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Mazda CX-9 GT SP AWD vs Toyota Kluger GXL hybrid AWD - Which is the better 7-seat SUV?


Richard Berry
Reviewed & driven by

28 Jul 2021

Coles or Woolworths? Android or iPhone? Toyota Kluger or Mazda CX-9? All excellent, and none of them are the wrong choice, but is one better for you than the other?

Well, I can’t tell you where to shop, nor which phone to use, but I have tested and compared the Kluger GXL Hybrid and CX-9 GT SP and can absolutely say which of these popular seven seaters will serve a family better.

I’ve chosen the middle grade of each range. So, we have the new generation Kluger GXL, up against the CX-9 GT SP.

We have the new generation Kluger GXL up against the CX-9 GT SP. We have the new generation Kluger GXL up against the CX-9 GT SP.

The thing which makes this challenge even more interesting is that the Kluger we’ve picked is a petrol-electric hybrid.

There is no hybrid version of the CX-9, so we’ve gone with the petrol-engine version of this SUV

Does a hybrid really save you that much fuel? Well, we found out. We also compared these two family favourites in terms of practicality, value-for-money, ownership costs and safety, along with which was better to drive.

First the prices… 

Price and specs

The Kluger GXL Hybrid lists for $63,350 undercutting the CX-9 GT SP which costs $67,490. We should make it clear here that the GT SP we tested was the all-wheel drive version of this grade, the front wheel drive version lists for $63,490.

So while the Mazda costs more, the extra cost really is just for the all-wheel drive system and you’re getting a lot more in the way of standard features compared to the Kluger. Sure, the Kluger GXL Hybrid is also all-wheel drive, but you can't get it in front-wheel drive. Let me show you the standard features and you'll see what I mean.

  • The CX-9 GT SP comes with a 10.25-inch touchscreen. The CX-9 GT SP comes with a 10.25-inch touchscreen.
  • The Kluger GXL Hybrid has a 8.0-inch media screen. The Kluger GXL Hybrid has a 8.0-inch media screen.
  • The Mazda has 20-inch alloy wheels. The Mazda has 20-inch alloy wheels.
  • There are 18-inch wheels on the Kluger. There are 18-inch wheels on the Kluger.

The CX-9 GT SP comes with leather seats, a 10.25-inch touchscreen, a 12-speaker Bose stereo, head-up display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, three-zone climate control, heated front and second row seats, a proximity key and push-button start, LED adaptive headlights, 20-inch alloy wheels and a power tailgate with gesture opening function.

The Kluger GXL Hybrid also has a power tailgate but it’s button operated only, the wheels are 18-inches in size, and just the front seats are heated. 

The 8.0-inch media screen is smaller, the seats are synthetic leather, the stereo has six speakers, there’s no head-up display but there’s three zone climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and it also has a proximity key with push-button start.

The Kluger isn’t bad value, it’s just the CX-9 is outstanding for the price and for what you get. It’s clear the Mazda is the winner for value.

 Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
Price$63,350$67,490
Seat upholsterySyntheticLeather
Climate controlThree-zoneThree-zone
Heated seatsFrontFront and second row
Multimedia screen8.0-inch screen10.25-inch screen
Digital instrumentsPartialPartial
Head up displayNoYes
Apple CarPlay/Android AutoYesYes
StereoSix-speaker stereo12-speaker Bose
Built-in sat navYesYes
Keyless entry and push-startYesYes
Power tailgateYesYes - gesture function
Headlights LEDLED (adaptive)
Wheel size18-inch alloy20-inch alloy

 

Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
89

Design

If you want your seven-seater SUV to look tough and serious then the Kluger GXL is for you. Want something far more elegant and refined? Then it’s the CX-9 GT SP. That’s the nutshell of it.

Seriously, the difference in looks between the Kluger and CX-9 is like chalk and cheese, day and night, Morrison and Keating… 

Take a look at the images, the CX-9 is stunning – there’s that grille, that profile and look inside – you’d be impressed with this superb interior in an SUV twice the price.

