REVIEW: Mazda’s new seven-seat SUV chases luxury buyers
Pitched as a Goldilocks solution for growing families, the CX-8 sits between its popular five-seat CX-5 and much larger seven-seat CX-9 cousins. Comparatively long and narrow, it borrows from both and is the only way to get a seven-seat Mazda with a diesel engine - the CX-9 is petrol-only. A mild update in March, just nine months after it arrived, added smartphone connectivity to the infotainment that already had satnav and a reversing camera. There were revised aircon controls and a new dark finish on the alloy wheels. The range-topping Azaki tested here also benefits from a seven-inch digital dashboard readout, shared with the new Mazda3. The changes add $1100, taking the Azaki to $62,590 plus on-road costs (about $68,000 drive-away). The high-riding wagon has a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and service intervals of 12 months/10,000km, capped with annual average of $354 for the first five years.
Fruit of Mazda's premium push is everywhere you look in the Azaki, which adds ventilation to the leather-trimmed and heated seats and ambient lighting. As standard kit, there are genuine wood inlays, powered memory seat adjustment and head-up display. The 10-speaker Bose audio has plenty of grunt, and continuous improvement in reducing intrusion of road noise means you don't have to crank it up to 11. It's a comfortable place, with supportive seats and thoughtful additions such as smart keys, power tailgate and a drop-down centre armrest with twin USB outlets. Second-row occupants get their own aircon vents and controls but those in the third row miss out.
Curtain airbags cover all three rows (which isn't always the case) and there are comprehensive driver aids. Every CX-8 gets autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, plus active cruise control and blind spot and lane keeping assistance. It's strong enough to earn five stars in ANCAP crash tests.
Built for those who find the CX-9 intimidatingly wide, the CX-8 is effectively a stretched CX-5 with a diesel up front and an extra row of seats dropped into its larger backside. If that sounds like a less-than-dynamic recipe, you're on the money. Smaller and larger SUVs in the range feel more cohesive and sweeter to drive - extra weight (about 200kg) in its comparatively tall and narrow body doesn't help the CX-8 when going, stopping or turning. The 19-inch wheels of our test model accentuate bumps, too. The cabin is a premium place but the driving experience isn't Mazda's best. On a positive note, the sweet and efficient diesel is helped by Mazda's excellent six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive in the Azaki endows superior traction.
Skoda Kodiaq Sportline, from $52,990 plus on-roads
Smaller than the CX-8 but able to accommodate seven, the Kodiaq is brimming with Skoda's "simply clever" attention to detail.
Ford Endura ST-Line, from $57,990 plus on-roads
Want a diesel that's better to drive? Ford's five-seat Endura may be worth a look, though the cabin isn't as polished as the Azaki's.
Mazda CX-9 GT, from $64,620 plus on-roads
The CX-9 should be the default pick for Mazda customers who want a seven-seater. If you can afford the higher (petrol) fuel bills and can handle its size, the CX-9 is the one to get.
Well-equipped, efficient and spacious, the CX-8 is a sensible compromise for growing families.
Mazda CX-8 Azaki
Price: From $62,590 plus on-roads
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, active cruise control, active cruise control, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert.
Engine: 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 140kW/450Nm