Subtle but comprehensive update keeps Mazda CX-8 looking fresh for a unique audience
And yet, five years after it launched in Australia, the seemingly oddball SUV still attracts a reasonable audience.
The secret, says Mazda, lies in offering lots of choice, and options are pivotal in the perception of premiumness in the eyes of its customers.
As a reward for proving the naysayers wrong, Mazda has treated the CX-8 to a midlife update with fresh exterior looks, a dusting of extra technology and an increase to pricing across the six-variant line-up.
As before, six variants form the new lineup, starting with the Sport from $42,060, while the Touring brings more equipment from $48,960.
The previous Touring SP is replaced by a new Touring Active and the SP badge moves up the ranking to a new GT SP, from $58,560.
As prior, the top of the pack is represented by the Asaki, priced from $61,810 or $71,410 for the Asaki LE diesel, which features the pair of captain’s chairs in the second row.
Those prices are for the G25 front-wheel-drive petrol versions, but all are on offer as the G35 diesel with all-wheel drive for an $8000 premium, except the Asaki LE which is only available as the G35 diesel AWD.
Compared with the previous CX-8 line-up, pricing has increased by between $1500 and $2500 depending on the variant.
All versions now get a 7.0-inch digital driver’s information display flanked between traditional dials, while the central digital screen grows to 10.3 inches, and both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available wirelessly.
USB-C ports replace the older USB-A versions up front and a new remote window opening feature is available using the key fob for venting the cabin on hot days.
Front seats have been revised to be more supportive, the GT SP now gets the power adjustment and rear seat heaters of the higher specification variants, while a range of new interior materials and styles has been introduced for 2023 depending on the grade.
On the outside, the CX-8 has been given a significant facelift, with front and rear bumpers redesigned along with a reprofiled tailgate, LED headlights and taillights, and a new 19-inch alloy wheel style for higher grade versions. The Asaki grade gets adaptive LED headlights.
Speaking of lights, entry level Sport and Touring varieties still don’t get daytime running lights with the update, which is noticeably unusual on the road for any new car.
All-wheel-drive versions of the CX-8 now have the company’s Mi-Drive switchable driving modes allowing the driver to pick between Normal, Sport, Off-Road and a towing mode.
A revision of the suspension system with retuned springs and dampers completes the list of changes applied to the CX-8 for the 2023 update.
In true everything’s-included Mazda style, only special paint is optional at $795 and in all other cases, what you see is what you get.
Prior to the update, the Mazda CX-8 represented one of the better riding large SUVs on the market, but there was room for improvement in the areas of noise, vibration and harshness. However, with the 2023 update, the model has made significant progress with both.
Retuned suspension springs and dampers have not only smoothed the ride and prevented even some really nasty scarred Victorian roads intruding into the cabin serenity, but overall road roar has been reduced too.
As well, the 2.2-litre diesel four-cylinder was never one of the most vocal in the segment but it too has been taken down a decibel or two.
Pin the ‘updated pedal force characteristics’ accelerator (reads – new return spring) and the CX-8’s oiler engine makes only good sounds and is possibly the least clattery in class.
Despite its muted operation, its beefy 450Nm translates to excellent performance on the road, with strong acceleration and superb management of gears from the six-speed automatic transmission – despite the generally low number of ratios by today’s standards.
Opting for the naturally aspirated 2.5-litre petrol and front drive saves about $8000 and all grades are available in petrol except the diesel-only Asaki LE. While that is a significant sum of cash, the G25 does feel like a correspondingly lesser car.
The four-cylinder petrol has been calibrated for maximising torque and efficiency and objects to being revved, returning a thrashy nature and poor performance near the redline. At lower RPM, however, it is smooth and adequate.
Petrol power also sacrifices AWD and sends 140kW/252Nm to the front wheels exclusively, relegating it to the probably-won’t-tow bench. Its maximum rating is 1800kg versus 2000kg for the oiler G35.
Evaluating the new suspension’s effect on handling and road-holding is probably best left to a back-to-back comparison with the previous version, because the changes are too subtle to report in isolation.
Either way, the CX-8 is certainly not the sportiest large SUV, with its on-road manner very much focused on comfort.
Perhaps the only obvious enhancement of the range would be the introduction of Mazda’s excellent turbo 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder offer in the CX-9, but Mazda has confirmed it is not considering a version for later introduction.
With a switch to a 10.3-inch central screen and a 7.0-inch digital display for the driver, the CX-8’s cabin has been given a modernising lift.
The widescreen proportions of the dash-mounted display allow lots of information to be fitted in without dominating the interior or obscuring the view ahead.
