Can a car enthusiast truly like SUVs?
I doubted it, but as we set off on a Tasmanian road trip in a fleet of new Mazda CX-9s, I started to change my mind pretty quickly.
On test were five fortunate winners of the Mazda Australia/CarAdvice ‘Motoring Journalist for a Day’ competition. Certain aspects of the experience have already been covered: David Malins posted his take on how the experience connected us all, Michelle Izzard gave her impressions of the CX-9 as someone who regularly tracks a Nissan 370Z, and Stuart Bullock shared this thoughts on the peaks and valleys of being a motoring-journalist.
Without wanting to repeat what has been said, my takeaway from the experience was a changed mindset on the now seemingly “essential” family SUV.
As a 25-year-old car enthusiast with zero kids on the horizon, I have no need, nor desire, for a large SUV that can carry seven people in comfort. If I were to somehow magically acquire children, I’d sign my savings away on a mid-sized wagon in a heartbeat. There would be no SUV in the equation.
So big... so cumbersome... or so I thought.
Enter the 2019 Mazda CX-9 Azami LE, the car that changed my opinion on an entire car segment. Everything I thought SUVs were horrible at - handling, fuel consumption, performance - I realised were all great exaggerations. Still technically true, but greatly exaggerated. At least in the case of the CX-9.
Upon approaching the CX-9, I felt a little intimidated. It was much bigger than any recent car I had driven, and dwarfed the Mazda3 I drive daily.
Stepping into the drivers seat, as a modern-day Mazda owner, I immediately felt at home. Familiar switch gear, the love-it-or-hate MZD system (I love it), and a general sense of quality that surpasses what I expected of a car this size and price.
Moving out onto the open road, I was immediately impressed with Mazda’s efforts to make the cabin peaceful. No vibrations were felt from the SKYACTIV-G 2.5T engine at idle, noise remained impressively hushed at speeds, and the suspension soaked up road imperfections like a sponge. The CX-9 also handled dirt roads with aplomb. It was all rather sophisticated, and unlike any Mazda I had driven before.
Smiles for days... in a two-tonne family hauler.
Busting the notion that SUVs can’t handle, I tackled a series of switchbacks without issue in the wet. The CX-9 remained composed, agile and forgiving. For a moment you could have fooled me into thinking I was driving a sedan. Maybe that’s what the Mazda engineers were going for. Whatever the case, this massive car had a massive smile painted across my face.
The grins-per-minute increased when planting the right foot, too. With respectable power figures (170kW @ 5,000rpm, 420Nm @ 2,000rpm), the CX-9 packs wallops of torque. It doesn’t translate into a mad rush of power, but the engine pulls the CX-9’s mass along with unstressed ease. This helped achieve the 10.4l/100km fuel consumption figure over the two day trip, where there was no real effort to drive efficiently. That’s better than six-cylinder family cars from the last decade.
At this stage, the SUV category is slowly winning me over. The CX-9 is proving to be a fun, practical and clever family hauler… that… I… could see myself in? (oh no, it’s happening!)
Considering my hypothetical kids again, the interior amenities are outstanding. There’s acres of room in all rows (my 5’11 frame fits in the 3rd row without complaint - although I struggled with the mechanism to move the seat forward), there’s enough boot space for all types of family paraphernalia, and there are USB ports in the rear-centre armrest to keep devices charged.
An important and overlooked feature is the sheer amount of space available in all rear seats, plus the rear climate control and the second-row outboard heated seats. This gives kids sovereignty over their space and comfort I could only have dreamed of as a kid. Amenities like this could delay the dreaded ‘are we there yet’ comments a little longer.
From the base-model to the top-line Azami LE, all CX-9s have the same advanced safety systems, which is commendable. I had a chance to test the radar-guided cruise control and the lane keep assist system. All worked as intended, giving a reassuring feeling at the wheel. Additionally, the extra height meant it was easier to see the road ahead.
Objects in mirror are closer than they appear (and I like what I see).
Space? Fun? Performance? Luxury? Economy? Safety? While the 2019 Mazda CX-9 Azami LE certainly ticks a lot of those boxes, I know it’s not the right car for me. It impressed on all levels, but this two-tonne machine is surplus to my needs right now, and probably will be for years to come.
The experience proved a few things to me, namely that I shouldn’t fear having kids and the ‘family car’ that accompanies them.
Yes, the Mazda demonstrated to me that you don’t have to sacrifice driving enjoyment at the expense of a growing family - even if you’re a car fanatic like me.