The CX-9 best shows Mazda’s strengths

The CX-9 is a seven-seater (five plus two, really) SUV that can be bought either as a front-wheel drive or 4WD. Here, there’s everything you love about Mazda’s six-speed automatic plus a lot more shove from a turbocharged 2.5-litre petrol engine.

It’s a little on the heavy side, which is very unlike other Mazdas, but for a car of its class, it’s still exceptionally well proportioned and fun to drive. The interior’s really where it shines. There’s a lot of design flair and nice materials.

Plus the plum-coloured interior is pretty distinct. But it’s also the most expensive car Mazda sells. Without GST, it’s still between RM265K and RM280K.

Despite the price, Malaysians have been happily buying these. Why?

Some have stated that Mazda has become an all-out premium brand, comparable to Infiniti, Lexus, Acura, etc.

Well, not everyone agrees.

Here’s why. Mazda is still a mass market Japanese brand like Honda but without the advantages of scale. And if you don’t have scale, your parts are going to be more expensive.

And if your parts are going to be more expensive, you are going to have to charge customers more for the same thing. And if you’re going to charge more, you’d better differentiate your product and add perceived value.

The perceived value added in a typical modern Mazda: Kodo design, Zoom-Zoom driving characteristics, elements of BMW’s infotainment system layout, cutting-edge powertrain development, and all wrapped up in easily accessible brand identity.

Do any of these factors add any real value? Only if the customer perceives it.

If you’re just average Joe-need-a-car, these are not going to matter. But if you’re not-so-average-Joe-wants-a car-that-reflects-my-status, then these will have all the value in the world. They will be worth paying extra for.

Here’s the bigger picture when it comes to the CX-9:

Every other Mazda model has a direct mass market competitor.

The Mazda 2 has the Honda Jazz, Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo/Vento, Kia Rio, Proton Iriz, etc.

The Mazda 3 has the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf/Jetta, Toyota Corolla Altis, etc.

The Mazda 6 has the Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Ford Mondeo, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Teana, etc.

The Mazda CX-3 has the Honda HR-V, Subaru XV, Toyota CH-R, etc.

The Mazda CX-5 has the Honda CR-V, the Subaru Forester, Volkswagen Tiguan, etc.

Their MPVs, pickup, roadster largely go ignored but all have direct and indirect competitors of some sort as well.

The CX-9 is the first model without competition from mass market brands. The closest mass market seven-seaters seem to be the Kia Sorento, Toyota Fortuner and MU-X, which aren’t really competitors at all, given the CX-9’s premium positioning.

So, the real seven-seaters that Mazda are chasing include the Lexus RX 350 L, Volvo XC90 T8 and Audi Q7. And all of these are at least RM100,000 more expensive than the CX-9.

So, what happens if you’re a family man who:

  • wants an SUV
  • wants it to reflect your status in life
  • needs to transport five to six family members regularly
  • needs to get something within a budget of about RM300,000

Then, only Mazda has you covered. This is a segment that Subaru and Honda could have probably covered with their Ascent and Pilot. But in Malaysia, they’re not available yet.

And because neither Subaru nor Honda have played up the “premium”, “aspirational”, “perceived value” brand characteristics as much as Mazda has, they might also struggle to get Malaysians to cough up RM300,000 for a car with their badge on the front.

Meanwhile the CX-9 is flying off the shelves.

Mazda CX-9 4WD Specifications

Engine: 2.5-litre inline 4 DOHC Turbo
Capacity: 2,488cc
Gearbox: 6-speed conventional automatic
Max power: 228hp @ 5000rpm
Max torque: 420Nm @ 2000Nm

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