ROAD TEST: Mazda CX-9 Azami has composure under family fire
AAH the serenity. Not typically something you would expect behind the wheel of a seven-seater.
Even when at capacity, the family load-lugger is the antipodes of noisy.
Somehow the hushed ride of the Mazda CX-9 makes the worries of the world wash away. Cherub calls from the rear two rows quickly jolt you back to reality, but this seven-seater excels as an easy-to-drive chariot without traditional large SUV compromises.
Last August the CX-9 range was updated - an interesting time to tweak the range barely 12 months after the all-new model being launched. To be truthful, there wasn't much wrong with the CX-9 launched in July 2016, and the updates simply made a good car better.
There were a few issues with the previous iteration - primarily a thirsty petrol engine saw average fuel use regularly climb beyond 16 litres per 100km - yet this 2.5-litre turbocharged four cylinder is a mighty strong unit without requiring constant trips to the bowser.
Reacquainting ourselves with the CX-9 came in range-topping all-wheel drive Azami guise...which costs about $70,000 once all the on-roads are paid.
That price no doubt has many choking. It's actually about par for the course for range-toppers in this size vehicle, and as you'd expect for that kind of coin you are spoilt with the features list.
Basic equipment includes leather seat trim with both front pews having power adjustment, Bose audio operated through an eight-inch colour screen, keyless entry with push-button start, tri zone climate control, 20-inch alloys, power tailgate and the best safety kit Mazda has available.
As part of the recent upgrade, the power seat function controls have a chrome-like finish and heated seats have been added for the two outer seats in the middle row.
Key functionality missing is smartphone mirroring apps Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. For those who haven't used them, the Mazda system is fine with full bluetooth audio and phone integration, but those who have will be disappointed as the apps offer greater functionality and more seamless operation.
Another absentee is third row air vents.
It's available in grey, red, white or silver in metallic, or black, blue or titanium mica finishes.
Basic maintenance costs are at the lower end, although the service schedule is short at 10,000km or every year. The average cost per service is $346 over five visits.
Feeling in the realm of high-end European luxury marques, the CX-9 is a pleasure to steer.
Mazda added G-Vectoring Control to the range as part of the update - that's marketing speak for functionality which electronically shifts the power load between front and rear wheels to improve cornering feel. Most drivers won't feel the difference, and that's the point, it all happens within milliseconds for an improved experience.
Combined with a range of new sound absorption material which results in less tyre and road noise, it's hushed performance.
The CX-9 has an ability to shrink around you, and while some large SUVs feel bulky (especially while parking), rarely does the big Mazda feel cumbersome.
Only when you push hard in the corners does its size become apparent, although CX-9 drivers are rarely trying to carve up the bends with Daniel Ricciardo prowess.
With hefty amounts of torque it gets off the line well, but we got more than 10 litres/100km - higher than the official figure of 8.8 litres/100km from Mazda.
Operationally the CX-9 is well laid-out with good central cup holders along with bottle alcoves in each door. The driver also has a slick little heads-up display with vital information like digital speedo and satnav instructions.
Getting into the third row is made easier with an improved drop and folding mechanism that allows a less obtrusive passage into the back.
All CX-9s now get a second top tether point for the third row seats. Child or booster seats can be mounted to all three middle row and both third row seats. There are also two Isofix mounting points on outer seats in the middle row.
The safety kitchen sink is in the Azami by way of blind spot monitoring, driver attention alert which analyses your driving and tells you when to take a break, parking sensors, rear cross traffic and reverse camera as well as smart city brake support which can operate when travelling forward and in reverse.
The latter can automatically apply the brakes if a possible collision is detected, and these new models have an operational range of to 4-80km/h (up from 4-30km/h).
Satnav functionality also now includes traffic sign recognition to ensure you have a constant guide to speed limits.
You could probably go with the two-wheel drive version to save some coin, and while the lower-spec versions are appealing all the safety kit is impressive on this range-topper.
Feeling like a European car it's not quite the same as a luxury marque...but the kids aren't going to respect the car more even if I part with six figures.
SKODA KODIAQ TDI (from $48,990)
Slightly smaller than the CX-9, it still has excellent space for a seven-seater. Our reigning car of the year has loads of smart gadgets too and a strong diesel engine.
NISSAN PATHFINDER TI AWD (from $66,190)
Excellent space in all three rows and the Pathfinder remains a refined and well-sorted family hauler with the V6 offering burly underfoot response.
AT A GLANCE
Mazda CX-9 Azami
PRICE $64,790 plus on-roads (on par in genre)
WARRANTY AND SERVICING 3 years/unlimited km, (ok) ave service is $346 (short intervals)
ENGINE 2.5-litre 4-cyl turbo, 170W/420Nm (strong)
SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitor, driver attention alert (excellent)
FUEL 8.8L/100km (10 on test)
SPARE Space-saver (not perfect)
BOOT 230L-810L (large)