  • The CX-9 is stunning and the GT SP grade adds a stealthy look. The CX-9 is stunning and the GT SP grade adds a stealthy look.
  • The CX-9 is stunning and the GT SP grade adds a stealthy look. The CX-9 is stunning and the GT SP grade adds a stealthy look.
  • The CX-9 is stunning and the GT SP grade adds a stealthy look. The CX-9 is stunning and the GT SP grade adds a stealthy look.
  • The CX-9 is stunning and the GT SP grade adds a stealthy look. The CX-9 is stunning and the GT SP grade adds a stealthy look.

The GT SP grade brings burgundy leather seats, red interior stitching and a fancy looking black trim. The cabin appears incredibly high end with premium materials and a modern, stylish design.

The GT SP grade also adds a stealthy look with a black grille, black mirrors and black wheels.

The Kluger GXL doesn’t have the streamlined, posh exterior of the CX-9. Instead, the Toyota looks big, boxy and a lot like the old Kluger. 

The Kluger’s cabin is equally tough-but-unrefined, dominated by a dashboard design that’s bold but unsophisticated, and a screen which looks small by today’s standards. 

  • The Toyota looks big, boxy and a lot like the old Kluger. The Toyota looks big, boxy and a lot like the old Kluger.
  • The Toyota looks big, boxy and a lot like the old Kluger. The Toyota looks big, boxy and a lot like the old Kluger.
  • The Toyota looks big, boxy and a lot like the old Kluger. The Toyota looks big, boxy and a lot like the old Kluger.
  • The Toyota looks big, boxy and a lot like the old Kluger. The Toyota looks big, boxy and a lot like the old Kluger.

While appearing tough and functional this Toyota’s interior lacks the well-crafted feel of its Mazda rival.

As for the dimensions the Kluger looks bigger than the CX-9 but it’s actually shorter at 4966mm end-to-end compared to the CX-9’s 5075mm length. 

The Kluger is 1930mm in width, while the CX-9 is 1969mm across, and as for height the Kluger is 1755mm tall while the CX-9 again outdoes it at 1747mm.

How big is your garage? Remember you’ll need to open the doors to get out once you’re parked inside.

Overall, the Mazda wins for design. The CX-9 has been on the market in this form for years, but it still looks modern and beautiful, while there’s a feeling of high-quality materials throughout the cabin. 

The Kluger just can’t match the CX-9 in looks, quality feel or modern design, even though the new generation SUV arrived in Australia only midway through 2021. 

Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
78

Practicality

How good are pockets?! I’ve been saying that since if was six years old and four decades later I’m a dad and I still feel the same way. 

That marvel of practicality also goes for SUVs and their many storage nooks – big and small.

First the cargo capacities of the boots. As you can see in the table below the Kluger beats the CX-9 for boot space, with all three rows in place and with the third row down. 

The Kluger also has handy stowaway places under the boot floor – for muddy shoes and other items that are “definitely not coming into the cabin!”

As for cabin storage both the Kluger and CX-9 have giant centre console boxes, cupholders in all three rows, plus door pockets and map pockets in the back of the front seats.

  • The Kluger has a useful shelf which is built into the dashboard and runs from the front passenger’s side to the driver’s left knee. The Kluger has a useful shelf which is built into the dashboard and runs from the front passenger’s side to the driver’s left knee.
  • The Kluger felt much roomier compared to the CX-9. The Kluger felt much roomier compared to the CX-9.
  • The Kluger wins for second-row roominess and the space up front is vast. The Kluger wins for second-row roominess and the space up front is vast.
  • With the third row in place the Kluger boot is 241 litres. With the third row in place the Kluger boot is 241 litres.
  • With the third row down you'll get 552-litres of space. With the third row down you'll get 552-litres of space.

The Kluger has a brilliantly useful shelf which is built into the dashboard and runs all the way from the front passenger’s side to the driver’s left knee.

