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New Mazda big, quiet and powerful

AAP logoAAP 11/10/2016 Peter Atkinson

High-flying Japanese brand Mazda's new flagship CX-9 that will be welcomed by families. © AAP Image High-flying Japanese brand Mazda's new flagship CX-9 that will be welcomed by families. "You're over the speed limit," said the female voice from beside me.

It took me by surprise, and not just because I didn't realise my speed had crept up so quickly.

My surprise was mainly because I was the only person in the vehicle at the time. This voice came from the car itself - Mazda's very impressive new seven-seat SUV, the CX-9.

Surely the ultimate family car. Not only can it swallow up seven passengers and their cargo - but it can actually nag....I mean, remind you that you're going too fast.

There really was no excuse, of course. My speed was, after all, being beamed into my field of vision by the clever head-up display that's also standard kit on upmarket models of this handsome new wagon.

Mazda calls these new safety technologies iACTIVESENSE - a clumsy name but an impressive array of safety equipment that's standard across the CX-9 range.

That package includes advanced blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a smart city-braking package that applies the brakes when it senses a potential collision.

An additional array of safety measures - including that speed warning alert plus lane-keeping assist and adaptive headlamps - comes in higher-spec models of Mazda's recently relaunched family machine.

Mazda tags it as an SUV but really, the CX-9, even in all-wheel-drive form, is not ever likely to be used for anything more challenging than a steep driveway. It's a family wagon - and a very good one at that.

In size and price, the CX-9 becomes the new flagship of the Mazda range - and it brings an appropriate level of style and sophistication to the task.

After all, flying the corporate flag for Japan's most progressive marque brings with it some heavy expectations. And to be honest, the CX-9 delivers in just about every department.

We drove the previous CX-9 a few years back and while it was more than adequate, there's no question this car has raised the bar across the spectrum.

Mechnically, it replaces the previous V6 with a more economical, but still powerful and responsive turbocharged four-cylinder. The 2.5-litre SkyACTIVE engine, found in normally-aspirated form elsewhere in the Mazda range, has been tuned to deliver 170 kilowatts and a useful 420Nm NM of torque in the CX-9. It's a combination that gives the big Mazda surprising responsiveness off the line and also for mid-range acceleration. The engine rarely seems laboured - although I must admit we didn't try it with all seats in use. But with five adults on board its performance remained sharp and zippy.

It drives through a six-speed automatic that's just as unobtrusive and smooth as the engine. Once criticised for the noise and harshness of its vehicles, Mazda has clearly made this a focus and the CX9 exemplifies that improvement.

It is remarkably quiet - particularly when hurtling down the highway - with the hush emphasised by the smooth, supple ride.

The CX-9 is available in four basic trim levels with a broad range of prices. The CX-9 Sport opens the batting at $42,490, the Touring follows at $48,990 - with a step up to the GT ($57,390) and flagship Azami ($59,390).

We drove the Azami in front-wheel-drive form - if you opt for the all-wheel-drive version you can add another $4000 to the price and apart from added all-weather grip, it's a spend you could do without.

Mazda's new safety technology package, called iACTIVESENSE, includes advanced blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a smart city-braking package that applies the brakes when it senses a potential collision. © AAP Image Mazda's new safety technology package, called iACTIVESENSE, includes advanced blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a smart city-braking package that applies the brakes when it senses a potential collision. The big Mazda is amply roomy for a full-sized family, with five seats in normal configuration and an additional two for emergency use - or for accommodating the smallest members of any family.

Putting those seats into action is a very simple, one-hand operation - accessed from beneath the shelter of the electric rear tailgate.

When they're in use there's probably enough remaining cargo space for the family's weekly grocery shop. When they're laid flat it becomes a very spacious cargo-carrier indeed.

While the previous CX-9 had a somewhat bulky look about it, this new model has developed a more athletic appearance, courtesy of Mazda's signature "Kodo" design language. Inside, too, the styling is impressive - right down to gorgeous touches such as the way the airconditioning vents on the dash ingeniously merge with the door trim. It just looks like they've put extra thought and extra effort into every aspect of this machine.

With its modest starting price and class-leading fuel-efficiency, the CX-9 will command the interest of any family craving oodles of space without surrendering all pretence of driving enjoyment. At the higher end of the price scale the added features, refinement and finish magnified those qualities.

It might even be enough to satisfy that little voice inside the cabin.

MAZDA CX-9 AZAMI

HOW BIG? Seriously so. While its external dimensions are disguised by its slinky lines, the cockpit feels airy and spacious. We had no trouble accommodating five adults and the two rear seats are ample for the smaller folk when required.

HOW FAST? It's not designed to be a sporty conveyance but we found the big Mazda pleasingly nimble and responsive. It will reach the speed limit in quick time and there's ample mid-range punch for overtaking.

HOW THIRSTY? It's lighter on the fuel than its predecessor, thanks to an efficient four-cylinder, turbocharged engine and six-speed auto. Mazda's i-Stop technology ensures no fuel is wasted while stationary - allowing a frugal average of 8.4L/100km (8.8L/100km for all-wheel-drive models).

HOW MUCH? Prices start from just over $40-grand for the most basic model, called the Sport. Our test machine, with all the bells and whistles, will set you back about $60k plus onroads.

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