A new engine with proprietary technology doesn’t come often for a comparatively modest volume manufacturer such as Mazda, which is why the subject in question – a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with proprietary turbocharging technology – is a big thing, more so when it is powering the flagship SUV you see here.
But let’s begin with design first. To some, the Kodo styling formula is starting to appear repetitive, to others it is evolving very nicely with new models sporting sharper, more incisive kinks and angles. On the CX-9, it does work well. For something that seats seven passengers, the CX-9 is unusually athletic-looking. The proportions are spot on even though the CX-9 is actually longer (over five metres), wider and has a lengthier wheelbase than a BMW X5!
The most expensive Mazda on sale
At a shade over RM300,000 for the all-wheel drive variant, the price of the fully-imported CX-9 is steep for a mainstream brand, even if the CX-9’s interior quality and feature set – which includes Mazda’s i-Activsense active safety functions such as lane keeping assistance, blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and autonomous emergency braking – do stand up well against what premium makes offer.
The cabin is also a high-quality place with subtle dual-tone colour scheme, plush leather seats along with tactile touch points, and they’ve recently added Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity to the Bose-amplified infotainment system. The overall ambience exudes premium-ness but misses the panache of say…a Lexus or a BMW in that many of its functions are shared with models lower down the ladder.
If you’re wondering about the accommodation for the sixth and seventh passengers, let’s just say the CX-9 wouldn’t be the first SUV with a third row that’s short on thigh support, knee-room is however acceptable but the shallow floor at the back doesn’t make for a comfortable resting position on long trips. Additionally, getting to the last row also requires some muscle-flexing as the centre row is heavy and quite a handful to fold. Otherwise, the second row spaciousness is impressive.
The turbocharger that’s cleverer than others
Numbers such as 420Nm at 2,000rpm used to be the domain of diesel engines, but through a Mazda-developed Dynamic Pressure Turbo which is able to generate faster turbine speeds at low engine rotations and other SkyActiv-branded optimisation such as cooled EGR and high compression ratio, the CX-9 offers of an abundance of torque at low revs, along with a handy 228hp just in case you need to stretch her legs.
No surprise then that the CX-9 feels energetic from the get-go (0-100km/h takes around 8 seconds) and has all the performance one would expect from a modestly sized four-cylinder engine powering a large SUV. All that pulling power at low revs also allows the CX-9 to build speed a relaxed, unobtrusive manner, with less reliance and revs or transmission kickdowns to get up to speed. All the better given that powertrain refinement has never been a Mazda strong suit.
At this point, it does seem that the CX-9 possesses all the ingredients for a fun drive, yet it couldn’t quite manage that in the end. While those huge 20-inch alloys do look very sporty, the CX-9 is more about offering a sensibly pliant and refined ride rather than being the beacon for Jinba Ittai – the much-touted symbiotic relationship between rider and horse.
In other words, the CX-9 isn’t like its smaller, sharper handling siblings (such as the CX5) and will load up its steering quickly once you tip it into corners with any verve, G-Vectoring or not. The price to pay for the heft it carries is that no matter how the CX-9’s passive suspension is set up to behave, ride comfort was always going to be prioritised over other attributes given that this is a seven-seater.
It goes without saying that every mainstream auto brand would aspire to move upmarket, but it’s something that’s easier said than done. But Mazda is on a correct trajectory and the CX-9 – a flagship SUV styled with finesse and powered by in-house engineering with efficiency that’s actually believable – is a good yardstick where this plucky automaker is headed. While it does come with a steeper than expected asking price, the CX-9 doesn’t need catchphrases to justify its existence and is already thoroughly premium in all but name.