Review: Mazda CX-9 Ignite Edition - When you need a Harrier with 7 seats

Shaun · Jun 13, 2022 09:00 AM

Review: Mazda CX-9 Ignite Edition - When you need a Harrier with 7 seats 01

For the better part of last month, yours truly was in the United States. Two things struck me when I was there; first is that everything there is just bigger – the people, food, cars, road, etc. – and secondly, did I mention everything is bigger?

It makes a Toyota Corolla feel like a Vios and the Yaris is practically a Kei car over there, which I believe it’s a contributing factor to the Yaris’ discontinuation in the US.

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Then it clicked, why cars like the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 are called ‘Compact SUVs’ or the Mazda CX-9 a ‘Mid-size SUV’. It’s just perspective. In the US, the Mazda CX-9 fits right in amongst the sea of Toyota Highlanders and Ford Explorers.

Also read: Priced from RM 319k in Malaysia, 2021 Mazda CX-9 adds wireless Apple CarPlay

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Here in Malaysia though, the Mazda CX-9 is massive and it’s priced at RM 319k. Badge snobs couldn’t have been quick enough to point out that you can get a BMW X3 or a Mercedes-Benz GLC for similar money. A fish out of water then, the Mazda CX-9? In some ways, yes, but it can also be a big fish in a small pond.

Exterior – Imposing, but not polarising

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Let’s put aside the fish analogies for now and take a brief look through the Mazda CX-9’s exterior. It’s almost 7 years since the CX-9’s world debut and it still looks rather fresh, which is quite a design feat considering it hasn’t had any major visual updates.

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It imbues the latest interpretation of Mazda’s Kodo design philosophy with the minimalist look. The fog lights, for example, are disguised within the slit at the lower section of the bumper, making do without the large housings. The bodywork is just a smooth sculpture with a few lines to add definition.

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The front grille is large but none has ever complained, because it’s a big grille done right. It’s not there for the sake of making a statement. Not that buyers of the CX-9 aren’t making a statement, they are actually, to badge snobs.

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But back to the exterior, this test unit has the Ignite Edition treatment as identified by the gloss black mirror, front grille, and wheels. Personally, I’m not sold on the gloss black treatment but it’s merely cosmetic.

Also read: 35 pics of the 2021 Mazda CX-9 Ignite Edition: New features and more, from RM 319k

Interior – Premium, but betrays its age

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What I am a fan of in the Ignite Edition package is the burgundy leather seats. It’s a fine line between tacky bright red seats and classy wine-like red seats, the CX-9 Ignite Edition’s interior belongs to the latter.

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Elsewhere, it’s business as usual for the CX-9, with top notch quality in terms of build and selection of materials. And yes, even at this circa RM 300k price point. 

You get this bank-vault feeling of solidity as soon as you shut the doors as it mutes exterior noises and everything feels superbly put together. Some say Mazda isn’t premium, but isn’t this a trait of a premium car?

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Anyway, it’s not all sunshine and roses inside. For one, it’s beginning to look slightly dated and the infotainment screen would be the biggest offender here. While it has been updated to a larger screen, it still runs on the old Mazda Connect system and the resolution is not that great.

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Speaking of resolution, the rear-view camera is as good as being smeared with Vaseline. Newer Mazdas like the 3 and CX-30 have improved the resolution tremendously, so it’s past due for a proper refresh. At least the infotainment system supports Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, that’s always a plus.

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The 12-speaker Bose sound system may appeal to bass heads, but for me there’s just way too much bass at default settings that muddies the rest of the frequency range. It’s also not as crisp as I would like.

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Second-row seats

In terms of space, there’s three tennis balls worth of kneeroom and a little more than one tennis ball of headroom in the second-row seats (at its rearmost position) for a 177 cm tall individual. 

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Third-row seats

In the third row, there’s two tennis balls of kneeroom with the second-row seats adjusted to 25 cm from the front seats, but headroom is limited. As is the norm for 7-seater SUVs, the third-row seats are better suited for children or the occasional short trips.

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230 litres of boot space with the third-row seats up.

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Fold them down and you'd get a 830-litre boot space.

