Confidently Beautiful With A Heart
Unless you have the privilege or the finances to buy a sports car, car buying to most of the population is like buying an appliance. Decisions are mainly based on rational, albeit mundane and boring factors, such as cost, fuel economy, and space. The more exciting emotional factors such style, performance, and speed are among the least of the usual car buyer’s priorities. Rational buying decisions are even more prevalent when buying a 7-seater SUV if the goal is to make the family and the missus happy, even if it’s a posh SUV from the luxury class, but once in a while, there are some rare vehicles that pop out of nowhere that not only does it fulfil your mind’s wants, but also your heart’s. Enter the 2018 Mazda CX-9.
Your heart’s desires are already satisfied just by starting at the CX-9’s exterior that’s loaded with sex appeal. I mean, just look at it! If you think this is ugly, better have your eyes checked. There are cars that I’d like to do a blind badge test with, because most people associate beauty with the badge up front. Want to hear an unpopular opinion? I think the Mazda CX-9 looks prettier than the Maserati Levante, because saying the CX-9 looks better than the Levante is like saying Pia Wurtzbach wearing a t-shirt looks better than a cougar wearing a Versace dress at 3 am. People merely lean towards the Levante due to the trident badge and the supposed “Italian flair” associated with it. Proving my point aside, let’s go back to its looks. The Kodo design language’s ostentatious wing grille perfectly blends in with those LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, and a crease running from the hood, all the way to the a-pillar creates a dynamic and long front end that’s more akin to a luxurious GT. The proportions are just perfect, with a long hood, sloping rear deck design that somehow combines the design traits of a sleek wagon into a tall and wide SUV. A chrome bar flawlessly connects the two LED tail lights that give off the same light pattern with the LED daytime running lights up front. It looks like a dragon staring at you, whether viewing the car up front or all the way back. Beautiful is an understatement in describing the Mazda CX-9’s looks.
Whereas most of its competitors greet you with an overwhelming amount of feature content, the Mazda CX-9 greets you with an overwhelming sense of luxury and sophistication. What I find wrong with most automakers nowadays is that, more screens and more tech inside means a more luxurious interior. It’s like saying an Apple Watch is better than a Tissot because the Apple Watch has an OLED screen, and the Tissot is just… well, a watch. A finely crafted, stainless steel one at that. The CX-9 is just like the Tissot. Sure, it’s not an interior that’s going to keep Audi awake at night, but far and wide, the CX-9 has the best interior in the 7-seater crossover segment. Sumptuous leather adorns the interior, and not just the seats. They’re on the doors, and even the dashboard, too, with luxurious real aluminum to boot. Not only does the interior feel plush, it looks beautiful, too, with interesting shapes and contours that bring a feeling of craftsmanship rather than mass production. I substantially prefer having a well crafted, luxuriously made interior than an interior with an overwhelming amount of capacitive surfaces and touch screens, the same way I’d rather have a Tissot rather than an Apple Watch. Just like the Tissot, the CX-9’s interior is authentic, artisanal, and avant-garde, rather than boring and cynical that literally all of its competitors in this segment are.
Space and Practicality
This CX-9’s interior is not just confidently beautiful, but it also has the heart to care for the wellbeing of its occupants. It’s basically style with substance. While it’s not the most spacious, it is however, habitable for seven people, with the third rows even being able to fit my 5 foot, 5 inch friend with leg and headroom to spare. It isn’t short on smart features and practical storage solutions, too. Pulling down the rear center armrest not just provides you with a leather padded surface to lean your arms on, but it also has a felt-lined storage compartment with 2 USB ports for charging your smartphone. When the armrest is not in use, a third person fits comfortably at the second row, thanks to the well sculpted seats, and wide bench seating. With a single action lever to slide the second row seats forward, accessing the third row is easy. Up front, meanwhile, there’s plenty of large storage bins, including two cupholders in the middle console that can hold a venti-sized Frappuccino. There’s also a bin in front of the cupholders, just below the climate controls, which can hide a smartphone as it charges via the USB ports.
With all three rows of seats in use, there’s a decent 408 liters of space that’s probably enough for a weekend trip with the entire family of seven. With the third row of seats intelligently designed to fold flat under the floor, you get 1,081 liters of space, and with the second and third row of seats folded, you get a van-like 2,016 liters of space.
Features, Safety, and Infotainment
Being in the premium seven seater crossover segment that competes with the likes of the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot, it is unsurprising to find the CX-9 pretty loaded with kit. Standard kit includes those cool looking Adaptive LED Headlights, LED tail lights, passive entry with push button start, automatic trunk, one touch up and down to all four windows, ambient LED interior lighting, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat with two person memory, and a 6-way power adjustable front passenger seat. Those at the back won’t feel bored, either, with their own single zone climate control (there’s three zones in total), personal sunshades, and those aforementioned large folding armrests with two USB ports inside it.
As expected, the CX-9 is pretty loaded with active safety features, too, which include all around parking sensors, a rear view camera, Blind Spot Warning with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which is a godsend when reversing this large SUV, Lane Keeping Assist, and Lane Departure Warning. A cool head-up display is front and center of the driver’s view, providing clear, legible information such as speed and GPS guidance projected right at the windshield.
Infotainment duties are provided by the MZD Connect infotainment system with navigation. Unfortunately, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto isn’t offered, but the system works so well, I didn’t really wish for smartphone integration to be standard in the vehicle. I also prefer using this swivel wheel controller logic rather than a touch screen, as it is better for my cognitive memory while driving. My most favorite feature, however, is this boombastic 12-speaker BOSE audio system that makes even compressed MP3 files streamed via Bluetooth sound close to CD quality. The bass, mids, and treble are well separated from each other. Even at full volume, the sound is free from distortion, delivering a clear and crisp quality. If only the Philippines had TIDAL hi-fi streaming, I’d enjoy the BOSE sound system even more.
