Words by Dean Mellor Photos by Manufacturer
ONCE PEGGED as a Japanese-market vehicle only, the introduction of the CX-8 Diesel to the Australian line-up means there’s now a Mazda SUV to suit just about everyone.
<X-Head> What is the 2018 Mazda CX-8 Diesel?
Bigger than a CX-5 yet smaller than a CX-9, Mazda is pitching the CX-8 Diesel as the middle kid…a seven-seat wagon for buyers after something more compact than a full-size SUV, yet which achieves comfort for occupants in all three rows.
To put it into perspective, the CX-8 shares the same wheelbase as big brother CX-9 but has a 175mm shorter body, and while it’s 350mm longer than CX-5 it is the same width as its smaller sibling.
The CX-8 is available in two model grades. The base-spec Sport is available with 2WD ($42,490) or AWD ($46,490) drivelines while the top-spec Asaki ($61,490) is AWD only.
While the CX-5 is available with petrol or diesel engines, and the CX-9 is a petrol-only model, the CX-8 is powered exclusively by Mazda’s SKYACTIV-D 2.2L twin-turbo-diesel engine. It produces a claimed 140kW of power at 4500rpm and 450Nm of torque at 2000rpm. The engine has a low (for a diesel) 14.5:1 combustion ratio, and features Mazda’s Rapid Multi-stage Combustion process, a variable geometry turbocharger, Piezo injectors, a stepped egg-profile combustion chamber and a piston shape designed to provide efficient fuel burn. It also has Mazda’s Natural Sound Smoother and Natural Sound Frequency Control, both of which are designed to reduce diesel knock.
The result is what Mazda claims to be petrol-engine-like refinement and best-in-class fuel economy of 5.7L/100km combined for the 2WD variant and 6.0L/100km combined for the AWD models.
The engine is mated to a SKYACTIV-Drive six-speed automatic transmission, directing drive to the front-wheels in the Sport 2WD model, and to all four-wheels on-demand in the AWD variants, using i-ACTIV AWD, which employs 27 sensors to monitor driver actions and road conditions and then automatically apportions torque where needed.
The standard equipment list for CX-8 is extensive, even in the lower-grade Sport, which wears 17-inch alloys with 225/65R17 120H Yokohama Geolandar G98 tyres, and comes with features such as auto LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, LED taillights, roof rails, 7-inch MZD Connect screen operated via a console-mounted dial, satnav, a 4.6-inch colour TFT LCD multi-information display, a heads-up display (called Active Driving Display in Mazda-speak), three-zone climate control air conditioning and a host of advanced safety features.
The Asaki adds 19-inch alloys with 225/55R19 99V Toyo Proxes rubber, adaptive LED headlights, LED DRLs, front LED fog lights, power tailgate, power adjustable and heated front seats (10-way for driver and six-way for passenger), heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats, sunshades on the rear door windows, nappa leather trim in Dark Russet or Pure White, real wood trim inserts on the dashboard and doors, front parking sensors, 360° View Monitor and premium Bose sound system with 10 speakers.
While the CX-8 doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility at launch, Mazda will offer a retrofit upgrade kit by year’s end to make this feature available on all Mazdas fitted with MZD Connect, with pricing still to be confirmed.
The introduction of the CX-8 to the local line-up means that Australia now has more Mazda models on offer than any other country bar Japan. Mazda is pitching the CX-8 at buyers who don’t want to compromise on style but who perhaps have a couple of kids and occasionally need seven seats to squeeze in friends for weekend sports activities, or who need a decent amount of cargo space for road trips or camping adventures. It expects the CX-8 to achieve 3000 sales in its first year on the market, with a model split of 60% Sport 2WD, 10% Sport AWD and 30% Asaki AWD, and admits that some of those sales may come at the expense of CX-5 and CX-9 sales, but overall expects CX-8 to grow the brand.
What’s the interior like?
Despite its slightly shorter-than-CX-9 body, the CX-8 makes the most of its long wheelbase and Mazda has strived to ensure there’s a natural seating position for occupants in all three rows. There’s plenty of fore/aft adjustment for those in the front, generous leg room in the second row and, according to Mazda, enough space in the third row for passengers up to 170cm in height.
The interior design of the CX-8 is certainly pleasing, with a nice mix of contrasting colours and high quality soft-touch materials. The front seats in the Sport only offer basic adjustment, but they’re certainly comfortable, with height adjustment for both driver and front-seat passenger. There’s a decent-size centre console bin with a split lid, in which you’ll find two USB ports and an auxiliary port. There are a couple of cupholders in the centre console and one in each front door pocket.
While HVAC controls are located low on the dash, the audio controls are via the MZD Connect system which is operated via a dial and buttons on the console. There are the usual steering wheel controls and a range of buttons low on the dash to the right of the steering wheel to disable functions such as TCS, i-Stop, lane assist and parking sensors, or on Asaki to activate the heated steering and the 360° View Monitor.
