After spending a couple of weeks behind the wheel, it’s time to detail my thoughts and let you know if the marketing matches the reality in a full review.
People movers don’t have to be boring
This red is stunning, like turn your head stunning. When you stop for a second and look at all the other red cars on the road, this stands out as the most vibrant of them all, as if this came not from the production line, but from the custom paint booth of House of Kolor.
The exterior body is smooth, as to be aerodynamically efficient to assist in the economy goals of the vehicle. While it doesn’t have the same slickness of the Mazda 6, for an SUV, it’s pretty good. It’s also fun to take a glance in your side mirrors from time to time to see the big hips in the rear vision, the last vehicle I noticed this on was the Mustang. It’s not a functional thing so much, but a vehicle’s design is often much about the way a car makes you feel and getting in and out of the CX8 for a couple of weeks, it makes you feel happy to be driving it.
There’s a nice combination of materials and finishes on the exterior that come together in a cohesive way to make it feel like a package developed from a single vision. While this should be the way all vehicles leave the factory, far too often we see pieces that don’t make sense together, thankfully design by committee isn’t on show here. The paint next to chrome finishes, accented by matte black plastic lips front and back, as well as wheel arch surrounds works for me, it’s a great looking vehicle.
When you jump inside, you’ll notice the car has a luxurious stitched leather interior and the chrome surrounds continue inside. While the exterior paint colour isn’t referenced inside, the interior offers a very comfortable experience for the driver and your passengers. The center consoles seem to be a constant source of discussion and like the Honda CRV, the CX8’s console between the front seats won’t be to everyone’s liking. It’s main function is to provide access to the shifter to control the 6-speed automatic gearbox, as well as the control surface for the infotainment center. The arm resets have an interesting open from the center hinge design, it’s different, but importantly it lets the USB cords run out the front to your devices easily.
Speaking of devices, with larger phone now being commonplace, I definitely wish the storage bay ahead of the shifter was larger to accommodate phones like my Huawei Mate 20 Pro. One touch I really enjoyed was the decision to delete the old cigarette lighter port from the driver. Smartly it’s now tucked away next to the front passenger’s right leg, so if they have a 12V to laptop charger to get work done on the road, it’s in the perfect spot.
The rear seats have the familiar 60/40 split and slide forward as well as fold down to provide easy access to the third row. There’s drink holders, speakers and cooling vents, so passengers in the rear aren’t second class citizens. If your SUV is full more often than not, it’s touches like this that’ll really make the difference. Whether its the kids getting in and out of the rear-most seats, or accessing a baby in a car seat, the rear doors open to our 85 degrees, making access easier than your standard vehicle.
The tech that has your back
MZD Connect is still the infotainment system installed on this Mazda CX8. This system is the same interface that has been in Mazda vehicles since 2013. It features a small (by today’s standards) touchscreen, which is only touch-enabled when the vehicle is stopped. Mazda expects you’ll interact with it, via the control dial and buttons with your left hand.
As our vehicle had a construction date of May this year, it unfortunately didn’t have the recently announced Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support. Like many, Mazda put up the white flag and accepted their fate that vehicle manufacturers can’t keep up with the pace of innovation in smartphones.
While some auto makers have run to support the mobile platforms, now required in the spec sheet for many potential buyers to even consider a vehicle, Mazda have moved slowly. Agreeing to include support for Android Auto and Apply CarPlay in vehicles made after a certain date, they do offer an upgrade path for existing owners, but they’ll charge you almost $500 for the privilege. Mazda really need to make this free, particularly if they want to retain customers when they buy their next vehicle.
The reason MZD connect is bad is its inability to leverage modern data sources for maps and navigation and the voice assistant used to interact with it, also not even close to today’s standard. The first time I tried to navigate home (keen to use the heads-up display), it wanted to drive me 14km through a 60km/hr zone, rather than what Google Maps did, which is to navigate me 2 blocks in the opposite direction to the freeway to get me home faster. Google provided live traffic data, while the car could not. For the rest of the trip I used Google Maps.
Another time I attempted to enter an address using voice. I couldn’t simply say ‘Navigate to Wodonga’, the voice assistant required information to be provided in an arbitrary sequence, one of the biggest advances we’ve made in recent years. There’s really no way to justify the requirement for a full address, rather than allowing drivers to navigate to a town or city.
The Maps themselves are generally terrible in terms of design with graphics appearing poor in quality, many curves rendering as angled lines and the colours are simply unappealing. The whole experience just had me wanting Android Auto with Google Maps or Waze.
