Alfa Romeo Stelvio VS Mazda CX-9
Alfa Romeo Stelvio
- Sexy design
- Sporty handling
- Great chassis
- Reliability fears of it being Italian
- Some cheap feeling touches
- Doesn't sound like an Alfa
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- Great advanced safety tech
- Impressive ride and handling
- Engine could have more grunt
- Brakes are good but could be more responsive
- Can be tricky to pilot in tight spaces
Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Just how important are looks, really? Sure, if you’re a model, or you’re asking Rihanna or Brad Pitt for a date, or you’re a sports car, or a super yacht, being attractive is helpful. But if you’re an SUV, like Alfa Romeo’s new, brand-reshaping Stelvio, does it really matter?
There are some people who believe all SUVs are ugly because they are simply too big to look good, in the same way that all 12-foot tall people, no matter how good-looking, would be undeniably off-putting.
Yet there are undeniably a lot of people who find SUVs, particularly expensive European ones, very much attractive, as well as practical, because how else could you explain the fact that cars like this Stelvio - mid-sized SUVs - are now the biggest-selling premium segment in Australia?
We’re set to snap up more than 30,000 of them this year, and Alfa wants to take as much of that tasty sales pie chart as it can.
If success could be put down to looks alone, you’d have to back the Stelvio to succeed fabulously, because it truly is that rarest of things, an SUV that’s actually attractive, even sexy. But does it have what it takes in other areas to tempt buyers into choosing an Italian option over the trusted Germans?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The CX-9 is Mazda's big, SUV flagship and it has been updated with more cool tech, better safety features, better handling and real wood. Yup, you read that right: real wood. There's also been a price rise on this seven-seater.
You did know it was a seven-seater, right? And not all seven-seat SUVs are the same. There are off-road capable ones which can be as uncomfortable as a tank on city streets. Then there are those that feel like giant, cushy lounge rooms that handle like a ship really and are just big cars so you better not take them off road. There are others which say they're seven-seaters but in reality those extra two seats in the third row are just for kids – and even then you'd only put your least favourite ones back there. So, what's the Mazda CX-9 then?
That's what this review is all about and by the end of it you'll know if this new Mazda CX-9 the right seven-seater for you.
|Engine Type||2.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Alfa Romeo Stelvio8/10
Properly beautiful in a way only Italian cars can ever be, the new Alfa Romeo Stelvio really is what the marketeers promise - a more emotional, more fun and better-looking option to the German offerings we’ve been served up for so long. Yes, it’s an Italian car, so it might not turn out to be quite as well built as an Audi, Benz or BMW, but it will definitely make you smile more often. Particularly when you look at it.
Are the Alfa's looks enough to tempt you away from the Germans? Tell us in the comments below.
The previous CX-9 was excellent and now the new one fills in many of the gaps which were missing such as the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the safety tech standard across all grades and great ride and handling. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better large seven-seater all-rounder without stepping into the $100K prestige territory.
The Touring is the sweet spot in the CX-9 with its leather seats, 8.0-inch display and good price.
Is there anything Mazda has missed with its CX-9? Or is this SUV almost as good as it gets at this price? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio9/10
It might be unfair to suggest Italians are more interested in design than anything else, but it would only be honest to suggest that it often feels that way. And when that obsession with making things look good results in a car as curvaceous, sensuous and sporty as this, who could argue that it’s a bad thing?
I once asked a senior Ferrari designer why Italian cars, and super cars in particular, look so much better than German ones, and his answer was simple: “when you grow up surrounded by so much beauty, it’s natural to make beautiful things”.
For Alfa to produce a car, like the Giulia, that reflects its brand’s design aesthetic and proud sporting heritage - it is the brand that gave birth to Ferrari, as its spin doctors like to remind us - is almost expected, or predictable.
But to perform the same feat on this scale, on a big, bulky SUV with all of its proportional challenges, is a real achievement. I’d have to say there’s not a single angle from which I don’t like the look of it.
