The CX-9, without even a shadow (or a sliver) of a doubt, is the large crossover we would pick if we had to drive everyday. The longer the route, the better.
The top-spec Grand Touring version impressed us even when we got really nitpicky. But now they've got a new variant called the Sport Touring, and Mazda un-ticked many of the boxes on the order sheet when they specced it.
The disparity in price between the two models is a massive PhP 480,000 in the Sport Touring's favor. But with all kinds of stuff deleted, can this CX-9 still impress us just like its more premium brother?
You walk up to it, and you want to crouch down in front of one of the headlights and sight down the side of the crossover, seeing the lines and curves that make all modern Mazdas so striking to look at. They have this styling directive that makes their cars give the impression that they want to move, and move fast. And it matters not whether you're gazing at an MX-5 or this massive CX-9; each Mazda has that illusion of motion, something that we'll turn into a reality later on.
Just by looks alone, it's actually hard to tell that this CX-9 is technically an entry grade variant of the model. You'd really have to position both the Grand Touring and Sport Touring side by side to notice the miniscule differences. In reality, the only major changes include the deletion of the sunroof, and the changing of the rims; where there were 20-inch wheels on the Grand Touring, this Sport Touring has 18-inch wheels. Some would want bigger wheels, but these smaller rims still look great and, more importantly, the higher aspect ratio for the tires shoud make for an improved ride.
Honestly, given the price difference between the CX-9 we drove a few months ago and this one, I half expected to walk into a CX-9 that would feel significantly cheaper. But surprisingly, that wasn't the case. Some of the trim has changed, though there's still that whiff that you only get when a carmaker uses high quality materials, particularly the aroma of the leather... no, they didn't delete the premium upholstery.
Settling in, you do notice that there are a few more blank spaces on the control panels, particularly the one near the driver's left knee. The button for the more advanced features such as the lane departure warning and lane keep assist are gone, along with the button for the motorized rear tailgate. Mazda also deleted the blind spot monitoring to warn you of cars on your flanks, the adaptive headlights that follow the road as you steer, the auto dimming rear view mirror, and even the rear door window pull-up sunshades. Also gone is the jet fighter-like heads-up display when you start the car.
Despite those deletions that seem to have come after a purple Titan's snap, it's good to keep in mind that those features are simply the decorations on the cake. The fundamentals are still there. There are still seven seats, distributed amongst three rows in a 2-3-2 format. You still have all the important power features such as the seats, windows, mirrors, so on and so forth. The key safety features are still here like the multitude of airbags, the anti-lock brakes, and the stability control. The 8-inch central display is still there; the look may be dated (this system and UI have been in the market for 4 years now) but it's still as intuitive as ever. The feature I miss the most is the 12-speaker Bose audio system; this Sport Touring comes with a non-Bose 6-speaker system.
What gives the CX-9 its go is the same, 2.5-liter engine with that turbo that is able to smartly vary its pressure, depending on the need. As it stands, it makes 231 PS and 420 Nm of torque for a 6-speed automatic; plenty for a vehicle of this size and, more importantly, it no longer has to be able to drive all four tires. This CX-9 Sport Touring is a front wheel drive model, and that is perhaps the most major mechanical change.
As a big, urban daily commuter, the CX-9 Sport Touring behaves as expected: smooth, composed, and quiet. The gearbox is perfect for daily driving, and being an automatic and not a dual clutch means that there's little in the way of shift shock. But the biggest improvement is the ride, and that's perhaps thanks to the smaller wheels compared to the Grand Touring we drove earlier. With tires mounted, both the 18-inch and 20-inch wheels do have the same diameter at about 30-inches to make sure the speedometer is accurate, but what that means for the Sport Touring is more of the diameter is made up of rubber, rather than metal. And we don't have to be scientists to know that the 18-inch, 60 series tires on this CX-9 are much more forgiving of road imperfections than the 20-inch, 50 series tires on the Grand Touring.
One important difference that most people overlook about any automobile is its weight. Features and equipment add precious kilograms, and that's the important thing about the Sport Touring. Compared to its more premium and equipped-to-the-hilt Grand Touring brother which tips the scales at 1923 kg, this Sport Touring weighs in at 1820 kg. That's a massive 103 kilo difference; and I suspect the bulk of the weight savings is because of the all-wheel drive system, followed by the motorized sunroof system. 103 kilos enables you to move about two petite people (or one big dude) for free.
The best translation of the weight savings is in the fuel consumption; the higher the weight, the more fuel you'll consume trying to get from A to B. Whereas the Grand Touring variant was able to do 7.1 km/l at an average speed of 22 km/h in the city, this Sport Touring was able to do 7.3 km/l with slightly more traffic at a 20 km/h average on the same daily route that I take to and from the office. On an expressway, that goes up to 12.4 km/l (90 km/h average), and it does it so quietly and smoothly.
Weight also has a big impact on driving dynamics, something that Mazda knows how to do so well, and we can feel it in the CX-9. Straightline acceleration is impressive; it may not be a diesel, but the torque does give the CX-9 Sport Touring a similar lunge that you would get from turbodiesels. And being a gasoline engine, that means the CX-9 doesn't run out of puff at high RPMs.
Brake hard from 100 km/h and you'll feel that this big crossover can easily scrub speed. Approach a corner, turn the wheel at a fast (but measured) speed, and you'll see why the CX-9 is so different; the nose tucks into the corner, and the rear doesn't get skittish or overly light to cause nervousness behind the wheel. And this is without the advanced all-wheel drive system. Yes, 1800+ kilos isn't exactly light, but there's a definite nimbleness to how it performs when you push it.
Some would think that tossing in more features in an automobile automatically makes it better. That's logical and conventional thinking. The CX-9 Sport Touring proves that to be a fallacy. You can remove a lot of the unnecessary stuff -including the kitchen sink- and come up with something that doesn't just impress as much as the range-topping model, but exceed it.
Some would still want the CX-9 Grand Touring, and that's perfectly fine. It's a fine seven seat crossover with really premium features. But something tells us that the Sport Touring has a lot more potential at PhP 2,350,000, showing us that a “lite” truly can make right.