One of the features I like most about driving new cars is the proximity unlock and walk away locking. This feels a little like magic (even if the technology is pretty simple) and is something I really miss when using a car that doesn’t have it. It’s definitely an example of a first world problem, but it’s like automatic headlights and wipers for me, we have the technology to help us securing a vehicle so lets use it. Thankfully the CX8’s works great and delivers that ‘my car knows who I am’ experience.
Reversing cameras are pretty much standard in new cars today, but how they’re implemented differs greatly between models and manufacturers. Mazda have opted for the simulated top-down view of your vehicle, providing a 360 look at the environment around you. The distance the cameras see is very short, something I hope gets improved in future models.
One of the nicer touches in Mazda’s implementation of the 360 View Monitor is the ability to get it when driving forward, as well as backwards, like when you’re pulling into your garage and need to ensure you don’t hit items in front, back have enough space behind to close the garage door. This works, but it did highlight an issue. The quality of the camera footage is pretty terrible, it lacks the required detail to accurately determine your proximity to items close to your car, which is essentially the whole point. Sure it’ll help you park between the white lines in a carpark, but using the cameras for much more than that was a stretch.
There’s plenty of other standard features when it comes to technology like push-button start,blind spot monitoring, driver attention alerts, emergency brake assist, forward collision warnings, cross traffic alerts when reversing, lane departure warning and a lane-keep assist system. These assist the driver and the driving experience to comfortable and safe.
The current state of vehicles, at least ones at this price point is that there’s a huge variance in their ability to use the cameras and sensors around the vehicle to keep you between the white lines on the road. Lane keeping assist for the most part means the system watches your trajectory and when you approach the line on either the left or right, it’ll help steer you away from that edge of the lane. This often has the effect of ping ponging you down the freeway and doesn’t let you ever relax. What the upper market vehicles are offering is lane centering. This tracks the two white lines that indicate the lane width, then measure the distance between the two lines and ensure your car follows an imaginary middle line. This gives the driver confidence they have plenty of room as cars and obstacles pass by on either side. As long as the system can have confidence about the line detection (or edge detection in the case of an unmarked edge), then it’ll keep you on track, as if the car was almost on rails.
Unfortunately the Mazda is definitely much more in the Ping Pong camp, than the on-rails camp. It’s a reflection of the technology and price point in 2018. What is almost certain is that lane keeping assists will be replaced by lane centering technology in the coming years, so if you plan on buying and keeping the CX8 for years to come, be aware, this tech will likely never arrive on your vehicle. It’s theoretically possible to upgrade these vehicles, especially given this one has the ability to connect to WiFi, but other than Tesla, software updates that modify elements the vehicle control system, are almost non-existent from automakers.
In term of audio, our top model included the Premium Bose 273 watt amplifier and 10 speakers, complete with bluetooth hands-free phone and music which I mostly used to control podcasts via the controls on the steering wheel. To be honest, even when streaming high-quality music on Spotify, I really wasn’t impressed by the audio quality inside the vehicle. Mazda have done a great job of deadening the sound inside which makes conversations easy, but I never found a configuration that’d sell vehicles.
Diesel performance and economy
The 74L tank will deliver you around 800km of driving range. The rated consumption rate is 6L/100, while the best I could manage was 6.7L, but maybe I have a heavy foot. When you do put your foot down, I was impressed by the power available under your right foot. The 140kW 2.2L twin turbo charged engine powered the 1,957kg SUV with vigour. This power acceleration is important if you need to call on the performance to get you through an intersection, overtake or avoid a collision, you want immediate response and there was only the slightest hint of turbo lag.
The relatively high suspension means the vehicle is capable off-road, but that does compromise it’s handling through corners and round abouts. This softer sprung suspension and higher travel, allows the CX8 to suck up the bumps, delivering your family a very comfortable ride. The AWD version certainly feels capable, best expressed when the vehicle is off the black stuff, on gravel or dirt. The i-ACTIV AWD system helps to deliver the power and traction in a way that leaves the driver feeling in control, off-road or in the wet.
The details on what’s on offer here
In-Door pull up blinds
During my time in the CX8, we took the car for a weekend away and that meant taking our most precious cargo with us (our 8 month old daughter). With many twists and turns along the way, sunlight beaming in the windows is always something parents deal with. While aftermarket solutions exists, Mazda’s integrated window shades into the rear doors was very much appreciated. They retract into the body of the door and when in place, are held in place by hooks mounted along the top of the window frame. When not in place, these hooks aren’t exactly discreet, something I hope is minimised or completely hidden in future versions.
