WE’RE now two years into the second-gen CX-9’s tenure and already talking about update number two. On face value that smacks of a car company trying desperately to make an uncompetitive car more appealing, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The COTY-winning CX-9 was the best large SUV on the market when it launched, and Mazda’s internal drive to make it an even stronger proposition is only making it harder for rivals to catch up. The existing range has had the material quality to make buyers of premium SUVs think hard about the value of a badge, and now there’s an even ritzier CX-9 rangetopper on offer.
FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE
Model 2019 Mazda CX-9 Azami
LE AWD Engine 2488cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v,
turbo Max power 170kW @ 5000rpm
Max torque 420Nm @ 2000rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
0-100km/h 8.0sec (estimated)
On sale Now
Overall refinement; ride comfort; family friendliness; turbo torque LE’s brown dash won’t appeal to everybody; still no third-row vents
Dubbed Azami LE (for Luxury Edition) the new flagship variant, priced at $66,490, stretches the CX-9 range to five and elevates the star seven-seater’s upmarket feel even further. It sports hand stitched Nappa leather upholstery in brown with black detailing, genuine timber inserts applied to the shifter surround and door trims, matching steering wheel stitching and ambient lighting for a $1500 premium. Look closely and the treatment can appear a little patchy – hard lower dash plastics are never too far from the high-end tinsel – but overall the LE does what it sets out to do.
Power comes from an unchanged and strong 2.5litre turbo petrol four-cylinder, producing 170kW and 420Nm. One engine across the board is good, as it means there’s no major penalty when shopping at the low end of the range. Sport, Touring, GT and regular Azami variants are available in either FWD, or AWD for an additional $4000. The LE is exclusively all-wheel drive.
Engineering advances for this update include thicker headlining to further reduce noise in the already quiet cabin, and adjustments to steering hardware that correct the sometimes unnatural feeling early cars had, while honing off-centre response. Subtle suspension tweaks aimed at increasing stability and comfort were difficult to assess in isolation, but the CX-9’s progress remains smooth over mixed surfaces including gravel, even on 20-inch wheels and tyres.
Mazda has put together an extremely convincing model line-up with the CX-9. Virtually every variant has something going for it, meaning shoppers can simply set a budget and buy accordingly. A flagship version that verges on $70K won’t appeal to every CX-9 buyer, but in the context of posh alternatives from European brands, with which it competes on spec and challenges for refinement, the Azami LE doesn’t seem unreasonable. The only thing holding it back in that fight is good old badge snobbery.
Improvements to CX-9’s equipment levels are intended to offset price rises. The base model Sport is now $44,990 (up $1100), but Mazda has added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to all variants, addressing one of the few things the model tripped up on previously. Sport now has a head-up display standard, while both Azami grades receive ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, a 360-degree camera, a windscreen de-icer and the Mazda 6’s instrument panel with a 7.0-inch LCD screen built in.