While previous CX-8s had varying levels of smartphone mirroring, Mazda has fixed the updates and standard inclusions with all versions now offering Android Auto and Apple CarPlay wirelessly. Some older versions are also possible to update.
Our GT SP test car also has the newly included wireless device charging, banishing the need for cords in this particular cabin. Opt for the Touring Active and below and there are still USB-C sockets in the front row to keep the cabin feeling contemporary.
Top spec Asaki versions have a delightful cabin ambience with beautiful quality quilted nappa leather seats, but the Burgundy leather adorning the interior of our GT SP as standard contrasts very nicely with the exterior (optional) Rhodium White paint and black touches that are unique to the variant.
Front seats get a rethink for 2023, with the bolstering and padding redesigned for most support, says Mazda, and while the accommodation is firm and comfortable, it still suits slimmer frames best.
Second-row comfort is also excellent with headroom to match a CX-9 and, despite the slimmer waistline, there’s still a heap of shoulder and hip room. We also particularly like the massive rear doors that open 90 degrees for the ease of loading children and large objects, for example.
Rear-seat passengers take a step back in time with its strict USB-A socket fitment, but heating is offered in the outboard spots and seating does offer tilt-and-slide adjustment, which boosts comfort greatly.
If you’re really fond of your offspring, the range-topping Asaki LE has the ridiculously good pair of captain’s chairs in place of the three-seat bench, arriving for a $2600 premium over the Asaki.
Go another row back and you’ll find the CX-8’s defining feature. All versions, including the Asaki LE, have three rows of seating offering up to seven seats but packaged into the footprint of a mid-to-large-sized SUV.
There are more generous third rows to be found but the CX-8 does still offer a usable space for two. Our 190cm-tall reviewer managed to slot in with just about enough headroom and the same for knee room.
Back stall occupants also get their own USB each side in GT SP and above, while all versions get a small cup holder.
The only downside to the flexible seating arrangement is the impact on boot space. With all three rows of seating in place the remaining boot space is a fairly limited 209 litres.
It’s a little better using the bonus 33 litres of space under the removable boot floor, taking the total to 242L.
The figure with the third row folded makes better reading with up to 775 litres available.
Bonus points to the CX-8 for a steel space-saver spare in the boot, not a mobility kit or tyre hidden under the floor collecting grime.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Mazda CX-8 the full five star rating when it was introduced in 2018. As the model has not been significantly changed for the most recent update, ANCAP will not be retesting the 2023 version.
It retains the dual frontal airbags that support occupant’s chests in an impact along with the more advanced autonomous emergency braking which detects the most vulnerable road users.
The model also earned praise from the safety assessor for a very good adult occupant protection rating.
For 2023, Mazda’s Cruising and Traffic Support feature is added to the GT SP and upwards, adding adaptive cruise control to the higher-spec CX-8s, but Sport and Touring versions miss out.
Otherwise, safety inclusions remain the same as the original 2018, with blind spot monitoring, lane-keep assistance, rear-cross traffic alert, tyre pressure monitoring, traffic sign recognition and Isofix child seat anchors for two of the rear seats.
A reverse camera is standard on all variants but only the Asaki and LE, which get a 360-degree system.
Servicing costs vary depending on whether it’s the petrol or diesel CX-8 that’s being looked after. Over the course of five years, the G25 petrol will cost about $2165, while the G35 diesel is more expensive to maintain at $2438.
Unlike many brands, Mazda does not offer capped-price planned maintenance and those prices may change over the first five years.
Like all new Mazdas, the CX-8 is sold with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with roadside assistance for the same period.
Fuel consumption is claimed to be an average of 8.1 litres per 100km for the petrol, while the diesel is more frugal asking for just 6.0L/100km on the combined cycle.
From its diesel-only origins and just three variants back in 2018, the Mazda CX-8 has surprised many with its popularity … though not Mazda, it says, with the confidence to grow the range consistently over five years.
While the range-topping Asaki and LE versions are commendable for their level of equipment and premium appeal, it’s hard to justify the equally premium price to keep the kids happy, especially for the LE.
However, the middle of the range represents an excellent balance of standard equipment wrapped up in the same likeable and versatile package that’s common to the entire lineup.
With the absence of a turbo petrol, the excellent diesel is easily the pick and when paired with the GT SP smart-money grade, the CX-8 is a model that makes sense in the Mazda family. It’s not merely some confusing niche that’s wedged in between CX-5 and the forthcoming CX-60 or CX-80.
Add to that a fresh face and aesthetics that work far better with the model’s strange tall and narrow proportions and the CX-8 has evolved from an unusual amalgam model that stood out for the wrong reasons into a family car option that blends in perfectly.
At over $80,000 driveaway, does Mazda’s range-topping three-row SUV do enough to be considered in the premium SUV segment?
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