Mazda’s model lineup has always been simple, straightforward and most of all, handsome cars with a very engaging driving experience as mass motoring goes.
Their KODO: Soul of Motion design philosophy, their SkyActiv suite of technologies, coupled with the joie de vivre of driving through their Jinba Ittai philosophy (horse and rider as one) has made their brand and products stand out and appeal to a distinguished and discerning crowd. Mazdas aren’t for everyone, but for those that do like the Hiroshima-based manufacturer, they are a fiercely loyal and enthusiastic group.
The CX-8 is perhaps the least likely vehicle in Mazda’s line-up to possess these attributes. The cross-over cum MPV is far removed from the sexiness of the Mazda 6, the athleticism of the Mazda 3, the spunk of the Mazda 2, and who can forget the hallowed legacy created by the MX-5?
And yet, I find myself enjoying the drive in the CX-8 through Rizal province as it plays a supporting role for a day of shooting cars. It might just steal the show.
The CX-8 is essentially a Japanized CX-9, the US Market 7-seat SUV. Both share the same wheelbase, but the 8 is narrower by 130mm and slightly shorter by 170mm, making it fit better in Japan’s tight city streets and the rest of Asia. The smaller size gives it a 5.8-meter turning radius, smaller than most LCV-based SUVs plus a 200mm ground clearance gives you confidence to tackle some rough terrain, light flash floods and if needed, park it up a curb on a night out in town (remember those days?)
Power comes from a 2.5 liter normally aspirated SkyActiv direct-injected gasoline engine that outputs 190hp and 252 Newton-Meters of torque. Drive is sent to either the front, or in my test unit’s case, all four wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. Other markets have the option of the 2.5 Turbo or better yet, the smooth revving 2.2 SkyActiv-D diesel engine.
Despite sitting on handsome 19-inch alloy wheels with 225/55R19 tires, the CX-8 rides comfortably with its Macpherson-strut front and multi-link rear suspension.
The CX-8 drives sharp as with all Mazdas: refined and composed, but talkative and engaging in a way you’d never expect from an MPV/cross-over. The steering is light, accurate and direct, the brakes progressive and confidence inspiring and the throttle precise and well-measured. Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control automatically reduces throttle input by 5% when the steering wheel is turned, helping weight transfer slightly to the front axle and thus aiding turn-in ever so slightly, but also appreciably to warrant a difference in feel and added stability and sharpness.
‘Sporty’ cars should take a few pages from the CX-8’s playbook and study it well. Going up Antipolo, the CX-8 ebbs and flows from corner to corner, the suspension soaking up all the bumps, while Mazda’s I-ActiveSense safety suite monitors yourself and your surroundings, adding an extra layer of safety. Lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring keep you alert even when the weather and the CX-8’s utter comfort conspire to lull you to sleep. If, by any chance you do get into a tight situation, rest assured that the CX-8, with its ABS-EBD brakes, traction / stability control, and six airbags will keep you safe and sound. Fuel consumption is a very reasonable 7.8km/liter through traffic and lots of uphill ascents with three people and loads of camera and video equipment. I never got to try it on the expressway, but previous drives in one showed a promising 12km/liter with a steady right foot.
Since I got the Signature Series with all-wheel drive and that gorgeous deep red Nappa Leather interior, I had my colleagues drive me and I sat at the second row, enjoying the entire experience of riding in comfort without worrying about driving. Plugging in my mobile phone to the multimedia infotainment system, Mazda’s Apple CarPlay interface works seamlessly and plays beautiful crisp tunes through the BOSE 10-Speaker surround sound system. There’s a 360-degree view camera to help maneuvering the CX-8 in tight inner city streets combined with sonar parking sensors.
There’s 205 liters of cargo space available with the 50:50 split-folding 3rd row seats up, and 775 liters with them folded flat to the floor. The 6-seater with the center console in the second row really adds a touch of luxury missing in even many cars that cost two to three times more than the CX-8. And being an MPV / cross-over, you neither fall in or get up: you simply sit down. This makes it highly favorable to large families with elderly, kids, PWD’s and of course everyone else in between.
Well spec’d, highly enjoyable to drive, sharp looking and desirable, the CX-8 is truly one of those rare motoring gems that seems to have it all, and crucially, in a price that’s realistic and affordable. Not one single aspect overwhelms the experience. Balance is key, and the driving experience will never get old, and always shed some surprises along the way, preferably on a long drive on a challenging piece of road.
A car enthusiast through and through, Botchi Santos believes that different people have different needs. He tries to find the best car for a specific audience, and spruces things up by delving into car culture, helping make the local car community vibrant and enjoyable for all. His passion for motoring is built around a belief that cars are among the top three life purchases.