Whenever we are about to head out of the house, whether for school or for malling, our two kids would often ask: “Daddad, which car are we bringing?” The “wife’s” Mazda MX-5 is what they fondly call ‘the small car,’ while the family hauler Ford Explorer is referred to as ‘the big car.’
When we brought the kids to Mazda Makati in December 2019 to pick up this loaner Mazda CX-8, I specifically asked them one question: “Kids, can you tell daddad if you think this car we’re borrowing is the ‘just right’ car?”
Right off the bat, the kids loved the second-row captain’s chairs that gave them an easy way to reach their favorite part of the car: the third row. While seated in a captain’s chair, my three-year-old pointed at something toward the window and asked what it was—window shades, which were a pleasant surprise to have in this car. They insisted that we drive with the shades up to protect them from the heat of the sun.
On the way home, the kids kept raving about how the car was like a “big spaceship,” which, as I have mentioned in my Mazda 6 review, is the term we use for a car with great noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) reduction features. The kids also talked about how nice the CX-8’s leather seats are. The nappa leather is in a muted shade of red that’s almost brown (unlike the CX-9’s upholstery, which comes in a polarizing brighter red hue).
Still seated in the second row, our five-year-old told the three-year-old: “Look, Soy, we have one cupholder each,” referring to the two drink receptacles positioned between the captain’s chairs. The console there also houses a pair of USB ports for keeping devices charged. More ‘toys’ for the kids: The three-year-old, as he often does, proceeded to play around with the second-row A/C controls conveniently located behind the driver’s center console, with full options to adjust not just the vent direction, but also fan speed, temperature, and even blower direction.
After spending a bit more time in the car, I gained my own personal observations, both good and not. The power liftgate, which should be a standard feature on SUVs in 2020, works pretty well. Rear cargo capacity when the third row isn’t folded down, however, isn’t very generous. This is one of the areas where the bigger CX-9 has a clear advantage.
The side mirrors are power-folding, but they don’t fold and unfold automatically when you lock and unlock the vehicle using the key fob. In the Mazda 6, I noted that the white LED bulbs in the cabin provided warm-ish illumination; in the CX-8, the bulbs emitted a ‘so white—are we in the hospital?’ level of glare. Not sure if this is because the 6 is manufactured in Japan while the CX-8 is manufactured in Malaysia.
The CX-8 also has Mazda’s i-Stop technology, which, depending on where you stand on this feature, is either a good thing to have or a potential headache down the road. I personally don’t like it and always turn it off immediately upon starting the car.
Inside, the CX-8 exudes the same luxurious vibe as the Mazda 6. The wood accents on the dashboard and the doors look premium and elegant. The instrument panel go the more traditional route of having more analog components than LCDs. The smudge-prone piano-black accents found in other Mazda models are here as well, so expect fingerprints and smudging, especially on high-contact surfaces.
Let’s talk a bit about the exterior. The crossover’s 19-inch alloy wheels are a thing of beauty. I am a fan of everything on the outside except for the front grille, which has the more outdated design that’s similar to the CX-9’s and not the newer black mesh fascia on the CX-5. I’ll just let the photos here do most of the talking.
For the features, notable mention needs to be made for the infotainment system. While the official spec sheet states that the CX-8 has an eight-inch Mazda Connect setup with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto built in, what the CX-8 has is not the same eight-inch system as the Mazda 6. I’ve noticed that while the physical hardware of the two looks similar, the actual usable screen size on the CX-8 is closer to the seven-inch unit found on the MX-5. However, the pixel resolution of the CX-8 display appears to be a bit higher than the rest for crisper-looking output overall.
My other favorite features are the heads-up active driving display that projects your speed and other notifications onto the windshield, the 10-speaker Bose audio system that sounds sublime, the auto brake hold function that’s great for Metro Manila stop-and-go traffic, the lane-keep assist feature that you’ll either love or turn off completely, and the 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G engine that delivers ample power for most driving situations.
If I were to improve this car, my three main requests would be: add a turbo and sunroof option for the six-seater variant, upgrade the infotainment system to a full eight-inch usable screen (or even the 8.8-inch screen found on the CX-30), and of course, automatic power-folding side mirrors linked to the lock/unlock function of the key fob.
So, is the CX-8 the ‘just right’ Goldilocks car? While the answer to that depends on your familial and personal needs in a vehicle for the entire family, my very discerning wife did send me her thoughts about this Mazda: “The kids love the CX-8 so much; chair so easy to move to get to the back. If only we started selling the sports car (as in our MX-5) six months ago when I said so, we can have this car that we will actually all use and like.”
I’m thinking that’s a yes from her.