The recently updated and expanded 2021 Mazda CX-8 range packs in a lot of metal, glass, rubber and more in its front-driven Sport petrol step-in point, a tenner under $40k list or, more realistically, a touch under $43k parked in your driveway.
That’s the simple, headlining pitch of a rather more complex proposition, but only if you’re inclined the consideration.
Complications? Well, Mazda does large (newer CX-8) and larger (more established CX-9) seven-seat SUV options and it’s reasonable to ask why.
Conceptually, they were different developments for different market tastes – Japan and USA, respectively – and simply speaking, the pair arrived in Australia (CX-9 first then CX-8) as essentially a choice of diesel and petrol alternatives. But…
Because more is more, the dimensionally slimmer if nearly as lengthy CX-8 range has now expanded and diversified to a newly revised 11-variant armada with a mix of diesel (eight) and petrol (three) flavours.
There’s a lot to consider, then, even before asking why you shouldn’t stump up for the wider if not necessarily longer, albeit more expensive choice in the CX-9. Even skimming the surface, you can see how complicated it gets.
Much easier to digest is taking the CX-8 Sport petrol the cheapest entry point of the lot on singular merit: what do you get for its enticing, if recently upwardly nudged, price?
And, perhaps judge whether or not it suits your particular family hauling needs given that, if not, there’s probably another Mazda seven-seater nearby that’s a little more glove fit.
What’s widely referred to as the Sport petrol FWD lists for $39,990 plus on-road costs though is, at the time of review, on nation wide drive-away offer for $42,990.
Frankly, the ‘FWD’ naming is unnecessary because the petrol iteration is front-driven only and the same Sport trim level with diesel is all-wheel drive only. That said, the oiler is offered further up the range in both front- and all-wheel-drive formats.
The change in powertrain format to oiler all-paw motivation hikes pricing substantially, to $46,990 list or, more tangibly, $49,990 drive-away. Want the next grade up in petrol power? The mid-range CX-8 Touring petrol FWD is a similar step up, to $46,780 list or $48,490 drive-away.
From here, the CX-8 range scales upwards through another ten different variations to the ultimate Asaki LE, a six-seater, that tops the nameplate out at $71,985 drive-away. Read our review of the flagship here.
As something of a missing (well, discovered) link between the mid-sized five-seat CX-5 and larger CX-9, one might be curious that the former dips in at just $31,190 list for the CX-5 Maxx 2.0 though you’d probably cross-shop our test subject against the Maxx Sport 2.5 ($39,490 list) if maximum size and seating count aren’t priorities.
Further, you need an extra six grand to step up from our CX-8 Sport to the CX-9 Sport FWD ($45,990 list).
It’s a long search through the large SUV segment to find alternatives with pricing starting with a three: Subaru Outback and LDV D90 to name two notable exceptions. Not much choice once you consider the seven-seat format outside of, say, the categorically smaller mid-sized Nissan X-Trail ST (from $34,245).
Colours? Interestingly, there’s a choice of five colours that include micas and pearls that can had at no cost, including the Deep Crystal Blue Mica of our test machine. There are three effects finishes in signature Soul Red, Machine Grey and Polymetal Grey that each command a $495 premium.
The real test of the CX-8 Sport’s mettle is what is does and doesn’t fit for what is clearly a very sharp price for an awful lot of vehicle.
Outside, the Sport gets 17-inch alloys wheels with large-profile 65-series rubber, LED lighting front and rear with auto headlights, rear parking sensors, heated and power-folding mirrors, along with rain-sensing wipers. There’s nothing barrel-scraping about any of this equipment at all.
Inside, the Sport gets the expected cloth seat trim with manual adjustment but it’s augmented with quality fitment such as three-zone climate control, one-touch power windows, a head-up display, keyless go, an auto-dimming mirror and leather trimming for the wheel and transmission selector.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system has a lockout feature on the move though augments control with a console-mounted control array. Other content includes a reversing camera, proprietary sat-nav, DAB+ radio, six-speaker audio as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring.