The interior is almost as good, but does fall down in a few areas. If you buy the 'First Edition Pack', a $6000 cost and one that’s only available to the first 300 people to rush in, or the 'Veloce Pack' they’ll also offer ($5000), you get really nice sporty seats and shiny pedals, and the panoramic roof, which manages to let light in without cutting your headroom off.
Buy an actual base model, however, for a notional $65,900, and you’ll get a lot less class. The steering wheel won’t feel as sporty, either, but no matter which variant you buy you’re stuck with a slightly cheap and plastic-feeling gear shifter (which is also a bit counterintuitive to use), which is a shame, because it’s a touch point you’ll use every day. The 8.8-inch screen is also not quite of German standard, and the sat nav can be temperamental.
The cool-steel gear-shift paddles, on the other hand, are absolutely gorgeous, and would feel at home on a Ferrari.
Nothing has changed to the exterior of the CX-9 in this 2018 update – but that's a good thing, because this is a striking and beautifully styled SUV. More a tall, sleek wagon than upright boxy SUV, there's that in-your-face grille, the long nose the set-back cabin and the hatchback rear end. The only element which irks me are the taillights – they seem a bit small for that big bottom.
All CX-9s look almost identical on the outside, but you can tell the higher grades form their larger-sized wheels and LED fog lights.
There's not much in the way of a body kit, but there is that subtle roof top spoiler, that sculpted front bumper and the little shark fin antenna.
The cabin is a premium feeling place (have a look at the images) – this is Mazda flagship after all. Materials feel soft to touch even on the dash and door sills back and front, while there's a high-quality fit and finish throughout. With big interior dimensions this is also a roomy place, despite that sloping roofline.
The Azami LE is by far the most decadent grade with its nappa leather upholstery and real wood trim. Mazda was not able to tell me what type of wood has been used and could only go as far as confirming it was real wood, however, in the United States the top-grade CX-9, known as the Signature, uses a similar looking material and officially calls it rosewood.
Mazda also told me that the adhesives and materials used in the cabin were also chosen to minimise bad smells – not from the people in it but from the leather's plastics and glues. If only all car companies would care enough to do this – some new car smells make my eyes water.
At almost 5.1 metres long, nearly 2.0m wide and getting onto 1.8m tall you'll need a pretty big garage to house the CX-9.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio8/10
We were lucky enough to drive this car early, on a recent family holiday in Italy, and can tell you that the boot (525 litres) can swallow an astonishing amount of poorly packed crap, or a metric tonne of Italian wine and food, if it happens to be shopping day.
The load space is practical and easy to use, and the rear seats are also capacious We may or may not have tried to pack three adults and two kids in there at one stage (not on a public road, obviously, just for fun) and it was still comfortable, while I can easily sit behind my own 178cm driving position without my knees coming close to brushing the seat back. Hip and shoulder room are also good.
There are map pockets in the seatbacks, plenty of bottle storage in the door bins and two American-sized cupholders, and a big storage bin, between the front seats.
There are a stack of reasons to buy a seven-seater. You may have a big family and really need the third row, or you're just a small family that likes to pack a truck-load of gear for holidays while having a couple of extra seats just in case you're put on the spot after picking the kids up from karate and end up with more ninjas to drop home.
There are other seven-seaters where those third-row seats are just a bonus – the Santa Fe is a bit like that, but SUVs such as the CX-9, Kluger and Sorento offer much better room back there.
Even at 191cm tall I can sit in the third row comfortably, with just enough head and legroom. That said, I wouldn't want to be there for an epic road trip, but it's fine for kids and shorter adults.
Legroom in the second row is excellent – I can sit behind my driving position with about 10cm of space between my knees and the seat back – headroom isn't as generous as the Kluger or Sorento but there's still plenty, even for me.
If you're lifting babies and children into car seats you may find that coupe styling to the roofline makes the process a little harder – it did for me with our little one.
