Mazda CX-8 Signature – the Anti-SUV

Mazda has a pickup truck, the Ford Ranger-based BT-50, which got a redesign based on the new Isuzu D-Max (and is yet to arrive in the Philippines). But even with the existence of the Ranger-based Ford Everest and the upcoming next-generation mu-X (D-Max-based), there has never been a pickup-based Mazda SUV. And that’s a good thing.

Mazda has crossovers to fill that void and case in point, in lieu of lacking a direct contender in the midsize SUV segment, Mazda has the seven-seater CX-8.

For this review, I drove the CX-8 Signature trim, and here’s why it’s the anti-SUV.

Exterior

It may not be apparent for everyone but the CX-8 is actually just as huge as pickup platform SUVs out there. It’s a bit lower, however, which gives it a better stance than more popular counterparts and way better on-road manners, but more on that later. Of note, its 200mm of ground clearance is nothing to scoff at.

As for the design, the CX-8 carries the Kodo design language gracefully despite its heft. This is both its gift and curse; Kodo design will always be beautiful at any angle but having no clear-cut identity versus its Mazda crossover siblings doesn’t make the CX-8 stand out.

But as it is and without looking at its positioning in the Mazda range, the CX-8’s proportions are on point and void of pretensions; the all-LED affair makes it even appealing at nighttime.

Interior

Cavernous cabin space is one thing that the CX-8 offers proudly despite having the same width as the CX-5, it has a wheelbase length of the CX-9 full-size SUV. That said, the second and third rows can fit up to five individuals, though rear headroom’s limited because of the overall shape. It must be said, however, that all of these seats are a pleasure to sit on, as opposed to the laughable third row of pickup-based SUVs.

Apart from space, most of the positive experience inside the CX-8’s cabin comes from the obvious use of high-quality materials that please both the eyes and touch. The Nappa leather has proven itself as a coveted type of cowhide, while the layout and overall design execution are as logical as they are pretty. One caveat though is the use of scratch-prone piano black plastics on most touch-points.

Tech & Safety

The CX-8’s set of tech features are great for the most part but with a bit of shortcoming. Front seat adjustments are all electronic (with memory function for the driver), while all of the other power-assist toys you’d expect at this price point are fulfilled.

However, the CX-8’s infotainment system is a bit small in relation to the vehicle’s size, which I believe is a missed opportunity given that it has a 360-degree-view camera. Good thing it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with a nifty (and safe) storage area for smartphones by the center console compartment.

Beyond that, the 10-speaker Bose sound system is heaven-sent, providing superb listening pleasure wherever you’re seated.

On the safety front, the CX-8 has more than the basics with a full set of airbags, ABS with EBD, dynamic stability control, blind-spot monitoring system, rear-cross traffic alert, and lane departure warning with lane-keep assist. It does have the standard cruise control; the more advanced radar-based adaptive cruise is found on the pricier AWD Exclusive 6-seater variant.

Driving & Handling

Mazda offers the CX-8 with a 190hp, 252Nm 2.5-liter naturally-aspirated Skyactiv engine, practically a counter-intuitive decision considering Filipinos’ addiction to diesel. It’s also front-wheel drive, with the all-wheel drivetrain reserved for the Exclusive trim.

But whatever your belief or biases against gasoline (and front-wheel drivetrains), you’re wrong. The gasoline engine wasn’t lacking nor does it need help. It did admittedly work harder with higher loads, but with the expected usage of this family hauler, it certainly did the trick. If anything, the non-punchy power delivery promotes a buttery-smooth ride, which is the CX-8’s greatest trait.

With its unibody body construction, the CX-8 didn’t feel floaty. No harsh dips and dives, while its noise insulation kept things quiet within the cabin. If refinement and utmost ride quality are what you’re looking for, no pickup-based SUV ever comes close to what the CX-8 can offer.

Fuel Efficiency

After several days of testing within the city and a few instances of expressway runs, I discovered the main downside of the CX-8: its fuel efficiency.

At an average speed of 40 km/h, the CX-8 returned 6.2 km/L – not really a stellar number but I guess that’s the price of refinement.

Verdict

In the Philippines, owning an SUV usually exudes a certain level of success. Whether that’s true or not, it’s entirely up to you.

As for myself, I am never really a fan of midsize SUVs, especially those that sit atop a ladder-frame chassis. In my years of testing vehicles, pickup-based vehicles always have a laughable ride quality; a comparison between contenders within this segment is usually a question of which one has a more livable ride.

This is where the Mazda CX-8 enters. The seven-seater crossover is the ultimate anti-SUV – proof that hefty family vehicles don’t necessarily mean a compromise in comfort and ride quality.

If you’re in the market for SUVs and have the means to shell out P2,290,000 for a family vehicle, the CX-8 Signature should be on your shortlist. It’s the reason why Mazda doesn’t need its version of the mu-X, and you’ll have to drive one yourself to understand what that means.

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