It is, on balance, an exceptionally well-rounded equipment list for the money asked with some real delights in some areas. You can add extras such as front parking sensors but, at $800, it’s debatable whether they’re pragmatic additions when chasing maximum bang for your buck in the entry Sport.
Is the six-grand step to the Touring worth the dividend of electric and heated seating with leather trim, plus front parking sensors as the headlining upgrades? That’s highly debatable.
The entire CX-8 has an ANCAP safety rating of five stars from a 2018 assessment.
It scored 96 and 87 per cent respectively for adult and child occupant protection, with 72 per cent for vulnerable road user and 73 per cent for safety assistance.
Features include high-speed radar-based forward autonomous emergency braking (plus adaptive cruise control) and reversing AEB as well as forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, active lane keeping, emergency brake assist, rear cross traffic alert, tyre pressure monitoring and traffic light recognition smarts.
Airbag coverage extends through front, front side and two-row curtain coverage. There are two ISOFIX anchor points and five top tether points across seating rows two and three.
What initially strikes as a fairly austere cabin design cut from less than contemporary cloth quickly reveals itself as a solid, well-thought-out layout with lots of quality in a good many right places.
For instance, that shiny fabric used for the seat trim is much softer and comfier than you expect, the sporty contours tempered nicely with padding that’s both pliant and supportive.
And while the frosted silver and piano black highlight effect is overtly premium-by-the-numbers, Mazda uses just enough of it in the right places to lift the airy presentation nicely indeed. That the entire dash top, instrument binnacle, console surround and door tops above the arm rests are properly trimmed and double-stitched is above the call of duty for a seven-seater asking for the outlay it does.
The sense of considerable size is exacerbated by two things: how low the front seating is positioned against the high dash top; and the incredibly thick, vision-obscuring A-pillars.
At once, it brings a bank vault vibe that’ll please some buyers, if to the slight detriment of outward visibility. It’s tough to see past those pillars or judge the leading edge of the bonnet, which is crucial in a big unit with no front parking sensors.
The logical layout offers clear and intuitive controls with considered features such as rubber matted or carpeted cubbies, captive cup-holders and dual USB ports in the large console bin to remove phone cabling from the console top.
Speaking of which, Mazda has maintained its rotary-style infotainment controller – complete with handy volume dial – as the older style 8.0-inch MZD Connect format it supports locks out touchscreen control while the CX-8 is on the move.
Row two is, for the most part, excellent. The dedicated third-zone climate control array is a fantastic inclusion you rarely find outside of big-dollar high-spec SUVs and the slide and tilt adjustment of the second-row bench offers exceptional roominess by any measure set in the rear-most positions.
The bench’s high set base means that smaller kids are afforded fine forward and outward visibility, the latter aided by a nice low side window line. There are no exposed rear USB outlets, though to an extent the dual ports in the centre console can be used by rear passengers at a pinch by running cables rearward.
Access to row three with second row seating jammed forward is decent enough and, unsurprisingly perhaps, the accommodation up the back is best suited to younger passengers, if mostly because the ceiling slope impacts outright headroom.
Allowing enough legroom in rows two and three is a bit of a balancing act set row two correctly, but it’s certainly functional enough even if there are no air vents out back. The tiny triangular windows also add a sense of claustrophobia. You do, though, get cup-holders and handy storage cubbies.
Row three stows impressively well, offering an effectively flat load space than converts bootspace from a useable 209 litres (or 242L if you include underfloor space around the space saver spare) to a fulsome 775L measured to the ceiling.
Row three can also split 50:50 so that one side can still function for seating while allowing load through for lengthy objects.
Thoughtful, practical and comfortable, the CX-8’s approach to interior packaging and friendliness is certainly one of the SUV’s biggest strengths.
Propelling the mass (1799kg kerb) and masses aboard is Mazda’s naturally-aspirated and direct-injected petrol 2.5-litre four-cylinder, producing 140kW at 6000rpm and 252Nm at a high 4000rpm. It’s a Euro 5-compliant unit that happily runs on regular 91RON (or E10) despite its high 13.0:1 compression ratio.
