But there’s a wind of change blowing through the range as Mazda makes some changes to its three-row line-up: namely, killing off said CX-9 and releasing the more upmarket CX-80 and CX-90.
This gives the recently facelifted CX-8 a new lease on life as the company’s most accessible (aka cheapest) family-friendly option with three rows of seats.
The update brings the requisite redesigned bumpers, headlights, grille surrounds and colour palette; a larger infotainment screen across the range; and some subtle suspension changes.
“Our plan is to have three products that offer three rows of seating – CX-8, CX-80 and CX-90,” Mazda Australia chief Vinesh Bhindi told us in July. “We have confirmed CX-9 will end towards the end of this year, so we’re expanding from a two-product portfolio offering three rows, to offering three nameplates with three-row options.”
While the CX-8 is sold as a standalone model, it’s helpful to think of it as a stretched CX-5 with an added row of seats, given the two models share most of their parts.
Given the CX-5 is Australia’s longstanding second-favourite medium SUV behind the Toyota RAV4, it stands to reason the CX-8 has underperformed somewhat. Deservedly so, or not?
The revised CX-8 range opens at $42,090 before on-road costs for the Sport, but the Touring variant we are testing here costs $48,690 plus on-roads. It sits underneath the more luxurious GT SP ($58,560) and Asaki ($61,810) grades.
These prices are for models with a petrol engine and standard front-wheel drive. If you want all-wheel drive you must also upgrade to the diesel engine option, for a hefty price premium of between $7000 and $8000 as demonstrated below.
What are some other seven-seat SUV at the CX-8 Touring’s price point? Strong options include the Mitsubishi Outlander Aspire, Nissan X-Trail ST-L, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace 110TSI Life.
On a drive-away basis, the 2023 Mazda CX-8 G25 Touring FWD’s list price of $48,960 equates to an on-the-road price of $54,500 in Victoria, with small variations between States and Territories.
2023 Mazda CX-8 pricing:
- CX-8 Sport: $42,060
- CX-8 Touring: $48,960
- CX-8 GT SP: $58,560
- CX-8 Asaki: $61,810
- CX-8 Sport: $49,060
- CX-8 Touring Active: $56,910
- CX-8 GT SP: $65,560
- CX-8 Asaki: $68,810
- CX-8 Asaki LE: $71,410
Prices are before on-road costs
The CX-8 Touring has a proximity-sensing key fob that allows you to unlock and open the door on approach without fumbling in your pockets, and power-folding mirrors that fold out automatically.
Mazda tends to be good at making its car interiors feel a little bit more luxurious than competitor brands, and the CX-8 is no exception.
The seats are trimmed in what feels like a high-quality leather, quite smooth and soft, and even in this variant they’re heated and power-adjustable for both the driver and front passenger. They could, however, use a little better under-thigh support.
Nice leather touch points also feature on the doors and on the centre console, with real stitching and wood, as well as chrome-look inlays adding a nice contrast.
Same goes for the knee padding on the transmission tunnel, and the leather trim on the steering wheel. The door closes with a solid thunk.
Ahead of the driver is a combination of analogue gauges and a digital centre display that simply mimics an old school speedometer, but also shows trip data.
Additionally there’s a head-up display that projects a digital speedo and the detected speed limit onto the windscreen. This feature is always a welcome touch, because it keeps your eye on the road.
The 10.25-inch central infotainment display is the same as the one in the newer-design CX-30 and Mazda 3, running Mazda’s sleek and minimalist software design. Going against the grain, it’s not a touchscreen, but is instead controlled by a chunky knurled dial behind the gear shifter.
In many aspects it good to use when you’re driving, because the dial falls easily to your hand – which stays steady over bumps given the armrest. Ever found it hard to jab at a touchscreen over a bumpy road? Not in the CX-8. The button-heavy experience carries over to the climate controls.
