As I write this, I am freezing my ass off on a porch in San Francisco, so please forgive the dodgy writing. I didn’t want to write anything until I returned home to Manila, but I've agreed to disrupt my zen-like activities of doing absolutely nothing to whip up something for you. So here goes.
I have been driving all over California, from the San Joaquin Valley all the way to the lovely Bay Area. It seems like I am enjoying this break a little too much. I haven’t had this kind of down time in a while, most of which I spend hours staring into the abyss with a cigarette at hand and a diet Coke in the other. It’s been rather therapeutic getting away from the notorious Manila traffic. There’s time well spent traversing interstates and cruising on freeways with endless views of the Pacific Ocean.
Most drives to visit friends and relatives take up at least 320 kilometers one-way. No issue here, I bask in the absence of traffic and the fact that people here don't seem to slam on their brakes for no reason. In this time, I get to look at all the gorgeous cars cruising on the freeway and I get to convert how much they cost in peso, which makes my heart bleed because they are mostly, as we all know - half the price. It pains me that every single person who drives a Land Cruiser in Manila could have easily bought a Range Rover here.
Ultimately, my gauge for a great car has always been if I would still desire it if I lived in a first world nation. For instance, I will never have a Toyota Fortuner. It’s a decent car for Manila, but I’d never consider it here. Sure, it isn’t available for the North American market, but I still wouldn't if it were. I really do like the Mitsubishi Pajero, but it wouldn't be in my peripheral either. It's too agricultural. I wouldn’t bother with a Mazda6 either. The 2.5-liter petrol engine isn’t powerful enough to get the car out of its own way.
As a matter of fact, the last great gasoline powered engine they had was the 2.3-liter power plant they put on my old 2007 Mazda6. It was a free-revving beauty with a spirit that ceased to exist in its successors. Their petrol engines with the exception of those found on the MX-5s were flat, soulless, and disappointingly underpowered. It’s a shame, really, because regardless of what your preference is - the Kodo designed cars are all visually stimulating. Much like SoCal blondes in daisy dukes and roller skates.
Where is zoom-zoom?
This brings me squarely to the CX-9. There is absolutely no question that it is one of the most beautiful SUVs today. I can’t get over how beautiful its side profile is given the fact that it can seat 7. Honestly, if Aston Martin is serious about making an SUV, they should steal some notes from Mazda and put it together with their British touch. Objectively, if we remove its badges, the CX-9 is prettier than a Porsche Cayenne or a Bentley Bentayga, but that wouldn’t be fair to Mazda because that’s like saying its prettier than toe jam. The way they have integrated such an ostentatious grille into the rest of the body’s sensuous curves beats Apple's efforts on the odd bar that lingers on top of the iPhone X.
The interior is typical of Mazda these days. They make the best interiors this side of the East and working on a cabin as big as the CX-9’s must’ve been peanuts. I like how it resembles the cabin of Alfa Romeo’s stunning Giulia. Make no mistake about it, Alfa Romeo made the most out of copying from the best. The fact that the Italian carmaker took a lot of design cues from them, tells you everything you need to know about interior style. The cabin is like a Panerai timepiece. It swims in a tasteful combination of black and brown leather, highlighted by polished aluminium accents. The seats are comfortable and supportive. They make long journeys a breeze and the Manila traffic more bearable.
I will go crazy in traffic without music, and it’s worth noting that I am in love with the 12-speaker Bose audio system equipped in this SUV. The Bose system in the 3 and the 6 are underwhelming, but the CX-9 has it licked. Ever since the Volkswagen Golf GTS came in with the Fender audio system, I always thought that nothing of this planet would ever please my ears again, but this one does. The seats at the rear are genuinely comfortable as well.
I usually never enjoy sitting at the back of cars, because it doesn’t take long before my ADHD hits and I start fidgeting like a hamster stuck in a wheel, but I enjoyed the experience in this one. Also, since I don’t have kids, I don’t really care for third row seating. However, it’s nice to know that this one has it anyway. The size of your kids will determine how spacious you’ll find the third row, but since I have none - I think it’s perfect.
Now, I’ve mentioned that Mazda is a driver’s car. I really believe in that, except their petrol engines have been such a let down. Their diesel engines are the absolute bomb and I still don’t see why they haven’t trickled it down to their entire lineup. That’s why no one was more disappointed when I was told that the CX-9 wouldn’t be carrying a diesel. Why would they do that? It makes no sense to put a gasoline engine in such a gargantuan vehicle.
It’s a waste of potential torque and the engine is bound to over stress itself by pushing such a large piece of mass down the road. I couldn’t have been more wrong. You see, I learned that, just like the diesel, the 2.5-liter engine also has a turbocharger. It’s good for 227 horses and I’ve heard that on premium fuel in North America, it can pump out 250. More importantly, it offers 420 Newton Meters of supreme pulling power. That would be 20 more than what you get from a diesel BMW X3, which is already a torque monster.
"It’s like a cathedral with rockets bolted to the back."
The way the CX-9 can commit to a quick overtake is just downright rude. It will disrespect a lot of sport sedans on the highway. I rarely ever give credit to an engine being the difference maker in a car, but in this one, I do. If this SUV didn’t have such a bombastic engine, I would still consider it to be a good car because it’s so well put together. With this engine though, it is simply outstanding. It’s so powerful and smooth. It’s like a cathedral with rockets bolted to the back. It’s eerily quiet too.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the engine is off when you’re on idle. It’s a mighty achievement by Mazda, which begs the question, why couldn’t this have been put in the Mazda6? It’s a fitting engine for a spectacular chassis. The one thing that this SUV needs are paddle shifters. Most of Mazda’s cars that have it actually don’t deserve it, but this one does. And yes, if you must drive spiritedly, the G-vectoring trickery works wonders in shrinking the size of the SUV as you carve some tight corners.
Utilitarian yet stylish.
How about the ride quality? Many people in Manila that are going to blow a decent amount of money on an SUV like this, do not want a choppy ride. Let me tell you that this will put Audi’s non air-suspension equipped Q7 to shame. It turns potholes into marshmallows and turns sudden road undulations into the finest silk. Everything about it is smooth. It gives a sense that there are a million computers living underneath to negate your arse from feeling imperfections on the road and it is made spookier by vault-like cabin insulation. This is another standout vehicle that stands head and shoulders above the competition or anything else within or slightly above its price range.
It is big, spacious, fast, capable, and if it matters to you, six more people can join the fun. At near 3 million bucks, it doesn’t come cheap. Yes, it’s Japanese and it is not a Toyota Prado that can climb rocks and go deeper into the woods than you really should, but no SUV with the same seating capacity will drive and perform as well as this, unless you are talking about the likes of a BMW X5 - which is more than double the price. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an easy decision because I do not care much for camping in the woods while slaving it out with the insects and the absence of air-conditioning. The CX-9 is perfect, and I would definitely be thrilled to own one if I lived here in California.
It ticks all the boxes and then some.