BETTER THAN EVER: The GT SP has brought stand-out looks and equipment to Mazda’s CX-9 large SUV range.

By DEREK OGDEN, Marque Motoring

MAZDA has given a boost to its CX-9 sports utility vehicle by adding a GT SP model to the range.

The maker has taken nothing from its premium aspirations with the move.

The exterior now includes a gunmetal grey grille design and black mirror caps, with 20-inch alloy wheels completing the picture.

Inside, additions include black panel décor, red stitching on the steering wheel, door trims, centre console and armrests, plus burgundy leather upholstery for its seven seats.

The CX-9 newbie, at $63,590, plus on-roads, for the front-wheel drive, sits at the middle of the price range, while the all-wheel drive GT SP adds up to $67,590.

Cover includes a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty.

Servicing intervals are 12 months if capped at 10,000 km between visits.

Capped-price servicing for the GT SP AWD ranges between $364 and $409 per visit, totalling $1910 for the first five visits.

Styling has held the CX-9’s appeal well, with the new grey grille and black bits setting the GT SP apart from the rest of the Mazda SUV muscle mob.

At more than five metres long, the CX-9 profile is far from bulky in looks, while 20-inch wheels with a bold design impart a modern no-nonsense look to the high-end wagon, LED taillights impart a sleek premium view to the rear.

Black panel decor, red stitching on the steering wheel, door trims, centre console and armrests, plus classy burgundy leather upholstery for its seven seats take the GT SP to another level for SUVs of this category.

Seats up front are soft and welcoming, while the second row of a double bench layout has generous head and leg room, the latter spots, of course, subject to their slide positions.

The third row are really only suitable for small stature occupants, while cargo space is limited to 230 litres with all seats in operation.

Fold the third-row seatbacks and there is 810 litres on offer.

On the upside, the GT comes up with plenty of creature comforts to those in the back, including the dedicated climate controls, power outlets, retractable sun blinds and bright LED overhead lighting.

The new GT SP boasts the latest Mazda Connect infotainment system with 10.25-inch colour screen and boots more quickly on start-up, while a move to digital as opposed to analogue signals, has sharpened screen resolution and audio sound quality.

The screen is accessed via the traditional Mazda Command Control knob and buttons on the centre console.

Convenience compared to a touchscreen is ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other’.

Qi wireless smartphone charging can be accessed by placing the phone in the centre console tray, in front of the gearshift.

With petrol power alone, the Skyactiv-G2.5T turbocharged four-cylinder engine is carried over across the whole CX-9 range.

The engine produces 170 kW of peak power at 5000 rpm and 420 Nm of maximum torque from a low 2000 revs.

Power is put to ground via a six-speed torque converter automatic transmission and, in the case of the test car, all-wheel drive.

Like all upgraded CX-9s, occupant safety is in the hands of Mazda’s i-Activsense system, which includes radar cruise control with stop / start engine function, smart brake support (forward and reverse), lane departure warning and lane keep assist.

To which are added traffic sign recognition, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and driver attention alert.

Six airbags (front driver and passenger, front sides, and curtain front and rear.

The CX-9 powertrain is linked to Mazda’s stop-and-go function which is designed to maximise fuel efficiency.

It works by cutting the motor when the vehicle comes to rest, restarting it once the brake pedal pressure is relaxed.

This system is one of the better ones on the market, with little lag between engine stop and start.

Mazda claims fuel consumption in the combined urban/highway cycle of 8.4 litres per 100 kilometres for front-wheel drive variants and 9 litres per 100 kilometres the all-wheel drives.

The test GT SP all-wheel drive recorded 13.3 litres per 100 kilometres around town and 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres on a country run.

The tank holds 74 litres of fuel.

The touches of luxury would not be complete without a smooth ride in quiet, vibration-free surroundings.

Mazda engineers went to work on the suspension and steering system to give the car a more linear driving feel and greater ride comfort, while noise, vibration, and harshness levels have been further reduced.

Sport Mode can be activated via a switch on the centre console.

This increases throttle response, while moving auto transmission shift points for improved acceleration when accelerating to overtake, or filtering into when entering a motorway.

At more than five metres long, parking can throw up a problem or two.

The reversing camera helps some way but is lacking the luxury of dynamic guidelines, leaving directions to a static system.

Here, the all-round camera view is a boon.

The CX-9 GT SP’s spacious and comfortable cabin, refined ride and handling and equipment, plus its unique special touches, set it apart from the rest of the seven-seat SUV mob.