The menus are also laid out in simple fashion, and there are three shortcut buttons to simplify the experience further. Much of the time, the combination of this centre dial and the head-up display mean you really do seem to keep your head up and your eyes on the road.
There’s one major exception to this however, and that’s if you use Apple CarPlay (wireless in this car) or Android Auto (wired). Phone mirroring is designed for touch, so it’s a little clunky to use with the dial.
The Touring has a decent audio system including tweeters in the A-pillars despite this not being a flagship variant. Camera quality is reasonably good, in terms of image clarity, but it’s only a rear-view rather than a surround-view.
Storage options include a rubberised phone cubby ahead of the gear shifter (but no wireless charger), centre cupholders, a centre console with two spring-loaded lid sections that operate in pleasingly tactile fashion, sizeable door bins, a smallish glovebox, and a sunglasses holder in the roof.
The overall build quality and fit-and-finish is excellent, it feels durable in here.
The back doors are longer than the CX-5’s, and while they make for slightly awkward proportions in my view, give you a large opening that makes access noticeably user-friendly.
It’s an excellent middle seating row, with a heap of foot room, knee room and head room for anyone under 2m tall (I’m 194cm) for outboard occupants – however the centre seat section is small and there a hump in the floor.
The seat bench splits 60:40 (smaller section on the left) and both slides and reclines a few degrees. Occupants don’t just get a ton of space, but air vents with separate rear fan and temperature controls, and a centre folding armrest with cupholders and USB ports (2.1A).
So the middle row is very spacious by class standards, but what about the third row? In most similar SUVs of this size the sixth and seventh seats are only really spacious enough for kids, and even then only for occasional use.
The answer is, surprisingly roomy. Even my gangly legs had space, though the roof slope limits headroom and the rearmost windows are small. Mazda claims a payload of 561kg.
The rearmost seats with their folding headrests also tuck neatly into the floor via chunky handles in the back, giving you a large loading area, albeit with a slight slope.
Boot capacity is a large 775L with the third-row seats folded, and a still-respectable 242L with all three rows in use (including underfloor storage).
There are bag hooks, tie-downs and a 12V plug, and plastic-lined covered sections under the loading floor and behind the wheel wells. A temporary space-saving spare wheel sits under the floor.
There are two engine options: one petrol and one diesel. There’s no hybrid available.
The engine tested here is the ‘G25’ 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated petrol producing outputs of 140kW at 6000pm and 252Nm at 4000rpm, mated to a six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive (FWD).
For those after a little more punch there’s a ‘D35’ 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesel with 140kW and 450Nm, and standard all-wheel drive (AWD). The downside of this superior engine of course, is that it’s so much more expensive, because it’s also the only way to get AWD. The two characteristics are bundled.
Mazda advises braked-trailer towing capacity of 1800kg for the petrol and 2000kg for the diesel.
There’s also no availability of the smaller CX-5’s flagship turbocharged petrol four-cylinder with 170kW and 420Nm and AWD, which is a bit of a shame for those who want a little more urgency from their petrol SUV.
For errands around the ‘burbs this engine is absolutely fine, and given the G25 Touring is a lower-grade variant it fits the bill well enough.
It’s certainly no less powerful than most entry-level competitors, and it certainly doesn’t overcome the front tyres’ traction and create annoyances like wheel spin or axle-tramping.
That said, it’s quite coarse and loud on cold starts before eventually settling into a more muted idle, and with a full load of people and stuff you won’t be pinning anyone back in their chairs.
I saw average fuel efficiency sitting in the mid-9s per 100km, which is reasonable enough, and the stop/start system was smooth enough to not be an irritant.
There’s no doubt though, that the diesel will offer stronger overtaking punch and better efficiency. If you do lots of regional getaways or tow things, it’s worth the step up.
In terms of ride and handling Mazda has done a great job making the CX-8 quiet inside and comfortable when absorbing road bumps and lumps – something helped by the smallish wheels with lots of tyre sidewall.