The Mazda CX-9 is powered by Mazda’s first ever turbocharged SKYACTIV-G petrol engine, a 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine, which produces 231 hp @ 5,000 rpm, and a torque figure of 420 Nm @ 2,000 rpm. It is mated to a SKYACTIV-DRIVE 6-Speed Automatic, with power sent through all four wheels via an i-ACTIV AWD system. The 2.5 liter engine’s turbocharger is not just any ordinary turbo. The “Dynamic Pressure Turbo” is the “world’s first turbocharger with the ability to vary the degree of exhaust pulsation depending on engine speed”. This powertrain combo enables the CX-9 to sprint from 0-100 kph in 7.2 seconds, all the way to a top speed of 213 kph.
How It Drives
Mazda makes some of the most engaging and sporty cars to drive in this side of the market, regardless if that’s a subcompact sedan, or a midsize executive sedan, so it’s no surprise that the Mazda CX-9 is also the sportiest to drive among the midsize crossover segment. Surely, it’s no MX-5, and drive too enthusiastically will show its limits as a large SUV, but as far as SUVs go, the CX-9 will certainly bring smiles to the driver’s face. There’s a reason why I prefer these SUVs over the body-on-frame PPV ones like the Fortuner, Everest, and Montero Sport, and it begins with its car-like agility. Using the Mazda 6’s platform as a basis for this large SUV gives it the reflexes that no other SUV in its segment has. With a precise steering that has a decent amount of feedback, an extremely rigid and well built chassis, plus a suspension that counteracts the car’s leaning and rolling movements really well, the Mazda CX-9 is a hoot to drive. It has the composure that feels more German than Japanese. G-Vectoring makes you an outright hero to your kids as you bring them to soccer practice. It brakes the inner wheel as you enter hard into a corner in order to make this large SUV rotate cleanly.
Mazda currently has a 2.2 liter SKYACTIV-D twin-turbo powerplant, and I’ve always wondered, with its 173 hp and monstrous 420 Nm of torque, why wouldn’t they put it in the CX-9? It’s a gem of an engine, with loads of pulling power, but alas, the CX-9 is primarily developed for the USA. Instead, what we have here is Mazda’s first turbocharged SKYACTIV-G powerplant that uses the first ever Dynamic Pressure Turbo. How does it deliver? Plant your foot down, and the CX-9 accelerates to infinity like a horse with sriracha punched through its butt. It’s outright ruthless for this size of SUV to out-accelerate even a Honda Civic RS Turbo, which many people are already finding to be a pretty quick car. This turbocharged petrol mill produces the same torque figure as the diesel, but with a substantially greater horsepower figure. The car’s power delivery is addictive and quite brutal for what it is, which unfortunately means that torque steer is quite abundant in this SUV. With this being a pretty large petrol powered SUV, don’t expect fuel economy to be excellent, but for what it is, it’s pretty good at 7.5 km/l in the city, as much as 11.6 km/l on the highway, and 8.3 km/l combined.
As much as the CX-9 is sporty, the great thing about the CX-9 is that it’s a complete Jekyll and Hyde companion. Most buyers of this class of vehicles normally are executives that have personal drivers, and if anything, all they want is a supremely comfortable ride. Despite its sporting character, the CX-9’s suspension is one of the best in this side of the SUV market. It’s surprisingly sporty when you want it, and supremely comfortable when you need it. It absorbs bumps and potholes with sophistication and delicacy, despite its large 20-inch alloy wheels wrapped in low profile tires, and with the looks to match anything twice its price, it really wouldn’t look out of place at Okada Manila.
On The Downside
I am going to be honest here, but the Mazda CX-9 is one of those few cars that I find hard to find any faults with. Being nitpicky, I find it weird that the Mazda CX-9 doesn’t come with Adaptive Cruise Control and Autonomous Emergency Braking, whereas a few of its competitors like the Honda Pilot and Ford Everest have it at least has an option. While I also could say that the CX-9 isn’t as spacious as a Ford Explorer or a Honda Pilot, the difference is so unnoticeable to many, the CX-9 is already perfectly big to the 90% of the people looking for an SUV in this class. Besides, if lack of space is still your concern at this point, shouldn’t you be looking at a Ford Expedition or Toyota Land Cruiser 200 anyway?
The Mazda CX-9 is a thing of beauty. It’s a well designed, well engineered machine that delivers on the promises of Mazda’s zoom-zoom philosophy, while adding a large amount of flair and sophistication never before seen in this category of SUVs. Sure, a rivalling Toyota Land Cruise Prado can tackle the beaten path, but for most people, the CX-9’s slight off-road capability is already good enough. Plus, in a VIP parking lot at Solaire, the CX-9 would go head-to-head in the looks department with a Porsche Cayenne or a BMW X5. Let’s go back to my previous question. Is there an SUV that can satisfy both your mind and heart’s desires? Well, the Mazda CX-9 may be the first ever SUV in this segment to do so, at a price that’s at the sweet spot of P2,830,000, unchanged even with excise tax. It’s an SUV that’s confidently beautiful with a heart.
Exterior Design: ★★★★★
Interior Design: ★★★★★
Space and Practicality: ★★★★☆
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★★☆
Value For Money: ★★★★☆
Overall: 4.5 out of 5