Also, this SUV is fairly high up. I've had my toddler do a face plant falling out of one while trying to climb in. Oh, don't judge me.
Entry into the third row is made easier by a 60:40 folding second row on rails. It's also good to see that the smaller foldable section is on the curb side of the car.
The CX-9's boot space with the third row down is outstanding at 810 litres (VDA) – the Kluger can only manage 529 litres and even with those back seats in place the luggage capacity is 230 litres, check out my video above where I demonstrate the size with a live human being.
Storage in the cabin is also excellent with six cupholders (two in the first row, two in second and the others in the third) and all grades above the Sport come with storage in the fold-down centre armrest, which also contains a USB port.
All CX-9s come with a USB port up front in the giant split-opening centre console bin and a 12-volt power outlet in the cargo area.
Price and features
Alfa Romeo Stelvio8/10
If you’re buying the absolute base model Stelvio at $65,990, which we’d suggest you shouldn’t because it is a far, far better car with the adaptive dampers fitted, you get all those good looks thrown in for free, plus 19-inch, 10-spoke alloys, a 7.0-inch driver instrument cluster and the 8.8-inch colour multimedia display with 3D satnav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an eight-speaker stereo, the 'Alfa DNA Drive Mode System' (which mainly seems to light up some graphics but supposedly allows you to choose between Dynamic, Normal and an eco-friendly option you’ll never use.
But wait, there’s more, including cruise control, dual-zone climate control, an electric tailgate, front and rear parking sensors, rear camera, hill-descent control, electrically adjusted front seats, leather seats (not the sporty ones, though) and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.
It’s quite a lot of gear for the cash, but as we say, most people will want to step up to the extras you get - and most tellingly the adaptive dampers - with either the First Edition ($6000) or Veloce ($5000) packs.
Alfa Romeo is keen to point out how keen its pricing is, particularly against German offerings like Porsche’s Macan, and it does seem like good value, even at just north of $70k.
The Mazda CX-9's price has gone up but you're getting more features in return – and that goes for all grades in the range. Also, there's now a new grade and king of the Mazda CX-9 range – the Azami LE. Right, let's get into the details.
The most affordable CX-9 is the Sport at $44,990 (an $1100 increase) for the front-wheel drive version and another $4000 for all-wheel drive. Coming standard on the Sport for the first time is a head-up display and being introduced to the CX-9 range finally is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other standard features include a 7.0-inch screen with sat nav, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, digital radio, three-zone climate control, LED headlights, black cloth seats and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Touring grade sits above the Sport and is arguably the best value with its list price of $51,390 ($1100 increase) for the front-wheel drive and again $4000 more for the AWD. In addition to the Sport's features, the Touring comes standard with black leather seats (power adjustable and heated in the front), an 8.0-inch touch screen, proximity key, front parking sensors and LED fog lights.
The GT grade is getting into pricier territory with the front-wheel drive listing for $59,390 (an increase of $1000) and $4000 more for AWD, but along with all of the Touring's features it has a power tailgate, sunroof, 20-inch alloy wheels and heated second-row window seats.
The once-king-of-the-range Azami lists for $60,990 in FWD form (an increase of $4200), again $4000 for the AWD, but now there's a level above it – the Azami LE which is $66,490 and only available as an all-wheel drive.
What's the difference between them? Well let's start with what's the same. Both come with the GT's features plus adaptive LED headlights, heated steering wheel, a 360-degree view monitor, ventilated front seats, windscreen de-icer and a 7.0-inch centre digital instrument cluster.
What the Azami LE gets that the Azami doesn't is real wood trim panels on the centre console, nappa leather seats, box stitching on the steering wheel and different overhead console styling.
As a model comparison you could also take a look at the Toyota Kluger which ranges from about $45K to $70K. There's also the Kia Sorento which ranges from $43K-$60K and I'm going to throw in the Hyundai Santa Fe – it's not as big as the CX-9, but the new one is larger than the previous model and it's a seven-seater, too.
