FAISAL SHAH | 24 Feb 2017 00:30
Why do people buy SUVs? They’re taller, heavier, less dynamically capable and less fuel efficient than their saloon equivalents. Yet upper middle class car buyers are flocking to them in droves like they’re the best thing since sliced bread. The attraction is therefore illogical, except if your previous mode of transport was an MPV.
Nobody really likes MPVs. We buy them because we need seven seats but even the most ardent Alphard/Vellfire apologist will admit they’re ashamed to be seen at the wheel of something that looks like a delivery van. Hence the heavy window tinting. There is hope though if you have four kids and frequently travel with the maid in tow because there are now a number of SUVs that seat seven.
Unfortunately, most of them will either set you back the equivalent price of a link house in Seremban 2 due to uber luxury names like A7, GLS and Discovery Sport or they’re based on pickup truck platforms. For those who want Hermes style without bankrupting themselves, salvation lies in the shapely form of the Mazda CX-9.
You may remember Mazda’s largest SUV as something that was rarely seen on Malaysian roads. That’s hardly surprising because it looked strangely anonymous while the big 3.7-litre engine meant it cost a small fortune in road tax, insurance and fuelling costs but everything has changed on the new one.
It may be the final model to feature Mazda’s new Kodo design language but the all-new CX-9 is an object lesson on how to style a sexy 5-metre plus SUV. The sleek sheet metal for instance uses minimal surface treatments and instead relies on curves and a beautiful sense of proportion to hide its size. Chromed details on the front and rear, comprising huge grille and a horizontal bar at the back, help to define the vertical and horizontal planes while the tiny front and rear lights are like bright jewels poking through the dark glossy paint.
To match the new styling, Mazda added some of its highly regarded SkyActiv components to the mechanical package so instead of a big engine with a drinking problem, a 2.5-litre turbocharged four-pot motor mated to a lightweight six-speed automatic resides beneath the shapely bonnet. Power and torque is directed to the front wheels and is rated at 228hp at 5,000rpm and 420Nm at 2,000rpm for our Australian spec test car. Some digging on the Internet shows that US cars running on RON 93 fuel produce up to 250hp. What the engine will produce on Malaysian Euro 4 RON 95 and 97 petrol will be interesting to see.
Open the door and you’re greeted by an interior that makes great use of textures to create a feeling of luxury. The dashboard styling is sleek and minimalist with a free-floating 8-inch touch screen and Mazda’s familiar MZD Connect infotainment system acting as the main point of interface. Conversely, the cockpit has a pronounced sporty feel with a three-dial display matched to a leather wrapped three-spoke steering wheel. There’s a colour heads-up display too showing speed, revs and navigation information as well as a comprehensive trip computer with all sorts of fuel efficiency readings.
The interior will seat seven in leather lined comfort but avoid the last row if you’re an adult. The seats are supportive and have three-point belts but as with most third rows leg room is poor. If you do however draw the short straw and have to endure a journey there, at least the 12-speaker Bose sound system will keep you entertained as your feet slowly go numb.
It would have been an eye opener if the CX-9 were as dynamic to drive as the rest of the current Mazda range but the 5,075mm length, 1,747mm height and 1,858kg kerb weight have it going up against the laws of Physics. So instead of being eager and sharp it drives like the luxury transport its looks suggest it is.
Speed for instance builds smoothly thanks to the prodigious low-end torque and the gearbox slurs through its ratios imperceptibly. It’ll kick down several gears if you drive it in anger but with muted responses coming from the steering wheel and understeer being the order of the day if you push too hard, it makes more sense to drive at six or seven tenths rather than on the limit.
Stroke it along on the highway and the smooth ride and comfortable seats make this a painless long distance cruiser. Six airbags and a comprehensive i-ActiveSense package means it’s safe too while the i-stop and i-ELOOP technology should help reduce fuel consumption. We however failed to achieve a consumption figure of better than 11L/100km though perhaps more light footed drivers would get better results.
Still, dubious fuel consumption figures aside you can’t help but be impressed by what Mazda has done to the CX-9. It’s undeniably attractive both inside and out and while final specs and pricing for Malaysian cars will only be confirmed in June, if it comes in below RM280,000 for the FWD version expect it to be a more familiar sight than its predecessor.
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