Driving Experience – Large, but never cumbersome

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Unlike in the US, the CX-9 barely fits in a regular-sized parking lot in Malaysia and it is, by our standards, a huge car. But from behind the wheel, the CX-9 doesn’t feel as large or intimidating as its dimensions would suggest.

Partly because the seats are relatively high so you get a good view out and the extremities of the car are easy to judge. But also because it’s – for the lack of a better word – effortless to drive.

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Like every other Mazda, the controls such as the steering and pedals are expertly calibrated to give a natural driving experience. Squeeze the throttle and the engine responds without hesitation; turn the pleasingly-weighted steering wheel and the body responds intuitively to inputs; depress the brake pedal and it reacts progressively for a smooth stop.

Though some, like myself, would prefer the brakes to have a bit more bite in the initial pedal travel and firmness to add confidence. That being said, I would take this over grabby brakes any day.

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As cliched as it may sound, the 2.5-litre turbocharged engine feels more like a large-capacity naturally aspirated engine. Power delivery is linear and doesn’t punch you in the gut like the majority of turbocharged engines, especially from German makes. What you get is a strong wave of torque that makes overtaking a breeze.

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0-100 km/h is tested at 9.5 seconds, while the reverse take 47 metres.

The transmission keeps the engine on boil to maintain its effortless pulling power, exploiting the available performance. Shifts are smooth and well-timed, like all modern transmissions from Mazda.

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While it may not feel like its size, it does feel its weight in the corners. Body control is still excellent and you can place the car exactly where you want it on the road. And most drivers would run out of confidence before they run out of grip. For what it is, the CX-9 offers a pleasant steer.

Ride Comfort – Good, but it can be better

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If there’s one aspect Mazda needs to up its game on, it’s suspension. Just to be clear, the CX-9 isn’t terrible at all, it’s still comfortable in the grand scheme of things but it’s not quite up there with the best.

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Let me break it down. Its primary ride, over larger undulations or dips, is generally accomplished and keeps body movements to a minimum. The problem here is the secondary ride over the sharper stuff as there’s a tendency to translate the jiggles into the cabin.

At low speeds, it has a busier ride quality than what one would expect from a large SUV, though it gets better with speed. Is it a deal-breaker? Not really. But to dabble in the premium game, one needs the sophistication in ride quality to do so and I’ve yet to experience that in a Mazda.

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The front seats aren’t the cosiest but they provide ample side support and the sculpture feels natural to the body, while thigh support is decent.

The second-row seats also offer decent thigh support and has a decent range of recline adjustment to get comfortable. The third-row seats aren’t as comfortable due to a compromised seating position but that’s par for the course in a 7-seater SUV.

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In terms of noise isolation, the Mazda CX-9 is rather impressive. All sources of noise are superbly muffled, be it tyres, wind, or powertrain. Even at speeds, the cabin remains hushed.

Mazda CX-9 Cabin Noise Test
Idle, A/C on 48 dB
60 km/h 57 dB
90 km/h 61 dB
110 km/h 65 dB

Fuel Consumption

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After a 134.3 km trip broken down to around 60/40 highway and city driving, the Mazda CX-9 required 14.57 litres of fuel to be re-brimmed.

Working the numbers out, the Mazda CX-9’s fuel consumption is calculated at 10.8-litre/100 km.

Conclusion

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It’s quite obvious that the Mazda CX-9 is catered towards the North American market. It’s massive, good looking, well-built, upmarket, and offers a pleasant driving experience. But who does it appeal to in Malaysia?

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As you would have read in the title, think of the Mazda CX-9 as a 7-seater Toyota Harrier. Perhaps for those who want a Harrier but family requirement calls for more seats. But instead of compromising for an MPV, why not get a larger but just as upmarket 7-seater SUV?

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For that, there’s really not much of a choice in the Malaysian market, hence the small figurative pond. It’s this, the Mazda CX-9 or the Hyundai Palisade, which is even more expensive than the CX-9. I know which of these two large fishes in a small pond I’d pick.

Also read: Hyundai Palisade vs Mazda CX-9 – The fight for Malaysia’s best large SUV starts now

Shaun

Writer

The quest for automotive knowledge began as soon as the earliest memories. Various sources information, even questionable ones, have been explored including video games, television, magazines, or even internet forums. Still stuck in that rabbit hole.

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