Engine & trans
Alfa Romeo Stelvio7/10
Because I am older than the internet, I’m still mildly baffled every time I see that a car company is attempting to fit a four-cylinder engine into a largish SUV like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, so I’m always politely surprised the first time such a small-engined big car manages go up a hill without exploding.
While bigger, faster Stelvios will arrive later in the year, with the all-conquering QV set to land in the fourth quarter, the versions you can buy now must make do with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine making 148kW/330Nm, or the 2.2T diesel with 154kW/470Nm (a 2.0 Ti will also arrive later, with a more fabulous 206kW/400Nm).
It should come as no surprise from those numbers that the diesel is actually the better option to drive, with not only more usable, down-low torque (the max arrives at 1750rpm) but more kilowatts as well. The 2.2T thus gets from 0-100km/h in 6.6 seconds, quicker than the petrol (at 7.2 seconds) and also quicker than competitors like the Audi Q5 (8.4 in diesel or 6.9 petrol), BMW X3 (8.0 and 8.2) and Mercedes GLC (8.3 as a diesel or 7.3 in petrol).
Even more surprisingly, the diesel sounds slightly better, more growly, when you attempt to drive it hard, than the slightly wheezy petrol. On the down side, the 2.2T does sound tractor like at idle in multistorey car parks, and neither engine sounds even vaguely like you would want an Alfa Romeo to.
The diesel is the pick at this level - doing an impressive job despite being asked to do the equivalent of piggybacking Clive Palmer up a hill - but the 2.0 Ti (which will hit 100km/h in a more impressive 5.7 seconds) would be worth waiting for.
All CX-9s have the same engine – it's a 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol that makes 170kW and 420Nm. That's simple isn't it? Also simple is this: all CX-9 have the same six-speed automatic transmission.
Every grade apart from the Azami LE comes with a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The Azami LE is purely all-wheel drive.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio8/10
Alfa is also keen to point out that its new Stelvio is class leading when it comes to fuel economy, with claimed figures of 4.8 litres per 100km for the diesel (no one else gets under 5.0L/100km, they say) and 7.0L/100km for the petrol.
In the real world, driven enthusiastically, we saw 10.5L/100km for the petrol and closer to 7.0 for the diesel. The simple fact is you will need, and want, to drive them harder than those claimed figures suggest will be possible.
Big car, big drinker? The CX-9 used to be back when it had a V6, but not any more. The turbo-four is efficient, with Mazda saying that front-wheel drive version will use 8.4L/100km, while all-wheel drives will use 8.8L/100km after a combination of open and urban roads. You'll also only need to feed it 91 RON – that's the cheap petrol.
My testing on the launch saw me use 10.3L/100km, according to the car's trip computer, but I was really getting into those roads and stamping on that accelerator like it was a funnel web spider, so for it still to be that low is great.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio8/10
Much like sitting down to watch the Socceroos lose again, I’ve learned not to expect too much from the driving experience offered by SUVs, because the way they drive clearly has little relevance to the way they sell.
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio comes as a genuine surprise then, because it drives, not just like a sports car on slightly rubbery stilts, but like an impressive but high-riding sedan.
Reports about how good the QV version is have been flooding in for some time now, and I've been taking them with large spoonfuls of salt, but it’s clear to see how that car can be so sharp and exciting to drive, because the chassis of this car, as well as the suspension set-up (at least with the adaptive dampers) and the steering, are built to cope with far more power and vigour than is on offer in this base model.
That’s not to say this version feels horribly underpowered - there are a few times when we were overtaking up a hill that more power would have been welcome, but it was never slow enough to be worrying - just that it’s clearly built for more.
In almost all situations, the diesel, in particular, provides enough grunt to make this mid-size SUV genuinely fun. I actually smiled while driving it, several times, which is unusual.
