At over $80,000 driveaway, does Mazda’s range-topping three-row SUV do enough to be considered in the premium SUV segment?
Since 2016, the CX-9 has represented the flagship model in Mazda’s portfolio, being offered in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive guises, at a range of specification levels.
At the very top of the range sits the CX-9 Azami LE, which starts from $81,941 driveaway in New South Wales.
Alongside the upcoming CX-60, and CX-80, the CX-90 (which starts at $74,385 before on-road costs before scaling upwards into six figures) will look to rival more upmarket SUVs such as the Audi Q7, Volvo XC90 and BMW X5.
So as a last hurrah for the CX-9 badge, does this Azami LE AWD pack enough luxury to justify its rather hefty price tag?
Mazda’s 2.5-litre turbo-petrol engine is standard across the entire CX-9 range. No matter whether buyers opt for the entry-level front-drive Sport or this range-topping AWD Azami LE, this engine produces 170kW of power and 420Nm of torque.
The six-speed automatic transmission that’s paired with this engine is also standard across the entire range.
It’s worth noting that all variants bar the range-topping Azami LE are front-wheel drive as standard, with an all-wheel drive system coming at a $4,000 premium.
As the entry-level model at $47,600 before on-road costs, standard kit on the CX-9 Sport includes 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and heated power mirrors.
On the inside, the CX-9 Sport gets a 7.0-inch infotainment screen with wired Apple Carplay/Android Auto, black cloth upholstery, tri-zone climate control, and a six-speaker audio system.
As for safety systems, everything is offered as standard across the CX-9 range, apart from front parking sensors, which aren’t included with the entry-level Sport.
Moving up to the $55,200 Touring model adds six-way power-adjustable heated seats for both the driver and passenger, leather seat trim, and a 9.0-inch infotainment screen.
Next in the range is the CX-9 GT, which starts from $64,700, and represents a big jump in luxury over the Touring model.
The GT gets 20-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, heated rear seats, a 10.25-inch infotainment display, wireless phone charging, a power tailgate and a Bose 12-speaker sound system.
As standard, the GT also gets a black leather interior, but Natural Stone leather is also on the table as a no-cost option here.
At just a $500 jump, the $65,200 GT SP is offered as a classier option to the GT with a more refined colour palette on offer.
Black wheels, a black grille, and black wheels make for a subtle exterior, and burgundy upholstery with red stitching lift the luxury factor on the inside.
At $67,900, the Azami represents the highest variant of the regular CX-9 range. On the outside it gets a titanium grille, adaptive LED headlights, and a large diameter tailpipe.
Walnut brown or white nappa leather are the upholstery options (both at no extra cost), and the seats get a ventilated function. Real wood panelling, a heated leather steering wheel, a 360 degree monitor round out the luxury inclusions here.
At $75,165 before on-road costs, the Azami LE on test here represents the range-topping CX-9 variant, and gets the highest level of specification.
Unlike the rest of the range, which is offered with seating for seven as standard, the Azami LE’s point of difference is in the second row, where you’ll find a pair of captains’ chairs.
These two individual seats, along with the second-row centre console, are the only changes on top of the regular Azami, but buyers will be forking out an extra $3250 for the LE’s premium seating configuration.
As for exterior colours, there are ten options available, with the Machine Grey, Polymetal Grey, and Soul Red Crystal metallic finishes coming at a $795 premium.
On the road, the CX-9 Azami LE offers an extremely refined drive, as is the theme with the rest of the car.
Though it’s powered by the 2.5-litre turbo-petrol engine, 170kW and 420Nm aren’t massive numbers by modern standards in the seven-seat SUV segment, and this is reflected in its performance.
Mazda doesn’t quote a 0-100km/h time for the CX-9, but independent testing across multiple outlets has it sitting in the seven-second range. At this time, it’s faster than most dual-cab utes, but is about one second off the electrically assisted Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.
Off the line, the torque from the turbocharged engine is effective in getting it up to speed, but it seems that the CX-9 loses a bit of puff further up the speedometer.
As standard, the Azami LE is all-wheel drive, but as is the case with a lot of Mazda all-wheel-drive vehicles, this system behaves in a strange way when searching for grip.
When given significant throttle off the line, I found that the CX-9 would struggle for grip at the front wheels, and somewhat torque steer as the rear wheels sparked into action.
As a whole, this system doesn’t instill the same level of confidence as other all-wheel-drive systems that act in a more symmetrical manner.
Though passing manoeuvres are possible on the open road, there’s not a massive sense of urgency with this engine and it can seem sluggish through the rev range.
Along the same line, at idle and cruising speed, the engine feels very refined, but it can become quite noisy when it is pushed. This isn’t to the degree that passengers will have to speak up to hear each other, but it somewhat defeats the refinement of the luxurious Mazda cabin.
The ride quality is impressive as a whole, but can be undone over questionable surfaces. At over $80,000 driveaway, this CX-9 is competing with SUVs that offer adaptive damping, such as the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace.
There isn’t a massive difference in ride comfort between the aforementioned SUVs and the CX-9, but I’m sure owners will notice some difference in the long run.
As the Azami rides on 20-inch wheels, which are the largest on offer for the model, it’s likely that opting for a model with the 19s will reduce some of the harshness that becomes present over sketchy surfaces.
As for the steering system, the CX-9 is very similar to most large SUVs on the market that seem to prioritise a light feeling over any real feedback. In saying this, there is a bit more weight to the CX-9’s system than most, but the lack of communication doesn’t inspire confidence.
In the corners, the CX-9 has a somewhat hatchback feeling to it, with quite a weighty front end that will turn in nicely, but it can suffer from some body roll at the rear end.
