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Why the Mazda CX-8 is the perfect midsize SUV
I STILL REMEMBER the times when the best-selling cars in the world were just that — cars. The Volkswagen Beetle brought mobility to millions. The Toyota Corolla was a global bestseller for decades. America enjoyed a titanic battle for the title of best-selling car between the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Ford Taurus through the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Today, you can no longer buy a new Beetle or Taurus. And the Corolla, Accord and Camry have been relegated to the sidelines – all thanks to the SUV/crossover.
The turn of the millennium was when the world, after bingeing on dystopian, apocalyptic movies, decided that crossovers are what they need to survive a zombie apocalypse.
Crossovers, after all, can do what SUVs and 4x4s can (at least most of what they can) like jump over curbs, run over burning tires, or more realistically, survive wading over the occasional thigh-high flood — stuff a sedan can’t do. All these while still retaining easy-to-drive car-like characteristics.
Which begs the question: So what is the best SUV/crossover?
Of course, that will depend on your needs and budget.
For me, a father of three adult-aged children, I’ve found the perfect one.
It’s the Mazda CX-8 — the perfect marriage between a midsize executive sedan and a 4×4. Slotting in size between the compact CX-5 and the full-size seven-seater CX-9, the CX-8 is Mazda’s unique three-row SUV. Unique because unlike most throw-row crossovers, the CX-8 comes in two seating configurations—as a traditional front-wheel drive seven-seater (the P2.29-million Signature) or a more luxurious all-wheel drive six-seater (the P2.45-million Exclusive).
Both variants are powered by a normally aspirated 2.5-liter high-compression ratio (13:1) Skyactiv-G engine mated to a six-speed automatic. Developing 190hp at 6,000 rpm and 252Nm of torque at 4,000rpm, this cutting-edge powertrain is every bit as smooth and quiet as those found in full-bore luxury cars, while still offering rev-happy yet fuel-efficient performance that’s the hallmark of the brand from Hiroshima.
Sharing the CX-9’s platform (including its long 2,930mm wheelbase), the CX-8 is roughly seven inches shorter, five inches narrower, and just under an inch lower—making it that little bit easier to weave through tight places or slower traffic. It generally shares the CX-9’s strut/multi-link suspension but is tweaked for a little more responsiveness. If you need a three-row crossover but don’t want to sacrifice driving pleasure, go for the CX-8. It won’t disappoint.
It doesn’t have the Miata-like tossability of the diminutive CX-3 or the outright visual sexiness of the CX-30, but the CX-8 is the logical progression of those two fun-to-drive subcompact crossovers as their owners graduate to a bigger and more luxurious (but still fun to drive) ride. The only thing I miss on the CX-8 are paddle shifters, which would let Dad play F1 driver flicking through the gears as he carves up apexes going to Tagaytay or Baguio. At least it’s got a manumatic Sport Mode so you can row the gearshift lever through the car’s six speeds—plus Mazda’s superb G-Vectoring Control for that extra confidence boost when you find your rhythm through the switchbacks.
So far, I’ve been talking about the CX-8 as a family man. My day job, however (at least before the pandemic), includes regular attendance of media events all over the metro. The last few years before COVID-19 struck had me riding at the back seat chasing deadlines on my laptop as my driver wove his way through traffic. The CX-8 Exclusive’s individual rear seats would make a chauffer-driven ride absolutely magical. Each middle row seat can be adjusted fore and aft so if you push it way back and move the front passenger seat all the way to the front, you’ll have legroom befitting a Business Class passenger on an Emirates A380 flight—easily more than what you’d get in the back of any of the midsize German luxury sedans. The only cars where you could get similar individual back seats cost millions more (think Bentley Bentayga or Porsche Panamera). And you still have a reasonably spacious third-row seat for extra passengers (or for those bring-your-child-to-work days). How’s that for versatility? (Oh, and the seats are made of real Nappa leather in beautiful Deep Red, not the all-too-common faux black leather found in a growing number of cars.)
More versatility and flexibility can be enjoyed by the middle and last rows of seats that can be folded flat to create a load floor roughly six feet long. Yes, the CX-8 can load stuff you’d otherwise need a pickup truck for. If that doesn’t make the CX-8 the ideal car for the do-everything parent, I don’t know what will.
The CX-8’s lengthy list of features include adaptive LED headlights, LED foglights and taillights, big 19-inch wheels wrapped with smooth-riding 225/55R19 Toyo Proxes tires, power tailgate, and rain-sensing wipers, power adjustment for the front occupants (10-way with memory for the driver, six-way for the passenger), tri-zone automatic climate control, windshield-projected heads-up display, power sunroof, and an eight-inch Mazda Connect infotainment system with a superb 10-speaker Bose sound system.
For safety, both CX-8 variants come with six airbags, ABS with EBD, front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree camera, Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist. The AWD Exclusive adds i-Activ Sense, which bundles radar-based Adaptive Cruise Control, Smart Brake Support, and Driver-Attention Alert.
Luxury brand considerations aside, the Mazda CX-8 is the spiritual equivalent of the BMW X5 — a spacious and luxurious family SUV that’s equally rewarding, whether you’re behind the wheel or in the back seat. For this father of three, I can’t ask for anything more.