In the land of seven seaters, body on frame is usually king. These truck based platforms form the backbone for many diesel powered multi-seater SUVs that aim to cater to the family oriented lifestyles of Filipinos. The Mazda CX-9 sits among other competitors in the midsize crossover segment, featuring more car like platforms (unibody or monocoque) and similar seven-seater layouts, they are arguably an underrated choice.
Mazda Philippines handed us the keys to their 2019 Mazda CX-9 Sport Touring FWD trim, the entry-level variant in the CX-9 lineup. Like most Mazdas on the market today, they combine premium touches and powerful yet frugal powerplants, to create a well-rounded vehicle that may be a bit more expensive than the competition, but make up for it in ownership experience. Having driven the rest of the Mazda lineup in my time as a reviewer, the CX-9 always came off as a little too big for my tastes. Without spoiling too much of the review, let’s just say that I was mostly wrong, and I’m left to wonder why people don’t just get a midsize crossover instead of your usual offerings.
I’m going to go on the record here by saying that the Mazda CX-9 is one of the best looking midsize crossovers on the market today. Unlike other design languages from other brands that looked forced or bloated on their bigger vehicles, the CX-9 manages the Kodo theme nicely, and it’s entry-level positioning is anything but. Sitting below the Signature AWD trim of the CX-9, there are only minor differences between the two, namely, smaller 18-inch alloys, halogen daytime running lights, and less bits of chrome. The LED lighting for the main headlights and taillights are very sharp indeed, and every line on the CX-9 contributes to the same stylish and luxurious appeal at a lower price tag, and that’s a winner in anyone’s book.
The interior is just as well executed as the exterior, with excellent levels of fit and finish all around. You’ve got a ton of soft touch plastics and aluminum trim pieces, complemented by leather on the seats and the steering wheel. It’s an interior that won’t look out of place on a car double its price, and the Mazda pulls off one of the classiest cabins for a midsize crossover. The only glaring difference from the more expensive variant is that we’re missing the Nappa leather with some Rosewood accents and a sunroof. Ergonomics are spot on, too, and finding a comfortable driving position with the tilting and telescoping steering wheel and six-way power adjustable seat is not a problem with the CX-9. Controls are laid out nicely, and everything feels within reach of the driver. The front passenger also benefits from a four-way power adjustable seat.
The back seat is also very welcoming, and the lack of a sunroof means slightly better headroom for the second row. Aircon controls are automatic and the rear passengers benefit from their own settings, as well. The third row can be tight thanks to a sloping roofline, but you’d reserve those for the kids or smaller adults anyway. Whichever seat you get, you also benefit from cupholders, cubbyholes, and 12V sockets, making any drive every bit more comfortable.
At the center of the dashboard is a decently sized eight-inch infotainmentscreen that uses touch and Mazda’s rotary interface. We’re fans of the ease of use and nicely placed shortcut buttons, almost mimicking the design of some European manufacturers. Oh, and you can opt for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay at an additional cost, adding a little bit more functionality to an already impressive system. The head unit is linked to a good six-speaker setup, but stepping up to the Signature trim gets you a nicer 12-speaker Bose system. Climate control is dual zone and automatic, plus you get automatic LED headlights, rain sensing wipers, one-touch up and down for all windows, plus a reverse camera paired with front and rear parking sensors. Cruise control is also standard, and you can enjoy keyless entry with push button start. You also get a handy information display in the middle of the simple yet effective instrument cluster.
You do miss out on the adaptive LED headlights, a head-up display, ventilated front seats, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror; this comes only with stepping up to the higher spec. Not a big deal, however, as the standard kit is still impressive, providing a comfortable and comprehensive driving experience. Are there some quirks? Not really, as the CX-9 has its basics covered impressively well. Maybe a little too well.
The CX-9 also covers all the bases with a standard kit of six airbags, ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, stability control, ISOFIX mounts for child car seats, front and rear parking sensors, hill start assist, immobilizer, and an anti-theft alarm. Stepping up to the more pricey variant adds nift active safety assistance in the form of auto high beams, lane keep assist, blind spot detection, and an impressive 360-degree camera to aid in reversing and maneuvering in tight spaces.
The Mazda CX-9 is powered by a single engine choice and transmission combo; a 2.5L turbocharged gasoline engine that makes 241 hp and 420 Nm of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Power delivery is smooth and extremely refined, and you’ll find yourself getting up to speed quickly as the car gets going without complaint. The gearbox is also very smooth and the use of a conventional automaticwas a good choice. With the power band relatively low in the rev range, the CX-9 can get going surprisingly quickly for a vehicle of this size. Steering feel is also very light, making it easy to drive in the city. Sure, there’s a little bit of vagueness off-center, but the wheel does feel tighter at highway speeds. The suspension eats up potholes and bumps easily and the cabin remains sedate and vibration free, even when going over rumble strips. In this midsize crossover segment, the CX-9 shines when it comes to ride quality and passenger comfort, making it very hard to fault. Despite weighing in at 1,844 kilograms, there’s a definite lightness and agility to the CX-9, and we like that it’s always manages to stay composed, even without the all-wheel drive system in the Signature trim.
Compared to the heavier 1,929 kilogram all-wheel drive Signature CX-9, the lighter Sport Touring FWD returns some decent numbers. During my time with it, heavy traffic, like that on EDSA and Tagaytay on weekends, returned a decent 6.2 kilometers per liter. On the highway, you can expect an average of 12-13 kilometers per liter at around 90-100 km/h.
By now, you can probably tell that we are big fans of the Mazda CX-9 Sport Touring FWD. By being P570,000 less than the Signature AWD, it manages to do everything right without necessarily having all the extra goodies. If you’re the type that likes the very best that the CX-9 can offer, than by all means; go ahead and spend P2,950,000 on the Signature trim. But there’s a lot of value and enjoyment to be had for less money, and the best part is that it does the important, fundamental stuff so well.
In our eyes, the Sport Touring FWD is our pick between the two, and at P2,380,000, it’s a bargain for the amount of luxury and seven-seater capability. If you’re in the market for a seven-seater, save up just a little bit more and go for a CX-9 instead. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything at this level of quality for the same price.