The CX-9 has a fold-down armrest in the second row which not only has cupholders but a storage space for books or a tablet and there two USB ports in there, too. 

The CX-9 has another two USB ports in the centre console box, and two more in the third row.

The Kluger has four USB ports (two in the front and two in the second row).

The Mazda goes further and has wireless phone charging. The fact the Kluger doesn’t (and it’s a newer car), is disappointing. 

Both the Kluger GXL Hybrid and CX-9 GT SP come with three-zone climate control. The CX-9 has its directional vents located at the rear of the centre console, while the Kluger’s are built into the roof. Both SUVs have vents in the third row, too.

As for people space the Kluger felt much roomier to me. Not only are the seats larger and wider in the Toyota compared to the CX-9 but I found legroom in all three rows better – and I’m inconveniently tall at 191cm (6'3"). 

  •  The CX-9 has a giant centre console box. The CX-9 has a giant centre console box.
  • The CX-9 has a fold-down armrest in the second row which not only has cupholders but a storage space. The CX-9 has a fold-down armrest in the second row which not only has cupholders but a storage space.
  • The CX-9 has ‘porthole’ windows in the third row. The CX-9 has ‘porthole’ windows in the third row.
  • The boot space in the CX-9 is 230L with all seats up. The boot space in the CX-9 is 230L with all seats up.
  • Cargo capacity increases to 838L with the third row down. Cargo capacity increases to 838L with the third row down.

The third rows of both are still cramped for me (as they are in any seven seater SUV) but there was more room in the Kluger and the rear side windows back there are bigger than the CX-9's ‘portholes.’ 

Getting in and out of both isn’t as easy as either manufacturer would have you believe, but the Kluger offered a wider entrance into the third row than the CX-9. 

The smaller folding section of the second row in both SUVs are on the curb side of the car, which is good news as its easier to move forward to let people into the very back from the safety of the footpath.

Both the Kluger and CX-9 are roomy and have great storage, but the Toyota is more spacious for people and their cargo. 

 Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
Boot space (all seats up)241L (to the window line) 230L (to roof)
Boot space (third row down)838L (to roof)810L (to roof)
Cupholders86
USB ports56
12V outlets22
Wireless phone charging01

 

Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
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Engine & transmission

The big news when the new-gen Kluger arrived in 2021 was that this SUV could be had with a hybrid powertrain. That’s great for families looking to save fuel – but more on that below. 

The question here is how well does the hybrid system deal with pulling this 2045kg (and that’s before you load it up) seven-seat SUV around? The answer is, impressively well.

The Kluger GXL Hybrid has three electric motors – two driving the front wheels and one driving the rear wheels – and a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.

The combined power output for the motors and engine is 184kW. 

Toyota doesn’t give a combined torque output, but the engine alone produces 242Nm and the rear motor makes 121Nm by itself.

You won’t need to plug the Kluger into a power point to re-charge the batteries either, they’re topped up just driving around normally through regenerative braking and from the engine.

Not once in the testing did the Kluger Hybrid feel underpowered and the transition from petrol to electric power is smooth and relatively quiet. 

The transmission is a CVT, and these generally take much of the sportiness out of the driving, but more on this further down.

The Kluger GXL Hybrid has three electric motors – two driving the front wheels and one driving the rear wheels. The Kluger GXL Hybrid has three electric motors – two driving the front wheels and one driving the rear wheels.

Mazda doesn’t offer the CX-9 with a hybrid system, which is a real weakness in the line-up. That said, the GT SP like all CX-9s has a 2.5-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder and it’s excellent, providing a great response.

The power output is less than the Kluger Hybrid’s at 170kW, and while torque appears more at 420Nm, remember the electric motors in the Toyota also contribute but they’re outputs aren’t all listed.

The six-speed automatic transmission in the CX-9 is smooth and provides solid-felling shifts.

The GT SP we had was all-wheel drive. The Kluger Hybrid is all-wheel drive only.

