as some of its competitors. There is an air vent with climate controls dedicated to the rear cabinet, and the side seats are heated. The CX-9 could really benefit from a panoramic sunroof to make the interior feel even bigger.

It is a bit of a challenge to get to the third row. You will need to fold the second row seat back, then slide the seat forward. If your headrest position is not set to the lowest height, it will hit the front seat and restrict the already limited opening. There are only two seats for the third row, and they are tight. I would say that the third rows are best suited for small children or reserved for short drives.

Despite the smaller spaces of the second and third row cabin, the choices of materials are premium, and the interior of the CX-9 feels more modern and expensive than its competitors.









Infotainment
The Infotainment system of the CX-9 is very consistent with the current Mazda lineup. Our GT trim tester has an 8" touchscreen that can also be controlled by rotational dials and buttons in the center console. The layout is similar to that of German luxury brands, and the decision to use an electronic hand brake makes accessing those controls easy. There is no Android Auto or Apple Carplay in the CX-9, and the software is starting to show its age. This is an area that Mazda will have to address for its 2019 models.

The instrument panel has the traditional three-rings look. The left and center rings contain dials that display engine RPM and vehicle speed. The right ring is a digital display that can be customized and controlled via rocker style buttons in the steering wheel. The setup is very intuitive and the customization options are quite extensive.

The interior of the CX-9 is quiet, and it helps the 12-speaker premium Bose audio system to sound even better. The Active Drive "heads-up" display of Mazda is directly projected onto the windshield, and provides almost all the information you will need on the road. It includes turn-by-turn navigation, vehicle speed, and cruise control information. In other words, you will never need to take your eyes off the road while driving.





Driving
What really sets the CX-9 apart from other big SUVs is the way it drives. Simply put, it doesn't drive like a car its size. It offers a similar driving experience of the excellent CX-5 that we have reviewed in the past.

The 2018 CX-9 is powered by a SKYACTIV-G 2.5L turbo-charged 4-cylinder engine that produces 227 hp of power on regular gas, and 250 hp of power on 93 octane. It provides a surprising amount of low end torque of 310 lb-ft at 2000 rpm. Coupled with a 6 speed automatic AWD transmission, our tester is capable of going from 0 - 100 in about 8.5-seconds. Mazda engineers tuned the engine to produce maximum power at low speed, so you are never left wanting. Despite being a turbo-charged engine, the throttle response is smooth and linear.

On the handling side, Mazda has introduced the G-Vector Control technology to the CX-9 as well. The engine decreases torque when entering a turn to transfer more weight to the front wheels. This helps the car to maintain control and gain stability throughout the the turn. The suspension is tuned perfectly to be firm in the corner, but supple enough to absorb road pumps on rougher roads.

The steering is crisp and accurate with excellent response. The i-ACTIV AWD system incorporates 27 sensors to monitor the driver inputs and road conditions 200 times per second. The car is constantly anticipating the driver's intentions and adjusting the torques of front and rear wheels according to road conditions. The result is an engaging driving experience that makes you feel in tune with the vehicle.

The choice of using a Turbocharged 4-cylinder engine instead of a V6 pays off in fuel economy. We averaged a 10.5 L/100km fuel economy rating through our test drive. That is very impressive for a car this size.

The 2018 Mazda CX-9 is also capable of towing 1588kg (3500lbs) of cargo. That is a feature we didn't get to test, but certainly nice to have in a big SUV.



Safety and Driver Assistance
The following features are standard to GS, GS-L, and GT trims:
  • Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)
  • Rearview camera (wide angle)
  • Hill Launch Assist (HLA)
  • Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring (ABSM)
  • Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA)
  • Traction Control System (TCS)
  • Trailer Stability Assist (TSA)
  • Roll-Over Stability Control (RSC)
The Trailer Stability Assist and Roll-Over Stability Control are more important to a big SUV like the CX-9

With the i-ACTIVESENSE Package, the GS and GS-L trims also get:
  • Mazda Radar Cruise Control with Stop & Go function (MRCC)
  • Smart Brake Support (SBS)
  • Pedestrian Detection
  • Distance Recognition Support System (DRSS)
  • Forward Obstruction Warning (FOW)
  • Lane-Keep Assist System (LAS)
  • Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS)
The GT tim has all the i-ACTIVESENSE features and the following:
  • Traffic Sign Recognition System (TSR)
  • Front and Rear Parking Sensors
It earns 5 star safety rating from NHTSA and Top Safety Pick+ from IIHS. Both are the highest ratings from the agencies.



Cargo Space & Storage
The 2018 Mazda CX-9 has:
  • 407L of cargo space behind the rear seats: Enough for day to day groceries or a golf bag. 
  • 1082L behind the middle seats: Enough room for 3 large suitcases and plenty of groceries.
  • 2017L behind the front seats: Two adults can comfortably lay flat in the back.
Another welcoming feature is the height adjustable power lift gate. A hands free activation method would be a useful addition.

There is a good amount of storage options in the cabin for smaller items. Because of the large size of the shifter/infotainment-control assembly, the storage room in the center console does suffer slightly.





Verdict
The 2018 Mazda CX-9 is an unique offering in the segment. While it is not the most powerful, it is certainly the most fun to drive. While it is not the most spacious, it is practical and also loaded with useful standard features. While it is not the cheapest, it looks and feels like a luxury car without the premium.

What it is, is the perfect family vehicle for car enthusiasts. If you need the practicality of a 3-row SUV but still deeply care about how your car looks and drives, the 2018 Mazda CX-9 is the one for you.

Test Vehicle
2018 CX-9 GT
MSRP
$49,320 without Destination
Color
Soul Red Crystal Metallic

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