Most of that is down to the way it corners, rather than the way it goes, because this thing really is a light, nimble and enjoyable car on a twisty bit of road.
It feels genuinely involving through the steering wheel and genuinely capable in the way it holds on to the road. The brakes are genuinely good, too, with plenty of feel and force (apparently Ferrari had some involvement here, and it shows).
Having driven a far more basic model, without the adaptive dampers, and being less than impressed overall, I was surprised at how good the First Edition Pack cars we drove on some properly challenging roads were.
This really is a premium mid-size SUV I could almost, just about live with. And, if it’s the right sized car for your lifestyle, I’d absolutely understand you wanting to buy one.
There is no way to make a 5.1m long, 2.0m wide, two-tonne SUV feel small in a supermarket car park and you'll feel its size particularly in multi-storey ones as you navigate the HMAS CX-9 up through the levels. I've lived with a CX-9 and I'm not ashamed to admit that I find it tricky to manoeuvre in tight spaces. But you have AEB, rear cross-traffic alert, parking sensors at the back and good visibility to make it as easy as it possibly can be.
Get the CX-9 out on the street, though, and it feels a lot less cumbersome. And on the open road the CX-9 is brilliant. Not only does it just much up miles in comfort, it has such great handling ability that it defies my logic.
In this update Mazda says it has refined the driving experience while making the SUV more responsive though suspension and steering changes. A thicker material behind the headlining in the ceiling has also been used to keep the cabin even quieter, too.
The result? A ride that's knocking on the door of German prestige SUVs and great dynamics.
Even on the 20-inch wheels and 50-profile tyres fitted to the Azami LE I tested at the launch, the ride was outstanding while the handling was excellent. Pushing the Azami LE hard in the corners should have had something of this size and weight leaning on its door handles, but a moment after entering the turn the CX-9 was able to compose itself, hunker down and hold its line in a controlled and planted way.
The Azami LE is all-wheel drive only, but the front-wheel drive version for the base grade Sport and the FWD Azami I drove felt just as composed with great body control and impressive handling ability for the class. In some ways the Sport being lighter and on smaller wheels and higher profile tyres meant the ride was more comfortable and acceleration a bit better.
That engine is a good thing, although part of me misses the old V6 from years ago for its smoothness and torque. The 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo has enough grunt and it's fuel efficient, but to me a six-cylinder suits this big flagship better.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio8/10
There’s much talk from Alfa about how its offering wins on emotion and passion and design, and not being bland and off-white/silver German, but they’re also keen on saying that it’s a rational, practical and safe alternative, as well.
Alfa claims, yet again, a class-leading safety score for the Stelvio, with a 97 per cent adult occupancy score in Euro NCAP testing (aka a maximum five stars).
Safety is another strong point of the CX-9 with its maximum five-star ANCAP rating and AEB which works forwards and backwards, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert. This update has made the advanced safety tech suite standard across the full range adding adaptive cruise control with stop and go feature, lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition.
For child and baby seats you'll find three top-tether anchor points across the second row and two in the third, while there are ISOFIX points in the back as well and two in the second-row window seats.
Under that boot floor you'll find a space saver spare wheel.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio8/10
Yes, buying an Alfa Romeo means buying an Italian car, and we’ve all heard the jokes about reliability, and heard companies from that country claiming those problems are behind them.
The Stelvio comes with a three-year/150,000km warranty, to make you feel safe, but that’s still not quite as good as the Giulia, which is being offered with a five-year one. We’d be pounding the desk and demanding they match that offer.
Servicing costs are another point of difference, the company claims, being cheaper than the Germans at $485 a year, or $1455 over three years, with those services coming every 12 months or 15,000km.
The CX-9 is covered by Mazda's five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended at 12 month or 10,000km intervals. Servicing is capped and switch from $329 for the first visit, $371 for the next and then back to $329 for five services.