Mazda CX-9 AWD Grand Touring: best in class
People movers come in many different shapes and sizes: SUVs, pickups, MPVs. They also have varying underpinnings and engines: body-on-frame, unibody crossovers, gasoline and diesel powerplants.
One of the Philippine’s most important segments is in fact the 7-seat SUV segments which utilize a body-on-frame design.
These are great vehicles, and now feature sophisticated safety and driving aids, which a decade ago, could only be found on far more upscale vehicles.
But what if you wanted something more luxurious, more exclusive, and more refined, comfortable and easier, or at least more car-like to drive?
Large and luxurious cross-overs become a very obvious option—slightly lower, better suited to paved-roads and highways with lighter controls.
In this segment, choices are few: Subaru’s Outback, Kia’s Sorrento, Hyundai’s Grand Santa Fe (which shares the same basic architecture), and Mazda’s CX-9.
All these cars are comfortably below the P3-million price range, but offer such niceties and refinement you’d expect on cars that easily cost 50 percent, if not more than them.
For me, however, one crossover SUV rules the roost firmly in this segment: Mazda’s CX-9 in AWD Grand Tourer spec.
The CX-9 is relatively new, launched in 2016. The second-generation CX-9 displays Mazda’s Kodo: Soul Of Motion design theme, and also incorporates their jinba ittai (horse and rider as one) driving philosophy.
Hence, despite its large and comfortable stature, the CX-9 is arguably the most enjoyable vehicle to drive in this segment.
It’s lighter than its predecessor, which helps save on fuel, weighing in by 90 kg and 130 kg less than its FWD and AWD predecessors.
It rides on a long 2.93-meter wheelbase, which endows it with greater interior space and high-speed refinement and stability, but the short front and rear overhangs hint at its athletic dynamism.
The switch to a turbocharged 2.5-liter SkyActiv G gasoline engine helps deliver impressive fuel economy, matched with generous mid-range torque.
An equally responsive 6-speed automatic all-wheel drive transmission helps give it the long legs it needs on the highway, confident overtaking abilities, and athleticism on uphill winding roads—all of which I was able to sample, both in the Philippines and in Malaysia.
I was first able to try the CX-9 AWD Grand Tourer on a drive from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, with a stop-over in Ipoh.
On the highway, travelling at a steady 120 km/h or so, the CX-9 averaged 12.6 kilometers per liter, fully laden with five adults and all our requisite luggage.
Travelling slightly slower, I’m sure the fuel efficiency could have improved further.
In Metro Manila driving, with more traffic, the CX-9 managed a best of a shade under 11 km/liter on the highway, but at a far slower 70-80 km/h drive (no thanks to traffic on SLEX), and a shorter 70 kilometer distance as opposed to our Malaysian drive’s approximately 450km trip.
In the city, the CX-9 barely manages to better 7 km/liter with careful driving. To be fair, the test unit I had was somewhat new, with barely 3,000 kilometers under its odometer.
From experience, many of today’s modern engines get into their stride at the 10,000 kilometer mark and beyond.
Inside, the CX-9 is well–appointed. A 12-speaker Bose surround sound system is matched with the infotainment kit. There’s a quad-zone climate control system, too.
Nappa leather is available as an option, but regular leather is fine, too.
A large LCD display has your trip computer, vehicle settings, entertainment, GPS navigation, and other useful info within easy reach.
Seating position is excellent, thanks to a 12-way electronic seat adjustment. The steering wheel also has both reach and rake adjustment.
Mazda engineers go through huge effort to find the most comfortable and anatomically correct driving position to help improve the overall comfort, safety, and of course, quality of driving enjoyment.
Small things like your right foot placement on the footwell, the angle of the steering column, and the way the controls are placed around may mean little individually, but over the course of a long-drive, or at least long stints behind the wheel, makes for a more relaxing and natural feel.
It also reduces stress on your body, and allows you to maintain a higher level of concentration on your driving, much longer.
A heads-up display, sunroof, auto-dimming rear view mirror, and a power lift gate round out the interior features.
As expected, the CX-9 is also packed with safety features: six airbags are standard, as well as traction/stability control, ABS-EBD brakes, lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring—again, more things to help alleviate tiredness on long stints behind the wheel.
A reverse camera with back-up sensors makes handling this beast of burden much easier in tight parking spaces.
On winding roads, the CX-9 has a fluidity that’s missing even on many so-called sports-sedans.
Fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee is a very apt description of the CX-9’s smoothness. The suspension is well-damped, composed yet compliant despite riding on massive 20-inch wheels and 255/50R20 Falken Ziex high-performance tires.
The brakes are equally as impressive as the SKyActiv G’s muscular 231 hp and 470 Newton meters of torque: firm, easily modulated, and brimming with feel.
Truly, the Mazda DNA in the MX-5 is just as apparent and readily felt in the CX-9.
A word on the engine: it seems, Mazda’s 231-hp advertised output is massively underrated.
Browsing through literature from abroad, and foreign Mazda websites, the power output, depending on fuel quality, can also reach 250 hp. So, high-octane fuel, should in theory, deliver even more power and torque.
The CX-9 perfectly juggles the various needs of being practical, versatile and enjoyable, matched with a good dose of style and cutting edge technology.
It is quite pricey at P2.83 million, but well worth it. However, the smart bet might be in the recently introduced Sport Touring variant, which has a more modest P2.35 million price tag.
You lose the 20-inch wheels (you get 18-inch wheels instead), the Bose sound system, sunroof, heads-up display and a raft of other convenience features.
However, you still get the same, functional, enjoyable and very dynamic CX-9 for half a million less!