Wheels, January 2019 (PDF) (LINK)
LINK: All about Wheels Car of the Year (COTY)

To say hopes sat in the mid-highs for the CX-8 in this year’s COTY would be playing it down. Mazda has more COTY trophies in its pool room than most other manufacturers to date, having most recently taken out the gong with the MX-5 in 2016 and CX-9 in 2017, as well as landing a spot in the final five last year with the CX-5.

So, being an amalgamation of the latter two CXs by blood as well as proxy, the CX-8 should have a legitimate claim for the throne, right? Alas, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that COTY is not so predictable.

Think of the CX-8 as the offspring of the flagship CX-9 and the CX-5 mid-sizer, sharing the wheelbase of the former and the somewhat narrower platform of the latter, while borrowing design cues from both.From the A-pillar forwards and also in width, it’s pure CX-5. In the rear? The burlier CX-9 shines through.

Cleverly, this makes for some well-hidden size, multi-purpose functionality and a stamp that fills a gap that wouldn’t have existed just a few years ago: the “three-row crossover”. However, as our leggier judges found out, the rear seats are best thought of as an occasional, or kids-only, two-plus-two. One man’s three-row crossover is another’s in-case-of-a-party option.

Adding to the CX-8’s appeal, all three variants have a 2.2-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel that pumps out 140kW and 450Nm – just like a CX-5. Unsurprisingly, this darling of a diesel thrilled the judges, earning praise for its saccharine-like refinement. More than once “this is a diesel?” was muttered. When it came to the stars of the line-up, the AWD models earned points for a nimbleness synonymous with a much smaller car. “You can drive this like a sedan, it’s so confident,” said Byron Mathioudakis. Overall, as the finessed ride, clever ESC, minor bodyroll and low road noise ticked our panel’s boxes, the resounding “Mazda has done it again” was not so much a surprise as a relief.

Plus, on paper, with the Japanese brand’s proficient safety features as-standard, like AEB, blind-spot monitoring, driver-attention alert, lane-keep assist and traffic-sign recognition, the CX-8 puts up quite a fight.

Sadly, in a field with plenty of crossovers crossing swords, the CX-8 feels a little flat. Like a well-performed pub band cover of your favourite tune, for all its satisfaction, that COTY-winning wow factor is just … missing. Sure, the CX-8 is capable, refined and a strong contender, but the panel found it less cohesive than a CX-9, and not as honed as a CX-5. Somehow, the CX-8 just didn’t shine brightly enough to step out of the shadows of its superior siblings. As Alex Inwood said, it’s like an attempt at a ‘Greatest Hits’ mash-up of the CX-5 and CX-9, but it doesn’t quite succeed.

Ultimately, the question was, does this seven-seater move the genre on the way the CX-9 did so effortlessly two years ago? If there’s any doubt, you know what the answer is…