So, you’ve got your other half and two kids. You’re heading out in the car to Saturday sport and both little ones want to bring a friend – suddenly, you need a third row of seats. Enter the seven-seat SUV, which has become a firm favourite among Australian family buyers for this very reason. When the kids want to bring their friends, a five-seater just doesn’t cut it. The problem is that these large wagons can be pretty soulless to drive – but that’s where the 2017 Mazda CX-9 breaks from the pack. The second-generation car sports a turbo engine, buttoned-down handling, engaging steering and a great cabin, making it easily the most athletic – and we argue, the most desirable – of the seven-seater crop.
Like its rivals – the Toyota Kluger, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Kia Sorento – the CX-9 can be had at various price points, but even in affordable $42,490 Sport trim, you don’t feel short-changed: all CX-9s have an impressively premium interior and all feature navigation and alloy wheels. Three other grades follow – the high-spec GT and Azami models have real driveway red on 20-inch wheels – but for us, it’s the $48,890 Touring that makes the most sense, adding real value over the base model in the form of durable leather, a bigger nav screen, more USB ports for the kids and automatic headlights.
We borrowed the CX-9 Touring with all-wheel-drive – that’s a $4,000 option across the range – and found it to be a seriously compelling family car. Apart from size – it’s pretty enormous – the CX-9 manages to avoid the usual compromises of a large SUV. It’s good to drive and easy to steer; it’s pretty easy to see out of; it looks right, and you don’t need to spend big money to get one with lots of nice features. For most people, the CX-9 will spend its days on the school run or a road trip – and unless it goes to the snow, there’s not much need to shell out so much on an AWD system. The front-driver will be fine for nearly every buyer.
But the CX-9 isn’t just about good value – it’s also about the way Mazda have shifted course in the seven-seater segment. If the first-generation car was Americana school bus, the new shape is far more European in its approach – in fact, our best reference point for the CX-9 wasn’t a Kluger or a Santa Fe, it was an Audi Q7, a luxury car twice the Mazda’s price. Like the Audi, the CX-9 is a very complete package: there’s a refined and efficient engine, a great interior, lots of room and enjoyable driving dynamics. Only the lack of an optional diesel engine stands out as a missed opportunity.
For those into their cars, the most noteworthy changes for the CX-9 between generations can be found under the bonnet and on the road.
Key specs (as tested)
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