ISO fix mounts and covers
As a parent, you’re probably familiar with the fast mounting system for car seats known as ISOfix. In almost every new vehicle, this normally wouldn’t be a feature worth mentioning, however Mazda have a nice solution for hiding the gaps in the seat crated by the ISOfix points. Plastic covers that are easily removable solve this problem well and as car seats will likely only be part of your life for a portion of vehicle ownership, then this is well thought through, just don’t loose them.
Rear air conditioning controls
If you’re a passenger in the middle row, then you get creature comforts usually reserved for the driver and passenger. There’s not only rear air vents, but full AC climate control along with heated seats. If you’ve got passengers in the back, they’re really going to appreciate this one. If you plan on driving for Uber with a CX8, expect an extra start or 2 on your reviews.
7-seats / lots of space
The CX8 is a big car at 4,900mm in length, but with 7 seats taking up space you may expect there to be no boot space left. Actually what we find is there’s still plenty of room behind the 3rd row of seats for schoolbags, groceries or some mild Christmas shopping. If you’re heading off on a serious trip away with a pram and suit cases, then yes, folding down the last row of seats provides loads of space.
Should you need more than that, like say, buying a Christmas tree or a trip to Bunnings on the the weekend, then you’ll want to fold down the 2nd and 3rd rows to reveal a crazy level of cargo space. If you can’t fit it in there, then its a trailer job. This space is generally made available from the body shape, but also the decision to compromise on the size of the spare, opting for a space saver under the floor, rather than a full spare.
As good as it is, this car isn’t perfect
One other frustration I found was the sun glasses holder in the roof. If you’re going to add one, something we can all admit is a handy feature, you’d better make sure it fits most sunglasses. Mine barely fit and they’re on the normal side of sizing. After rotating and rotating them, I managed to tetris them in, in a way that allowed the compartment to close, but it really wouldn’t have taken much testing to work out this was an issue and make the compartment bigger.
The next issue I have is with the heads-up display that projects on to the windscreen. This certainly isn’t restricted to the technology Mazda uses, but if you wear polarised sunglasses, then you will really struggle to see the display, even when set at maximum brightness. Given I, like many always drive with sunglasses (night excepted) this almost defeats the purpose of having the HUD at all. I hope there’s an alternative technology, or they could apply a tint to the windscreen in that area (laws may restrict their ability to do this), so the reflected information is readable under all conditions. I will say when going through a tunnel, it was perfect, so the issue seems stem from a lack of contrast between the display and the outside world.
That’s it, the list of complaints here is very short, overall it’s a great vehicle and Mazda have created something pretty special here, transporting large families in a stylish, modern, capable SUV.
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
How much and when can you get one ?
The interior is available in black bloth or dark russet and white nappa leather. Our review unit had the dark russet which is almost a brown in direct sunlight. Personally I’d opt for the white of the straight black instead, but this is a very personal decision.
The Mazda CX8 starts at A$47,415 for the base FWD model and cloth seats. If you prefer a bit more luxury and want the stability and traction offered by AWD, the Asaki offers exactly that, complete with stitched leather seats for a few more dollars, you can add that gorgeous red paint. All up, the top of the line Asaki will set you back a reasonably steep A$66,900.
The good news is there’s a 3rd option, the Sport which offers many of the great features of the Asaki, like the AWD drive train, but saves on things like power tailgate and bose premium sound package. This comes in at just A$51,583, representing great value for money. An extra $15K for the top model is a really hard ask and one I’m not sure many will take up.
Compared to the CX-9, the CX-8 is only slightly smaller, but offers the same towing capacity, with better fuel economy (6.0L vs 8.8L/100km) of the larger 2.5L petrol turbo engine of it’s big brother. The front styling is a little different, but for the most part, these are very similar vehicles, with very similar prices (top model of the CX-9 is around A$1,290 more).
This makes the your choice between the two Mazda large SUVs on offer from Mazda one that’ll mostly be fought over the driver’s personal preference for diesel or petrol propulsion.
While slightly under the dimensions of the CX9, you will need to ensure your garage is clean to fit the CX8. If you can manage the price tag of the top model, you’ll be rewarded with some nice creature comforts and some great technology.
Make sure you request that your CX8 contains Android Auto and Apple CarPlay or just don’t buy it, MZD Connect really is that bad that you need options and these smartphone platforms offer the perfect solution.