GOLDILOCKS would have loved a Mazda CX-8.
It’s bigger than a CX-5, smaller than a CX-9, and as she might have said in the famous Three Bears story, it’s ‘just right.’
The latest of Mazda’s SUV range comes in three levels of spec: Sport front-wheel-drive, Sport AWD and Asaki AWD, with almost $20K between the front-wheel driver and the range-topping Asaki, even though all have the same diesel engine (there’s no petrol option) and six-speed auto transmission.
And while it might be just the ticket for Goldilocks, forget not that the CX-8 is a full seven-seater, so it will easily accommodate her and the bear family, with room to spare.
However, its centre and rear pews can be folded to reduce it to a six, five, four, three or two-seater, with ever-increasing cargo capacity.
It’s hard to tell the difference between the three CXs at a glance, but CX-9 is 175mm longer and 129mm wider than the CX-8, which is again longer than a CX-5, but of the same width.
Power is from new 2.2litre ‘Skyactive-D’ turbo-diesel engine that produces a muscular 140kW and 450 Nm, yet sips fuel at a miserly rate.
The official average is 5.7 litres/100km, achievable under perfect conditions – but nothing is perfect in the real world and our vehicle returned 6.7, which we thought was rather wonderful.
It has a 72 litre fuel tank, so if you drive pussyfoot style, you could go for weeks on end without having to call in at a servo.
Prices for the trio are $42,490 for the CX-8 Sport, as tested, $4000 more for the AWD version and $61,490 for the Asaki AWD.
The Sport is loaded with good features, among them LED headlights, heated and auto-folding mirrors, a head-up display, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with DAB+, satellite navigation and ‘Mazda Radar’ active cruise control with stop and go function and an updated AEB.
It has an excellent ventilation system with three-zone climate control that extends to the second row and an impressive head-up active driving display.
However, there’s no forward camera or front parking sensors, either of which would be welcome when parking this stylish 4.9m long vehicle, which runs on a set of silver-grey 17-inch alloys wearing Yokohama Geolanders.
It’s easy to get in and out of, with wide-opening doors that even a big trout-fed papa bear could climb into with ease, then slide and tilt the mid-row seat to his liking.
Cargo space can be varied from 209 litres behind the third row, plus another 33 litres underfloor, to 742 with the third row folded – and 1727 litres with the middle row down.
There’s a handsome wide and flat console between the two front seats, that apart from the gear selector, houses a pair of deep cupholders, a rotary knob to select what you want from the infotainment screen and two narrow leather-topped hinged boxes with USB ports and an auxiliary socket.
There’s also an open compartment where can store odds and ends without them sliding about.
The console is in piano black with a chromed rim, which might look wonderful, but reflects sunlight rather sharply and can be an annoyance.
The engine has been fine-tuned for smoothness and efficiency and works well with the autobox, resulting in lots of power and pep – zero to 100km/h in about 9seconds – with more than enough in reserve for a quick, safe overtaking maneuver.
However, its length prevents it from living up to its Sport name when it encounters roundabouts or tight corners.
It gets around OK, but not as neatly as the smaller CX-5.
After all, it’s a long seven-seater; not the kind of machine you’d want to do your Dan Ricciardo impression in.
It drives well, easily absorbing road imperfections and, best of all, is its quiet interior.
Diesel clatter is a fact of life, but in the CX-8, a lot of attention has been given to isolating the noise, so much so that the diesel has a quieter cabin than the petrol-powered CX-9.
The CX-8 Sport is also loaded with safety stuff such as autonomous emergency braking, which now works at freeway speeds, Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM), Lane Keep Assist (KAS) with Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Driver Attention Alert and a few more parts from the safety alphabet box that today’s ‘drivers’ seem to be unable to live without.
Bet you could score a few wins at a quiz with a question like: What is RCTA?
Most will think it has something to do with animal protection, but any Mazdanik can inform them it stands for rear cross-traffic alert, which is also a standard safety item in the CX-8 Sport.
The vehicle has a five-star safety rating and a five-year, unlimited distance warranty.
Verdict: A well-equipped, spacious, super economical Goldilocks magnet, and at its price, the pick of the range.
Flexible spacious cabin
No front sensors/camera
Shiny console surface