A FAST ’N’ FURIOUS FACE-OFF
A standout performance in October’s seven-seater megatest suggested it has the stuff to hunt upmarket. On cost, this should be a walkover – at $63,390, the top-spec CX-9 is nearly $30K cheaper than BMW’s least costly X5 and has plenty over it in the active safety department, as well as seat heaters, powered sunroof and head-up display. 17/20 Lively in the base front-drive CX-9, Mazda’s 2.5-litre turbo-petrol four loses a bit of urgency in the almost two-tonne Azami. It would be a ripper of a donk in a smaller MPS model, with its hearty 420Nm from 2000rpm and zesty 170kW (186kW on 98 RON). Economical for a petrol, both official (8.8L/100km) and real-world. 15/20 If each new generation of SUV is a step away from the unwieldy lumps once endured, the CX-9 is a quantum leap.
Its electrically assisted power steering is slick, with a terrific sense of connection, allied to a chassis (strut front, multilink rear) with the poise, adjustability and control to engage you to the point of forgetting the baby’s on board. 16/20 Slick new CX-9 interior marks a big step up, aligning it with its siblings and helping it take the fight to Europe. A class act in top-spec, it has the X5 firmly in sight. Second row flips easily to allow access to accommodating third row.
Boot space behind it is small at 230 litres; increases to 810L with the kids’ 50/50 split/fold seats down. 16/20 Big 20-inch wheels fail to diminish the CX-9’s fundamental comfort. It has a supple primary ride and remains planted on all but the patchiest surfaces; it helps that 50-profile amounts to a chunky sidewall when you’re rolling on 255s.
CX-9 has a lot more sound-deadening than its predecessor; the things you don’t hear speak volumes. 17/20 81/100
Euros like this don’t cost more because they have more gear; the premise is that they’re fundamentally better cars.
The base AWD X5 ($91,155) does have some equipment aces, though, including eight airbags (up two), brilliant voicecontrolled infotainment system with internet, an iDrive controller and fantastic top-down camera view. 14/20 Potent 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four teams slickly with polished eight-speed auto to give enviable performance and economy.
Out-torques the Mazda, with 500Nm, while using much less fuel (5.3L/100km) and matches its grunt, if not enthusiasm.
No paddles (standard in the Mazda) but at least the gear lever’s manual plane is oriented the right way. 16/20 The X5 has a crisp, connected backroad demeanour. It may not be the first car you’d choose for it, but if you found yourself on a country road in the BMW SUV, it’s capable of entertaining, thanks to well-contained roll and precise, incisive steering. It’s kart-like to the CX-9’s fluency, if you can say that about an SUV. Which, probably, you can’t. 16/20 Highly functional cabin offers ample space, storage and intuitive controls. There’s officially 650L of luggage room behind the 40/20/40 second row; BMW doesn’t quote a figure behind the third row, as it’s an option (they’re a bit cramped, and mean you lose the spare wheel, but bring additional aircon outlets). Love the two-part tailgate. 16/20 Run-flat tyres are far enough along the evolutionary process that they no longer destroy ride quality, and the X5 is on relatively modest 255/55R18s. Still, there’s something in the big wagon’s chassis tune – likely the focus on sportiness, which pays off elsewhere – that makes it a bit busier than we’d like on really bad roads. 16/20 78/100
The Mazda CX-9 started out on the front foot by being tens of thousands less costly than its entry-level Euro rival. Yet it’s better equipped than the base BMW X5, in term of both active safety and convenience features. The brands have identical warranties (three-year/unlimited km) and their three-year retained value figures are similar. However, the BMW with its condition-based servicing system has the ability to go beyond the Mazda’s 12-month service interval. They’re both sporty steers for SUVs, with plenty of oomph, but different flavours; the BMW is more economical, the Mazda more visceral. But as a family bus, the suppler ride and superior (and standard) third row do count for as much as the cash saved, so chalk up another win for the CX-9.