CX-8 newcomer gives Mazda's SUV range shot in arm

30 November 2018
Bob Nettleton | Oamaru Mail, Oamaru Otago

Mazda has added even greater depth to its already appealing range of SUVs with the arrival of the CX8 that slots neatly between the popular mid-sized CX5 and full-sized CX9.

The newcomer to the Mazda SUV family shows the importance of a wide model range when it comes to making real sales headway in this lucrative and rapidly growing market. However, carmakers have to be careful they do not spread themselves too thinly, and that they are targeting the right buyers, as there is no margin for error in a market packed with strong rivals.

Mazda's SUV range gets a shot in the arm with the first CX-8, a model the company is counting on to take its SUV sales to the next level. This vehicle is essentially a slightly shorter version of the CX9 and with much less girth. In several markets, especially Japan, the CX9 is too much of a good thing with its size and bulk. The CX8 is a more condensed version of this model, and offers the same popular styling and practicality.

This seven-seat SUV continues Mazda's less-is-more design philosophy and, in our market, targets buyers wanting something bigger than the CX-5 but a smidgen smaller than the flagship CX-9.

Pricing for the CX-8 starts at $53,495 for the GSX (2WD) and climbs to $62,495 for the Limited (AWD) that made its way into my hands for this road test.

Sandwiched between this pair is an AWD version of the GSX that retails for $55,995. A value add is mazdacare, a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, plus three years or 100,000km of free servicing. That is a deal that will seriously cut running costs over the first five years of the vehicle's life.

While its big brother, the CX9, is propelled by a 2.5-litre turbo petrol, the CX8 takes a different power path, deploying the latest version of Mazda's SKYACTIV-D 2.2L turbo diesel.

The new engine muscles up with 450Nm of torque and peak power of 140kW, with improved fuel economy and lower emissions. It features some clever technology, namely a new combustion process called Rapid Multi-Stage Combustion, which has lifted peak torque by 30Nm and maximum power by llkW. What is really noticeable is the marked reduction in engine noise, especially in low speed urban driving. The new process involves multiple injections of fuel in quick succession, which generate a continuous burn with a shorter combustion period.

In real-world driving, and let's face it that's what really counts, this high-energy turbo diesel feels more than the equal of the 2.5-litre turbo petrol found in the larger CX9.

Low-speed throttle response and pulling power is excellent.

The engine's 450Nm of torque really gives things a nudge when it comes out to play from well under 2000rpm. The CX8 is a fairly hefty 7-seat SUV, but this outstanding turbo diesel makes light work of hauling it around, and does so with genuine verve, and shows plenty of stamina on long uphill climbs under load.

The same well-proven sixspeed automatic used across many of the company's catalogue is smooth and serves the engine as well, and in some cases better, than some competitors with eight and nine-speed autos.

Mazda designers have developed an enviable reputation for creating roomy cabins that are big on comfort.

Passengers are pampered by a three-zone, climate-control, air-conditioning system, with a separate control for the rear of the cabin and vents below the second row for refreshing thirdrow passengers. Adding a touch of class is Nappa leather and real wood trim.

There's a clean, uncluttered look and feel about the instrument design and layout that incorporates Mazda Connect infotainment system and driver-assist technologies.

There's plenty of storage throughout the cabin as well as four USB ports, essential for those Kiwi roadies to visit friends or family. Getting in and out of the rear cabin is easy thanks to a wide door that opens to 80deg. The design of the second row of seating means it's not a problem for children to use, and find their way to the third row of seating.

On cold mornings, owners will warm to the Limited's heated steering wheel, while a grunty 10-speaker Bose premium audio system will strike a positive chord with music lovers. A long rear-door window sunshade offers sun protection for back rear seat passengers. Other notable features include active driving head-up display, automatic powerfold exterior mirrors and vehicle-speed sensing door locks.

There is an impressive suite of safety technology on offer including blind spot sweeping curves and tight corners, and testament to the well-organised and thoughtfully tuned suspension. All-wheel drive adds even more degrees of grip that owners will appreciate when traversing our demanding roads and driving in our equally challenging weather.

Communicative and nicely weighted steering is a plus and confirms for me the CX8's status as one the better riding and handling SUVs in its class, and class is something this vehicle exudes on most fronts.

monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and smart city brake support. Smart city brake provides an additional margin of safety in busy urban driving.

I also liked the Mazda radar cruise control that through the smart application of technology automatically ensures a safe distance between your vehicle and the one in front.

Mazda produces some of the best handling mainstream vehicles on the market and leading the way are the likes of the magical MX5 coupe and thoroughly competent Mazda 6 and Mazda 3. Much of this handling DNA is evident in the CX8. For a big vehicle, body roll like the CX9, is neatly contained if you crank up the pace through Mazda CX8 Rating out of 10 Performance: 7 Handling: 7 Build quality: 7 Comfort: 6 7 Space: Styling: 7 Fuel economy: Rightcar website rating 5.7L/100km, on road test average consumption 6.9L/100km Value for money: 6 Safety: ANCAP crash Five Star Overall points out of 10: 7

BT-50 commercialcare disclaimer

** is also available to new BT-50 owners where every scheduled service completed by Mazda specialist technicians for a 3 year/100,000km term (whichever wherever occurs first) will cost no more than $200 (incl. GST) per service for models built after 1 November 2012. *** 3,350kg applies to earlier models.

* whichever occurs first