First impressions: The Mazda CX-8 takes aim at the midsize-SUV crowd

Would you pick this over the segment’s usual suspects?
by Niky Tamayo | Nov 28, 2019

“The CX-8 draws heavily from the smaller CX-5, and it shows”

The Philippines is a tough market for smaller auto manufacturers, dominated as it is by diesel-powered pickup-passenger vehicles (PPVs) from a limited number of brands. Six of the 10 best-selling cars in the country last year had diesel engines plunked on a ladder-frame chassis. The biggest carmakers in the country all rely heavily on pickup trucks and pickup-derived vehicles for sales volume.  

Ordinarily, this would be disheartening for a small brand like Mazda—especially since the only truck in its showroom, the BT-50, is near the end of its life cycle, with a replacement at least a year away. But Hiroshima’s most famous automotive brand prides itself on its flexibility. With its reconfigurable assembly lines and wide parts sharing between product lines, it can pivot to building new offerings more quickly than most.

The CX-8 is a perfect example of this flexibility. Sharing heavily with the CX-5 compact crossover, it’s a midsize seven-seat crossover SUV aimed right at the heart of the PPV market.

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PHOTO: Christian Halili

But wait, you might say—isn’t the CX-9 the carmaker’s seven-seat offering? Well, yes and no. The CX-9 is a class above, and at a level of luxury and performance that puts it well outside the price range of your common PPV. The Mazda CX-8, however, might just be the ticket to skimming some of those diesel sales away from other manufacturers.

The CX-8 draws heavily from the smaller CX-5, and it shows. Aside from the chrome-bar grille, which mimics the one on the CX-9, the front-end styling is near identical. It’s only as you walk halfway down the car that the differences become apparent, the rear door stretched out to cover the whopping 230mm increase in wheelbase. At 2,930mm, the CX-8’s wheelbase is identical to the CX-9’s. The overall length of 4.9 meters, on the other hand, is just 175mm shy of the CX-9, and a far cry from the much shorter CX-5. The greenhouse doesn’t quite stretch properly to cover this, as there’s an oddness around the D-pillar compared to other two Mazdas, but it’s still a more attractive shape than most other big crossovers.

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Inside, the advantages of the extra length are immediately obvious. The cabin is spacious, with better rear seat access than in the CX-8’s stablemates. Access to the third row is made easier by the big doors, and legroom back there is miles ahead of any PPV. Even with the second row moved all the way back, there’s still enough space for average-size Filipinos to sit without knocking knees against the seatback.

PHOTO: Christian Halili

That third row, in fact, does seem to have more legroom than that of the CX-9, though the bigger car is superior in headroom and elbow room in all rows. Ahead of that third row, aside from second row legroom, the cabin is identical to the CX-5. It can feel a little darker here in this bigger car, but it’s still a class above the common PPV, in terms of material quality and design.

Under the hood is the familiar 2.5-liter Skyactiv gasoline engine from the CX-5, boasting 187hp and 252Nm of torque. Granted, it’s no patch on the turbocharged mill in the CX-9, but it’s a lively one, and some subtle transmission reprogramming means that the CX-8 holds onto gears longer, giving it more pep to make up for the extra weight over its smaller sibling. It’s too early to talk about fuel economy, but chances are, it’ll be pretty close to the CX-5.

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Suspension tuning is supposedly softer than the 5, but the CX-8 feels lithe and nimble, despite the 1,833kg curb weight of this all-wheel-drive variant. Big 225/55 R18 Toyo Proxes tires provide more than sufficient grip while still contributing to the hushed vault-like feel of the interior.

That refinement is sure to please audiophiles when you’re cranking out tunes through the excellent Bose 10-speaker sound system, which provides crisp, powerful and detailed sound. The eight-inch Mazda infotainment display still feels a bit on the small side compared to some others, but new Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration make it more useful. The updated Android interface, in particular, makes for simpler and faster smartphone integration, allowing you to run Waze or Google Maps to navigate through hellish Manila traffic while simultaneously listening to your favorite Spotify playlist and sending text messages to let the office know you’ll be just a little bit late.

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PHOTO: Christian Halili

Few worries—the CX-8 is a fine place to while away the time in. While bigger SUVs make you feel like the family chauffeur, Mazda’s right-sized seven-seater is as easy to drive as a compact. And the bundled i-Sense system, which includes radar-assisted cruise control, active lane keeping and smart braking, makes it a great out-of-town cruiser, as well. One with more comfort and luxury than any ladder-frame diesel truck.

Starting prices just clip the top of the PPV range, at P2,290,000 for the front-wheel-drive, seven-seat CX-8 Signature variant, equipped with Deep Red (well, more like a dark burgundy) napa leather and all the luxuries of the top-spec Exclusive model. The all-wheel-drive, six-seat CX-8 Exclusive, on the other hand, stickers for P2,450,000, which positions it between CX-9 variants. Granted, it lacks the CX-9’s turbocharged engine and extra space, but unlike the older CX-9, the Exclusive gets the full i-Activsense safety suite. Something which will hopefully migrate to the bigger car on the next update.

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But for now, the CX-8 stands as Mazda’s most sophisticated and luxurious crossover. Will that be enough to entice buyers away from the competition? Only time will tell. But whether compared to the competition or viewed in isolation, the CX-8 is yet another compelling argument for switching to a Mazda.

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PHOTO: Christian Halili
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