“It’s basically a CX-5 stretched to fit an extra row of seats.”
That was my automated reply to everyone who asked me about the Mazda CX-8; something you’d expect to have more in common with the retired CX-7 and flagship CX-9 given its name. In truth, it's more closely related to the CX-5. The CX-30 already taught us that Mazda doesn’t play by the rules when it comes to numbers. The CX-8’s lesson was a bit more punitive: it taught me I was wrong.
For starters, it isn’t your average SUV that will seat seven. And I don’t mean that rhetorically; three out of the CX-8’s four variations present are actually strict six-seaters, including the “2WD High” variant pictured. It’s not the range-topper with all the bells and whistles Mazda has to offer – that privilege goes to the sole AWD oil burner in the range. But the highest-spec petrol is already quite a stellar package.
Much of the CX-8’s appeal stems from the audacity in reducing all the R&D hours put into extending the CX-5’s frame by 350mm (wheelbase up by 230mm) into just one additional seat. It may sound grossly impractical, but the middle row is an incredibly pleasant place to be in on the move – the individual seats are plush, spacious and comfy with a good degree of passenger customisability (for AC and seat adjustments).
The High variant wedges a centre console with armrests and cup holders between the seats for that extra layer of gloss. Coming straight from a convoy of brand new limousines, I can’t say the SUV felt like much of a step down. Mazda has hit another home run in terms of quality you can make out by sight and touch, for a CKD model at that. After all, the CX-8 is the brand’s flagship in Japan where the CX-9 is curiously absent. So it’s not entirely surprising.
What did catch my eye, or rather my senses, was how sprightly the CX-8 felt upon the first dab of its throttle. The 192bhp 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G powertrain under the hood is identical to the one in the naturally-aspirated CX-5, on paper at least. But its low-end shove feels quite energetic for something tipping the scales at nearly 1.8 tonnes before factoring in occupants and cargo.
Mazda’s six-speed auto is a slick shifter as always. And you get the suspicion that it gets quite a healthy portion of the CX-8’s 258Nm to play with before hitting the 4,000rpm mark required to unlock maximum twist. This zeal will eventually taper out at higher speeds – sooner with more passengers on-board. But as far as getting around at a comfortable and legal pace is concerned, there’s little to dislike here for a crossover that was largely conceived for practicality reasons initially.
If we were to nit-pick, the CX-8’s main infotainment screen is a tad underwhelming compared to the sleeker units primed in the new Mazda3 and CX-30. The 360-degree camera feed, though useful, is lacking in resolution too. There’s also a big question mark hovering over the SUV’s built-up space. Don’t get me wrong; the boot is huge and the seats are blessed with sufficient legroom in my books. But it’s hard not to wonder if other carmakers can make better use of the CX-8’s vast dimensions.
People who spend too much time worrying about matters like this will not be able to justify forking out RM200k – over RM36k more than a similarly-kitted CX-5 – for a slightly longer SUV capable of ferrying an extra passenger anyway. Their math may check out, but they certainly won’t be experiencing the unquantifiable world of difference a single seat can make anytime soon. And to think that I used to be one of them…
Mazda CX-8 2.5G 2WD High
Engine: 2.5L 4cyl NA, 192hp, 258Nm
Transmission: 6spd auto, FWD
Six-seat layout is the one to get. Substantially more spacious than the CX-5 and luxuriously so given the price point. Small infotainment screen with poor camera resolution are the only notable blemishes in an otherwise stellar interior package.
A genuinely likeable SUV.