There’s no denying that the CX-9 Azami LE offers an impressive level of refinement on the road at cruising speeds. The engine is adequate, the cabin is well insulated, and the transmission is remarkably smooth.
Where the CX-9’s refinement begins to come undone is over rough road surfaces, where the small amount of tyre sidewall wrapped around the 20-inch wheels becomes apparent.
It’s a similar story for the engine, which has the tendency to feel out of its comfort zone, and in turn, becomes quite noisy up through the rev range.
Lavish is the word I use to describe the fit-out of the CX-9 Azami’s cabin.
The CX-9 that Chasing Cars tested was fitted with the optional white nappa leather interior, and it served to accentuate the luxury factor of the SUV.
Soft materials cover most surfaces around the cabin, contrasted with the wood-grain panelling and polished aluminum trimmings. Though this all might sound very early 2000s-esque, the Mazda seems to pull it off with a fresh, modern take.
The cabin is very traditional in its layout and can feel a little dated with its infotainment screen that is controlled by the buttons that are located behind the gear shifter. The lack of any touch controls on this screen also contributes to the dated feeling of the interior.
Speaking of tech, this infotainment screen measures 10.25-inches, and though it comes with satellite navigation, the Apple Carplay and Android Auto systems both still require a USB connection to work.
The screen is very high quality, but the Mazda operating system is dark and can be frustrating to use on the go when first using it.
One benefit of the non-touchscreen system is that the climate controls are completely separate, and make use of old-fashioned knobs and buttons.
The semi-digital cluster is one of the most interesting of its type in the industry, as it is split into three different gauges, replicating sports cars of old. Besides this, there’s nothing overly interesting about it, and most drivers will find themselves glancing at the head-up display more times than not.
As for comfort, the quilted nappa leather seats are some of the best of their type and are very supportive during long drives. The heating and ventilation systems are also an added bonus here.
Moving to the second row of the CX-9, and you find the main point of difference between the regular CX-9 Azami, and the Azami LE – the captain’s chairs.
Though these chairs look very luxurious, and are comfortable, the format lacks the outright accommodation flexibility of proper bench seating, and the lack of access between the seats somewhat ruins the practicality of the CX-9 for me.
In my eyes, the benefit of only having two chairs in the second row should mean that accessing the third row is made easier.
So you might not be able to commute between the chairs with ease, but there’s an abundance of space in this second row, with no shortage of leg and head leg on offer, even for the taller passengers.
While it might be enough for people, fitting a rearwards facing baby seat revealed that perhaps a bit more space would be nice as even with the rear chairs slid all the way back, the front passenger still needed to move forward.
The second row top tether could also be positioned a bit higher for connivence sake.
Between the two chairs sits a centre console that not only has a pair of cup holders and storage space, but also features the controls for the heated and ventilated seats – a big second bonus.
Tri-zone climate control comes as standard across the CX-9 range, meaning second-row passengers get both fan speed and temperature control.
As for cargo space, there are 230 litres on offer with all three rows of seats in place and 810 litres when the third row is folded.
Beneath the boot you’ll find a space saver spare tyre, and when fitted with a tow bar, the CX-9 is capable of hauling a braked capacity of up to two tonnes.
Mazda’s entire suite of advanced safety equipment comes standard across the CX-9 range, which includes adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and lane keep assist among other systems.
Like always, Mazda has nailed the tuning of these assistance systems for local roads, without jerky steering wheel movements and such that other systems can be susceptible to.
As for an official rating, ANCAP awarded the CX-9 five stars when the model was first introduced back in 2016. It’s worth noting that the results of this test are set to expire in December of this year.
As the test was completed so long ago, it doesn’t take into account the new criteria, which deducts points from vehicles for not having safety features such as rear autonomous emergency braking and a centre airbag between front row occupants.
If tested with this modern criteria, the CX-9 would lose points for not having either feature present.
By large SUV standards, the CX-9 is reasonably frugal, with Mazda Australia claiming an economy of 9.0L/100km on the combined testing cycle.
During testing, 9.0L/100km was the best that Chasing Cars saw, but when loaded up with passengers, this jumped to an average of 12.2L/100km.
Though this real-world figure is quite hefty, the fact that it only needs 91 octane to run makes it an easier pill to swallow.
On the service front, Mazda Australia offers a five-year plan that covers the CX-9 for up to five years, or 50,000km. An estimated overall price of $1982 is quoted on the brand’s website.
The CX-9 is also covered by Mazda Australia’s five year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.
As a whole, the Mazda CX-9 Azami LE is an extremely impressive SUV, but at over $80K on the road it isn’t exactly cheap either.
The driving dynamics are just as polished as what we’ve come to expect from modern Mazda vehicles, and the interior feels like it’s punching well above its price point.
The second row captain’s chairs are where I think the LE falls short of the regular Azami, and this also happens where buyers will have to fork out an extra $3250.
I’m of the mindset that captain’s chairs are more appropriate in something like a Kia Carnival, where the third row is still accessible, and has a decent amount of space for passengers.
As three-row SUVs are already somewhat compromised on the practicality front, other than bragging rights, I don’t think that these captains chairs are worth the jump in price over the regular Azami.
It’s also worth noting that Mazda has already said that the CX-9 will be put on run-out in 2023, with the last examples likely rolling out of dealerships in the fourth quarter of this year.
With this in mind, I’d be looking towards the upcoming CX-90, which is due to land in Australia in August of 2023 and offers updated infotainment plus turbocharged, straight-six petrol power.
Key specs (as tested)
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