The CX-8 also feels quite balanced in corners, courtesy of well-tuned springs, shocks and roll bars, as well as a system that can slightly reduce engine power in response to steering angle, thereby changing the weight balance and helping swerving stability.
It’s not a hot hatch, but I’d consider the CX-8 a more comfortable and composed machine than many rivals.
There’s nothing cutting-edge about the chassis, but the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension, electric power steering, and 320mm front (ventilated) and 325mm rear (solid) disc brakes all integrate nicely. The turning circle is 11.6m.
While most of the active driver-assist aids worked well, the lane-keeping system was more reactive than proactive, meaning it nudged the car away from road lines but didn’t keep it automatically centred.
I would also prefer to see a surround-view camera as standard for a near-5.0m long vehicle, which doesn’t have the greatest outboard visibility from all angles as it is.
CX-8 G25 Sport highlights:
- 17-inch alloy wheels
- LED headlights
- Power-folding and heated mirrors
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Rear parking sensors
- Reversing camera
- Head-up display
- Three-zone climate control
- Auto-dimming rear mirror
- Black cloth seat trim
- Leather-wrapped wheel and shifter
- 10.25-inch centre display
- 7.0-inch instrument meter
- 6-speaker sound system
- Wireless Apple CarPlay
- Wireless Android Auto
- Satellite navigation
CX-8 G25 Touring adds:
- Front parking sensors
- Proximity sensing keyless entry
- Black leather seat trim
- Powered and heated front seats
- Rear-seat USB ports
- Paddle shifters
CX-8 G25 GT SP adds:
- 19-inch wheels
- Gloss black front grille
- Powered, remote-operated tailgate
- Metal, wood interior inserts
- Burgundy or black leather trim
- Wireless phone charging
- 10-speaker Bose premium sound system
- Third-row USB ports
- Rear window sunshades
- LED interior lighting
CX-8 G25 Asaki adds:
- Different 19-inch wheel design
- Different grille and bumper design
- Adaptive LED headlights
- Larger diameter tailpipe
- Black, quilted nappa leather seats
- Ventilated front seats
- Heated steering wheel
- 360-degree parking cameras
- Frameless rear-view mirror
- Interior ambient lighting
The Mazda CX-8 attained a five-star ANCAP safety rating with an older 2018 date stamp, scoring 96 per cent for adult occupant protection, 87 per cent for child occupant protection, 72 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 73 per cent for safety assist features.
Standard safety features include:
- Front, side and curtain airbags
- ISOFIX x2 and top tether x 5
- AEB with night-time pedestrian detection
- Low-speed AEB in reverse
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Automated high-beam
- Rear parking sensors
- Reverse camera
- Adaptive cruise control, stop & go
- ‘Intelligent’ speed limiter
- Traffic sign recognition
- Lane-keep assist
- Tyre pressure monitoring system
The rest regime – full ANCAP report here – found the overall AEB system good, but noted it has no cyclist detection. It also found the lane-keeping aid with steering intervention merely ‘adequate’, which mirrored my experience: the CX-8 does intercede if you cross a road line, but doesn’t really keep you centred in the lane either.
Crash images show the side curtain (head-protecting) airbags do extend to the rear-most window, providing at least some cover for third-row occupants.
Mazda provides a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Service intervals are either 12 months or 15,000km, at an average cost per-visit over the first five years or 75,000km of $430.
Mazda claims combined-cycle fuel efficiency of 8.1 litres every 100km using 91 RON regular unleaded or E10. The fuel tank is 72L in capacity.
The lower-end Mazda CX-8 variants like this G25 Touring won’t win any beauty contests or set any land speed records, and sometimes you will find the multimedia system a bit irksome.
But what it does offer is a really decent price point, a particularly roomy and family friendly interior, and good road manners for this kind of vehicle.
An under-appreciated family hauler that’s more sense than sensibility. Nothing wrong with that, even from a brand as ‘aspirational’ as Mazda.
Click the images for the full gallery
MORE: Everything Mazda CX-8