Review: 2016 Mazda CX-9 2.5L Skyactiv-G Turbo [+Video]


The all-new, second-generation Mazda CX-9 is not due for its Malaysian debut just yet. Seeing as how relatively well received the previous CX-9 was, Mazda Malaysia unhesitatingly registered a unit for the press, way ahead of its scheduled arrival.

What you see here is the Australian-spec CX-9, fully built and imported from Hiroshima, Japan. As you read along, you’ll find that it’s not as well equipped as a car its price should be, but also bear in mind that the equipment list is not final.

QUICK FACTS

NameMazda CX-9 2.5L Skyactiv Turbo (2WD)Mazda CX-9 2.5L Skyactiv Turbo (4WD)
Engine2,488cc; inline-4 cylinder, direct injection with Dynamic Pressure Turbo
Transmission6-speed Skyactiv-Drive Automatic
Max Power227 hp @ 5,000 rpm
Max Torque420 Nm @ 2,000 rpm
PriceTo Be AnnouncedTo Be Announced

EXTERIOR

Much effort has been put into trimming the bulky SUV, and though it may not seem big in this set of pictures, the CX-9 is every bit as big as a full-size, seven-seater SUV gets. From a stylistic standpoint, Mazda deserves nothing but high praise for making a vehicle this size appear sleek and athletic. A quick comparison between the Mitsubishi Outlander, Ford Everest and even the Audi Q7 makes for a suitable design benchmark.

Its Kodo theme is immediately recognisable from the front and rear; the fascia adorned with what’s possibly the largest piece of chrome grille ever to roll out of Hiroshima, and this is complemented by a pair of full LED headlamps and LED projector fog lamps. What’s disappointing is the absence of LED daytime running lights. Instead, our test unit came with halogen bulb DRLs which, for a car costing RM300k, is a hugely unacceptable omission.2016 Mazda CX-9 2.5L Turbo 2WD Review - AutoBuzz.my

Mazda has always had a way with styling, and the decision to slap the 20-inch alloys here certainly helps with the whole packaging. Wheel sizes vary from 18- to 20-inches, but whether or not the Malaysian-spec CX-9 will soldier on with the 20″ remains to be seen. Other exterior parts such as slim LED tail lamps, dual exhaust pipes and shark fin antenna are all standard. The only way of telling if it’s 2WD or AWD is through the badge on the tailgate (our test car is 2WD), though they will both be sold here.

INTERIOR

The sense of brand familiarity trickles further into the cabin. Ergonomics are pleasantly sound; buttons and dials are all well made and laid out within an arm’s reach. Affixed to the centre dash is an 8-inch touchscreen panel that can also be operated through the MZD console and with great intuition. Like the top-end Mazda6, the CX-9 gets dual-tone leather upholstery, while both front seats receive heating function.2016 Mazda CX-9 2.5L Turbo 2WD Review - AutoBuzz.my

The three-spoke steering wheel is brand new and will find its way down the model range, right down to the Mazda2. Other noteworthy bits include tri-zone air conditioning, push-start button, powered sunroof, 12-speaker Bose premium sound system and six airbags. Both front seats are electrically powered with lumbar adjustment, but only the driver side gets memory function. Electric parking brake is also standard.

Passenger comfort and legroom space is fairly adequate for the three-rowed SUV. Proper MPVs will undoubtedly fare better in this regard, but those who can’t care less about the criticisms others lay on their choice of cars (read: the Alphard and/or Vellfire) will tend to swing towards SUVs or crossovers with more style and substance.2016 Mazda CX-9 2.5L Turbo 2WD Review - AutoBuzz.my

The second row seats slide fore and aft, reclines and features a one-touch tumble for third row access. Apparently, Mazda claims that the tumble mechanism works so easily that even a child could do it alone. We doubt this, because the seats do have some real heft to it. Our repeated experiences in the third row suggest decent levels of comfort, even for a full grown 80kg adult.

