2020 Mazda CX-8 review: How Mazda rows to the occasion

Six seats or seven? The Mazda CX-8 gives you plenty of reason to ponder the choice, while displaying the brand’s typical virtues

SINGAPORE — What a coincidence that two premium Sport Utility Vehicles should roll into Singapore within two days of each other, and each with more than five seats. There’s the Mercedes GLB (launched October 15), and then there’s this, the Mazda CX-8. Yes, I did say “premium”, and yes, I did mention a Mazda in the same paragraph as a Mercedes-Benz. Test drive them both and tell me what you think.

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering what a Mazda CX-8 is, that’s easy. It’s a new model that slots between the CX-5 (a five-seat SUV, and the car that really kick-started Mazda’s rebirth) and the CX-9 (below), a jolly big car that’s longer than 5m, with seven seats and a 2.5-litre turbo engine.

Not a CX-8, but a CX-9

Another way to view the CX-8 is to see it as a slightly stretched CX-5 with third row seating. The twist is, you can have it with six seats (2+2+2) or seven (2+3+2). Just like a BMW X7, actually, except the CX-8 manages to keep things below 5m. It’s 4,900mm long with a 2,930mm wheelbase.

Not a CX-8, but a CX-5

For comparison, the CX-5 (above) is 4,550mm long with a 2,700mm wheelbase. The CX-8 is 50mm taller.

But the new SUV wears its size well, and even though it’s big it avoids looking bulky or flabby. If anything, the CX-8 looks a bit better than the CX-5. They both have the same, evocative front with the large grille and slim headlamps, but the extra length gives the CX-8 better proportions. Viewed from the side, it looks more balanced.

At long last, a CX-8

Singapore buyers have three versions to choose (seven-seat Elegance and Luxury variants, and a six-seat Luxury), and all get their go from a 2.5-litre Skyactiv-G engine that drives the front wheels through a six-speed auto.

Being based on the CX-5 means the CX-8 is blessed with that car’s great steering — it has plenty of feel and feels nice when you aim the Mazda through bends.

The chassis in general feels very well-sorted, with taut body control and loads of cornering grip. Some of that comes at the expense of ride quality, because the Mazda feels firmly sprung at times, but that’s probably necessary because this is a car that has to carry up to seven people.

All CX-8s have G-Vectoring Control Plus, a system that automatically reduces engine torque when you steer into a corner and then feeds it back in as you exit. It adds stability and helps to smoothen the ride for passengers.

The engine is a non-turbo unit, which some people might think of as a deal-breaker. Essentially, the CX-9 is for them. But there’s no reason to avoid the CX-8, because the 2.5-litre engine is an eager unit that thrives on revs.

That’s just as well, because you do need to rev it hard to merge with fast traffic or overtake someone, but otherwise there’s actually enough torque to ensure that that Mazda doesn’t feel like it’s working hard to keep up with traffic. If anything, it’s a relaxed (and relaxing) car, and even if you don’t visit the redline it feels a lore more lively than the 0-100km/h time of 10.7 seconds suggests.

The CX-8 has pretty much the same dashboard as the CX-5, so there’s little to complain about there. It’s all very driver-centric and uncomplicated, and the BMW-style rotary controller is still easy to operate — twist, press, jostle your way through a simple menu system and you’ll find what you want in no time.

Likewise, the instrument cluster is a toned-down affair whose high-contrast TFT display is clear and sharp.

We’ve had some hot days lately, but the Mazda is a fridge on wheels. Top marks go to the powerful air-con system, which is frigid to start with but supplemented by ventilation fans in the front seats.

But in a car like this, the seats up front are probably less important than in a family sedan, say. Here, the Mazda offers a bit of choice. Notice the individual chairs in Row 2 of our test car?

Everyone who sat in them loved them. They recline and slide, they have armrests, there are pull-up window blinds, and the seats are mounted at a nice height for most backsides to slide smoothly into them as you enter the car.

People in the second row also have their own a/c vents and large cupholders, while everyone on board has their own USB charging port.

The six-seater configuration actually makes things better for Row 3 passengers, too. There are no air-con vents back there, but the gap between the middle-row chairs lets cold air flow freely through them. It also lets more light through, so it doesn’t feel so grim in the back.

Yet, there’s no use denying that the 3rd row seats are the worst in the house. It’s not really a space issue; you’ll have to dip your head a bit if you’re 1.7m tall, but if the person in front of you is nice they can grant you more legroom by sliding their chair forward.

But riding in the 3rd Row exaggerates the Mazda’s body movements as it rises and falls over bumps, and rocks over uneven roads.  Such is life for people in the back of three-row MPVs, so if you plan to use all six seats often (or five seats, for that matter), you should keep each journey short.

As for carrying stuff, the CX-8 can take 209 litres on board with all seats up, 775 litres if you drop the 3rd row seats (when loaded floor to ceiling), and as much as 1,727 litres with Row 2 down (also floor to ceiling).

German brands like to charge extra for fewer seats, but here the seven-seat and six-seat CX-8 Luxury cost the same, at S$157,888 (with Certificate Of Entitlement). 

All the CX-8s are generously equipped, with useful features such as a bright head-up display system, keyless entry, cruise control, and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

There are front, side and curtain airbags, and a host of active safety features, such as lane-keep assist and autonomous emergency braking.

If you can live without blind spot monitors (we wouldn’t) and a Bose sound system, you can get the Elegance seven-seater and save yourself S$4,000.

But maybe the real conundrum is whether you should opt for six or seven seats.

Family size could decide that for you, so if you need to drive six people around regularly (for a total of seven), that’s an easy decision. On the other hand, two individual chairs are more comfortable than a three-person bench for sure, so if you want a car with Business Class seating in the middle, the CX-8 obliges. It works best as a regular four-seater.

A similar layout has made some MPVs (or Multi Purpose Vehicles) popular here, at least, like the Toyota Previa. So why not go ahead and just buy an MPV? You could, but you would definitely trade driver enjoyment for the space.

The CX-8 may be an SUV, but it handles neatly and has nice enough steering that you might enjoy slinging it hard into a bend to see what comes of it. In other words, you can spend time behind the wheel without constantly wishing you were driving something else, which is more than I can say for any MPV I can think of. 

It may come with six or seven seats, but the CX-8 is still a Mazda, so one seat is still more important than all the rest.

Mazda CX-8 Skyactiv-G 2.5 Luxury
Engine 2,488cc, inline 4
Power 194hp at 6,000rpm
Torque 258Nm at 4,000rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
Top speed 196km/h
0-100km/h 10.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency 8.1L/100km
CO2/VES  183g/km/C1
Price S$157,888 (with Certificate Of Entitlement)
Agent Trans Eurokars Pte Ltd
Available Now

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about the author

Leow Julen
CarBuyer's managing editor is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 26 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.