For the curious, the pricier 2.2L twin-turbo diesel alternative outputs the same peak power figure if with a far superior 450Nm. All CX-8s fit a six-speed conventional automatic transmission.
Consumption? The combined-cycle ADR figure is an 8.1L/100km claim, fluctuating between 9.7L for urban and a thrifty 7.2L for the extra urban experience. It fits a large 72-litre tank.
On test, in the Sydney metropolitan with a fair balance of urban and highway driving, the Sport petrol returned solid and expected returns in the eights and nines.
Elsewhere underneath, the CX-8 Sport and unusual braking combination that fits slightly smaller disc front (320mm) than rear (325mm) and parks its mass over strut front and multilink rear suspension.
Its turning circle is a fairly leisurely 11.6m, not unexpected in the device that stretches 4.9 metres in length.
Braked towing is a decent 1800kg braked or 750kg unbraked and Mazda offers a factory tow kit as an accessory for $1395.
Hit the road and, as in many areas, the CX-8 Sport finds itself delivering to a higher level than you might reasonably expect it to. It’s not exactly remarkable or memorable, per se, but there’s a real quality and resolve in execution to much of its on-road demeanour.
The engine is beaut, with crisp response and enough verve in its manner to get the CX-8 moving briskly with consume dignity. In normal drive mode, it’s quiet and smooth, rarely needing to swing the techno needle to 4000rpm to ply maximum tractive effort.
Sure, there’s Sport mode at a touch of a console switch, but with the sheen of added pep comes a gruffer engine note and a bit too much enthusiasm in the six-speeder’s habit of holding ratios and, frankly, it’s all a bit unnecessary for the balance of normal driving.
Driven with measure, the CX-8 is impressively refined and quiet, bolstered by a genuine sense of solidity and the absence of wind or ambient noise. There’s not much that’s cost-conscious about the manner in which it conducts itself on road, whether you’re tooling about the ‘burbs or stretching its legs on the open road.
There’s a slightly keen sportiness to the underpinnings that, dynamically, makes the CX-8 seem lighter on its rubber and more chuckable than a unit this large ought to be.
However, the trade-off is it’s not the softest riding SUV on the block, despite those achingly large-profile 65-series tyres. The firmness becomes apparent across speed bumps and both axles return noticeable clunks if you negotiate humps with a little too much enthusiasm.
Downsides? None really. The front collision warning system can pick up stationary object off line of the CX-8’s trajectory, if only occasionally. And the speed recognition warning in the head-up display is less than completely accurate, as seems to be the case with every single system currently available on the market.
If anything, it’s a little tough to judge when parking: those thick A-pillars; the low seating and disappearing bonnet line; the lack of front parking sensors and the average rear camera system. Working to its favour, though, is that the CX-8 is narrow enough in body width to thread tighter parking spaces quite comfortably.
All up, a nice package that’s quite friendly for all aboard, that’s easy to drive, and comes across with more premium polish than a cut-priced SUV ought to.
The Mazda CX-8 is covered by a decent five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Servicing intervals are a typical 12 months if capped at a short 10,000km per visit.
Capped-price servicing for petrol front-driven CX-8s such as our Sport range between $337 and $367 per visit, totalling $1745 for the first five visits.
Mazda’s two-pronged approach to large SUVs in CX-8 and CX-9 might bamboozle buyers with all manner of choice, but what’s immeasurably clearer is that the most affordable access point to all of it is definitely worth consideration whether you’re on a tight budget or not.
There are a good many areas where CX-8 Sport could get away with cutting corners at this price point, but instead it impresses handsomely and, on occasion, over-delivers.
The package is a good one at its core, clearly a by-product of concerted development, and it seems its core goodness hasn’t been diluted specified down to a hugely palatable ask.
Sure, it’s not the prettiest belle at the SUV ball, but that’s neither here nor there for a good many family hauler tyre-kickers. Indeed, there’s a slew of Mazda-branded alternatives if vanity matters. But the CX-8 is otherwise a tough thing to fault and comes highly recommended.
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