PERFORMANCE

Before this, the Mazda CX-9 was powered by a 3.7-litre Cyclone V6 engine (initially a 3.5L unit) sourced from Ford. It was sufficiently powerful but guzzled fuel and left a large carbon footprint, all things inadmissible for major CX-9 markets. Another problem is that the Skyactiv arsenal had nothing bigger than a 2.5-litre four banger, so the only way forward is to strap on a turbocharger.2016 Mazda CX-9 2.5L Turbo 2WD Review - AutoBuzz.my

Besides force-feeding the engine, Mazda engineers put more effort into making the engine perform like a larger naturally aspirated engine. All turbocharged engines do this, no doubt, but the single biggest difference here is the way power is delivered to the wheels and onto the tarmac. The transversely mounted engine is tuned to produce 227 hp at 5,000 rpm (250 hp on higher octane fuel) and 420 Nm of torque from 2,000 rpm. It’s paired to a six-speed Skyactiv-Drive automatic. With that out of the way, let’s see how well the theories jive in the real world.

THE DRIVE

Right from the get go, throttle response felt immediate. There’s barely any turbo lag, and believe me when I say it feels almost as though the car isn’t turbocharged. Through various surveys, Mazda found that many urban drivers rarely rev the car past 4,500 rpm, so torque is purposely programmed to be available from just above the idling rev, which peaks quickly (all 420 Nm of it) at 2,000 rpm.2016 Mazda CX-9 2.5L Turbo 2WD Review - AutoBuzz.my

Inching in traffic requires only a slight jab of the throttle, but when the roads clear, the sub-2,000kg CX-9 will sprint to 100km/h in under 8.0 seconds. All that usable power noticeably tapers down from 4,500 rpm upwards, though by then you’d already be above the legal speed limit. Impressive stuff, but it gets better.

All modern Mazdas live by the Jinba Ittai ethos, meaning Horse and Rider as One. Steering is quick, light and precise, though feedback remains largely ambiguous. Drivers can expect outrageously zippy turn-ins and exhilarating propulsion, but keener enthusiasts won’t appreciate the complete lack of steering feel. It’s akin to driving a Daytona simulator at the arcades, because half the time you just don’t know what the front wheels are doing. I’d definitely recommend exercising caution in the corners, especially high speed ones.2016 Mazda CX-9 2.5L Turbo 2WD Review - AutoBuzz.my

I might be nitpicking on the next one, but the air of luxury in the CX-9 doesn’t quite live up to expectations. Mazda is great at making the Mazda2Mazda3 and CX-5 feel upmarket through use of high quality leather and finely grained soft plastics. The only problem is, the same stuff is found in the CX-9. The plastic panel covering the steering column (the one just opposite the driver’s knees) is flimsy, and to make matters worse, tyre roar is awfully intrusive – another typical Mazda trait.

IS THIS CAR FOR YOU?

If the CX-9 ticks every need on your list of must-haves in a full-size SUV, then this RM300k offering from Mazda surely deserves your consideration. However, those who are willing to spend that amount of money on a sporty-looking family mover, but want more luxury and better comfort all-around, then I strongly suggest taking a peek at the Ford Everest 3.2L. Okay, the Everest is more utilitarian than sporty, but it does feel very luxurious inside the cabin.2016-Ford-Everest-27

The Blue Oval ladder-frame SUV also accommodates seven, comes with a full suite of driver assistance technologies and is by far the most impressive SUV for the money. It’s also quite a formidable off-roader, with a water wading depth of 800mm. If you have RM300k to spare, the Everest to me is a no brainer.

WOULD I BUY THIS CAR?

If I were in the market for a full-size SUV, the two reasons that would swing me in favour of the Mazda is its gorgeous design and butter-smooth mechanics. As much as I love what the engineers have done with the engine, there’s just no way I could get over the bones I’ve picked with the CX-9.


IMAGE GALLERY


Matthew H. Tong

Matthew H. Tong

A straightforward, fun-loving guy who appreciates the superficiality of a car's appeal, but his admiration for anything on four wheels gives him no reason to neglect the makings of a car. He still believes that fun comes with three pedals and a stick.
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