The 60/40 split/fold second-row seat offers good space for two occupants with loads of leg room and fore/aft adjustment. The centre armrest folds down to reveal two cupholders and a lidded storage bin with two USB ports. There are air conditioning controls and vents for second-row occupants and the door pockets include cupholders. Asaki adds pull-up window blinds. While you’d fit three adults across the second row, the centre position is best suited to short trips.
Setting up the 50/50 split/fold third-row seats is straightforward, and access to the third-row seats is helped by the wide-opening (80°) rear doors and the sliding second-row seat. There’s reasonable width in the back but adults and big kids have to adopt a knees-up seating position, and there’s not a lot of space for those with big feet. Head room is decent enough and third-row occupants score an open cargo bin and a cupholder each.
There’s a handy storage bin under the cargo floor, and beneath this is the spare wheel well, which houses a steel space saver, jack and wheel brace. The cargo area has four-luggage tie-down points and includes a couple of shopping bag hooks, and there’s a flat floor when all the seats are folded down, albeit a gap between the second and third rows.
> What’s it like on the road?
The noise-suppression efforts made by Mazda’s engineers when developing the SKYACTIV-D turbo-diesel engine have certainly paid off – this is one quiet diesel donk, with traditional diesel clatter barely audible at idle and impressive refinement throughout the rev range. It can get a little raucous under full acceleration, but on partial throttle or when touring on the open road there’s barely a whisper from under the bonnet. Wind and road noise are also well suppressed at highway speeds.
With plenty of urge from low in the rev range, the CX-8 offers seemingly effortless acceleration from standstill, while on the open road it’s happy to hold on to tall gears when confronted by big inclines. In this day and age of eight-, nine- and 10-speed autos, the CX-8’s six-speeder may seem a little underdone, but the engine’s generous torque makes up for any perceived lack of gear ratios. Shift performance is smooth, too, and the transmission is decisive rather than fussy, kicking down willingly when asked the question but happy to stick to top gear when cruising.
The fully independent suspension is by way of a MacPherson strut front-end and a multi-link rear, and this is backed up by an electronics package that includes Mazda’s SKYACTIV-Vehicle Dynamics G-Vectoring Control (GVC), which adjusts engine torque response according to steering wheel action to maximise vehicle responsiveness and stability, and to minimise sideways movement during cornering. Body roll is certainly well-controlled when cornering and despite no local-roads testing, the suspension provides a good mix of compliance and control on crook, twisting backroads. The electric power-assisted steering is also very responsive, and it provides a light feel around town and firms up nicely as speeds increase.
Of the two model specs, the Sport offers slightly more ride compliance thanks to its higher profile tyres, while the Asaki feels a little firmer but still does an admirable job of soaking up bumps.
The Active Driving Display proves invaluable on drives where the speed limit regularly changes, clearly projecting the vehicle’s current speed and, thanks to Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR), the posted speed limit directly onto the windscreen. The display is clear and bright without being a distraction, and it also offers additional information such as turn-by-turn navigation and safety information.
The CX-8’s Lane-keep Assist System (LAS) is not overly aggressive, just giving a little tug on the steering wheel if it thinks you’re heading off-course and offering a visual clue as to what it’s doing on the Active Driving Display.
What safety features does it get?
The CX-8 Diesel is loaded with standard safety gear including Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM), High Beam Control (HBC), Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA), Lane-keep Assist System (LAS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Mazda Radar Cruise Control (MRCC) with Stop & Go function, Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), Smart City Brake Support [Forward/Reverse] (SCBS F/R), Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR), reverse camera and rear parking sensors.
To this extensive list Asaki adds Mazda’s new 360° View Monitor, front parking sensors, Adaptive LED Headlamps (ALH) and advanced keyless entry.
The Mazda CX-8 is currently undergoing the process of ANCAP testing and Mazda would no doubt expect it to score a five-star rating as its CX-5 and CX-9 siblings have.
<X-Head> So, what do we think of the 2018 Mazda CX-8 Diesel?
Although slightly smaller than the Mazda CX-9, the new CX-8 will no doubt appeal to seven-seat SUV buyers looking for a vehicle with an economical and refined turbo-diesel engine. Considering the $15k premium for the top-spec Asaki, the well-equipped Sport AWD is the pick of the range.
2018 Mazda CX-8 Diesel Specifications
Pricing $42,490 (Sport 2WD); $46,490 (Sport AWD); $61,490 (Asaki AWD) Warranty 3-years/unlimited km Service Intervals 12 months/10,000km Safety TBA Engine 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel Power 140kW at 4500rpm Torque 450Nm at 2000rpm Transmission 6-speed auto Drive front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive Dimensions 4900mm (L); 1840mm (W); 1720mm (H) Turning Circle 11.6m Ground Clearance 195mm (Sport); 200mm (Asaki) Kerb Weight 1840 (2WD); 1957kg (AWD) GVM 2495kg (2WD); 2555kg (AWD) Payload 655kg (2WD); 598kg (AWD) Cargo space 242L/742L/1727L Towing Capacity 750kg/2000kg Tyres 225/65R17 (Sport); 225/55R19 (Asaki) Spare Temporary steel Fuel Tank 72L (2WD); 74L (AWD) Thirst (combined) 5.7L/100km (2WD); 6.0L/100km (AWD)