FIVE years. That is a long time in the motor vehicle world. Designs change, technology improves and new players emerge with state-of-the-art offerings sometimes at a fraction of the accepted prices.
Mazda has acknowledged the turn of the wheel by sprucing up its CX-9, a large SUV that first boarded our shores in 2007.
The changes are not revolutionary or earth shattering, just a minor facelift really to the overall design, safety functions and inclusions list as the CX-9 is left to do what it does best - provide a real seven-seat option for a family looking for space, comfort and ride quality without too much fuss.
The piano black instrument panels with silver touches and suede inserts announce an upmarket feel in a SUV that wasn't really battling in the styling field.
Controls hint at quality and the cabin layout is thoughtful and practical.
Of course there are still hard plastics but generally the contact points are soft with the only other real criticism reserved for the 14.7cm LCD screen which seems a bit on the small side for such a cavernous space.
Seats are supportive if a little flat with the sliding easy-tumble second row and generous third making it possible to carry seven adults in some comfort.
The steering is adjustable for reach and rake - although it does sit a tad high - and feels nicely chunky to the touch.
Boot space as you would hope is impressive, some 1911-litres with the back rows flat and enough space for the family shop with all the seats called into service.
On the road
Sporting the same 3.7-litre petrol V6 engine that did service when the first models arrived in 2007, the CX-9 remains a decent drive.
Power is more than adequate even under load and there is little hesitation if you need a burst off the mark or when overtaking. For a large SUV this two-tonne unit is quite nimble on its feet aided by steering designed more for comfort than show.
Ride quality is really quite good with the CX-9 making light work of simple imperfections with cabin noise and vibrations at an acceptable level.
There is a feeling of more torque steer in the 2WD vehicle than the AWD variant but not alarmingly so as the CX-9 lumbers a bit through corners opting for the wider track when really pushed.
Handling is comfortable with a good turning circle helping with ease of use especially during inner city forays.
The two-wheel drive variant was not designed to leave the bitumen but copes well enough with unsealed roads while its AWD counterpart offers slightly better traction and can handle gentle off-road adventures.
What do you get?
Standard inclusions even in the base-model Classic list 18-inch alloys, auto headlights and wipers, tri-zone climate control, a reversing camera, Bluetooth with audio streaming, USB connectivity and audio streaming among its number.
The Luxury variant adds sat-nav, sunroof, power adjustable and heated front seats, heated auto tilt exterior mirrors, leather trim, 20-inch alloys and 10-speaker Bose audio.
For $63,828 the top-of-the pile Grand Touring will throw in keyless entry and start, LED running lights, bi-xenon headlights, automatic high beam, a higher grade trim and a whole host of anti-collision systems. Safety packages have improved with six airbags, stability control, rollover protection and forward obstruction and lane departure warnings on the standard inclusions list.
Flashier models also come with blind spot warning and high beam control.
Buyers looking for seven seats also usually cast an eye over the Toyota Kluger ($55,490), Ford Territory ($55,240), Toyota Prado (from 63,490) and the Jeep Grand Cherokee (from $55,000).
The CX-9's space and versatility is a major selling point. Coupled with good road manners, solid build and high driving stance it delivers a good overall package.
There are some things that niggle though, the lack of a diesel option for one. The sat-nav system is another. Although the TomTom program can now be updated by SD card, it takes an annoyingly long time to key in your destination.
Fuel consumption has been improved some 15% in the last five years but the CX-9, like quite a few in this segment, still has a bit of a thirst. The lighter 2WD offers figures of 11 litres/100km but our test figures were closer to 13 litres/100km. Mazda offers a three years/unlimited kilometres warranty.
Sleeker lines and a new nose have brought the CX-9 in line with the familial new Kodo design Mazda has used in the CX-5 and Mazda6. The new lights, remodelled bumpers and exhaust extensions help give this SUV a sharper modern look.
Australia is a success story for Mazda with the Japanese manufacturer selling more cars here than in other global markets. Ride quality and attention to detail are big factors in that achievement and the new CX-9 retains those as well as an improved interior and inclusions list. It will be a popular option for larger families or those looking for a strong performer, but the greatest drawback is its fuel consumption.
Model: Mazda CX-9.
Details: Five-door two or all-wheel drive large sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 3.7-litre V6 petrol generating maximum power of 204kW @ 6250rpm and peak torque of 367Nm @ 4250rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 11.0 litres/100km (FWD); 11.2L/100km.
CO2: 257g/km (FWD); 261g/km.
Bottom line: FWD Classic $44,525; FWD Luxury $52,980 (as tested (AWD Luxury $57,480; AWD Grand Touring $63,828.
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