ROAD TEST: Mazda CX-9

To say that buyers don’t want large vehicles anymore, and then point to the declining large car segment as proof, is actually somewhat spurious.

While the proof would actually seem to be fairly black and white – large cars are selling in far fewer numbers every year – it’s actually more a matter of packaging. Buyers may well be deserting large sedans and wagons in droves, but the corresponding surge in SUV sales clearly points to the fact that they still want large vehicles,  just not large sedans and wagons…

And this is exactly where the Mazda CX-9 comes in.

Mazda New Zealand has obviously been studying the sales figures and, noticing the shift in favour towards the large, versatile SUV segment, decided the time was right to unleash the CX-9 on these shores.

The first thing you notice about the CX-9 is that it is big. How big? Give or take a few millimetres in all dimensions, about the same size as a Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Touareg or Audi Q7. That big…

Based on the Ford CD3 platform – the same one that sits under the Mazda6 – the CX-9 matches the similarly sized Germans by boasting a 4WD system under its swooping CX-7-esque lines and a 204kW/367Nm 3.7-litre petrol V6 connected to a six-speed automatic transmission.

But of course, the obvious competition for the CX-9 are the Ford Territory and Toyota Highlander (which also share extremely similar dimensions) and, with a full compliment of seven seats – including a third row that doesn’t actually leave occupants sitting virtually on the floor, trapped in a windowless purgatory of car sickness behind thick C-pillars – the CX-9 muscles up to these two with a strong challenge indeed.

On the road the CX-9 is all quiet, understated refinement and comfort, capable of wafting along at a relaxed lope on the open road (albeit still at speeds that would not be appreciated by the authorities…), although over rougher surfaces the ride can get a bit unsettled, thanks to the firm suspension set up.

But it it this firmer suspension set up that means the Mazda would simply destroy the wallowy Highlander through the twisty bits.

It would easily hang on to the Territory, but the Ford driver would be having more fun thanks to the Territory’s starting point of a RWD Falcon platform. Yes, the CX-9 prefers a bit of an understeer into corners, but is still capable of a remarkably spirited drive when pushed.

Stability electronics are remarkably restrained and subtle in their operation as well, adding to the potential for enjoyment, but the CX-9’s true strong point is its quality, comfort and the sheer effortlessness with which it does things.

The 3.7-litre V6 is strong and, while it doesn’t exactly emit a characterful bellow while doing it, is more than capable of shifting the sizable CX-9 along at a swift rate.

It can get a bit thirsty when pushed, but given that it sat around 13.8l/100km for the majority of the time we had it (Mazda claims 11.3) it was certainly not out of the ordinary for the segment.

Downsides? Not a lot – the seats are a bit wide and unsupportive, obviously being designed for larger American bottoms, the engine never really sounds terribly enthusiastic and some of the interior plastics let the otherwise high standard down a bit, but at $59,990 the Mazda CX-9 is a remarkably convincing package.

This article first appeared in New Zealand Company Vehicle magazine.

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