The CX-9s has a 2.5-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine. The CX-9s has a 2.5-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine.

The Kluger GXL Hybrid is the winner here. Yes, the CX-9 has an engine and transmission which is better suited for sporty responsiveness, but I found the smooth and relaxed nature of the hybrid system better for the daily duties these SUVs will spend most of their time doing – stuff like the shopping trips, commuting in traffic and school runs. 

 Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
Size and Layout2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine + three electric motors2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol all-wheel drive
Power142kW (petrol engine)
184 kW (electric motor + engine)
170kW
Torque242Nm (petrol engine)420Nm
TransmissionCVTSix-speed

 

Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
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Fuel consumption

Going into this comparison we knew the Kluger GXL Hybrid with its 2.5-litre engine and three electric motors was going to use less fuel than the CX-9 with just its 2.5-litre turbo-petrol engine. What we weren’t prepared for was how big that difference in consumption would be in reality.

Mazda says the official combined fuel consumption of the CX-9 GT SP is 9.0L/100km, while Toyota says the Kluger GXL Hybrid will use 5.6L/100km. 

We drove the Kluger and CX-9 on the same route taking in city streets and country roads. 

The CX-9 travelled 109.3km and used 15.2 litres which is 13.9L/100km. The Kluger went 121.0km after a couple of detours but still used less fuel at 9.7 litres which is 8.0L/100km. The CX-9 used five-and-a-half litres more. 

So, it’s no competition here – the Kluger hybrid wins and while it needs a minimum of 95 RON premium petrol, it’s a cleaner fuel to the 91 RON the CX-9 can run on.

For the purpose of this test we filled both cars with 95 RON.

 Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
Official/combined consumption5.6L/100km9.0L/100km
Real-world test8L/100km13.9 L/100km
Minimum RON rating95RON91RON
Fuel tank size65L74

 

Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
97

Safety

The Kluger and CX-9 are family cars, and being seven-seat SUVs the passengers in that third row are almost always going to be children. 

We found that while the Kluger has third-row airbags on paper, they disappointingly don’t extend to cover the occupants' heads. The CX-9’s third-row airbags do extend to cover the heads of these very back seat passengers. This is an important detail to keep in mind if you plan to use these third row seats.

We’re not saying the Kluger is unsafe, it’s generally incredibly safe with advanced safety technology and a high-strength structure, but there is an apparent disregard for those sitting in the third row.

The Kluger’s AEB can detect and brake for cars between 10km/h and 180km/h, and for pedestrians and cyclists between 10km/h and 80km/h. 

The CX-9’s AEB can detect and brake for pedestrians from 10 to 80km/h and vehicles from 4.0-80km/h. This system does not operate for cyclists.

Check out the table below for a breakdown of more safety gear. It’s close but the CX-9 wins here as not only does it have more safety tech, such as reverse AEB, there are those third-row airbags which offer better coverage, that's a significant difference.

Both cars scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating, but the Kluger was tested in 2021 and the CX-9 in 2016. 

 Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
Auto emergency brakingYes (vehicle, cyclist and pedestrian)Yes (vehicle and pedestrian)
Lane keep assistYesYes
Blind spot monitoringYesYes
Rear cross traffic alertYesYes
Rear AEBNoYes
Third row airbagsDo not cover occupants’ heads Cover occupants’ heads
Child seat anchor pointsThree (top tether)
Two (ISOFIX)
Five (top tether)
Two (ISOFIX)
Front and rear parking sensorsYesYes
CameraYes - regularYes - regular
ANCAP rating (year tested)Five (tested 2021)Five (tested 2016)

 

Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
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Ownership

The Kluger GXL Hybrid and CX-9 GT SP are covered by five-year, unlimited kilometre warranties, which is pretty standard among mainstream brands these days.

The Kluger’s service intervals are yearly or every 15,000km. The CX-9’s are also annually but every 10,000km.

As for the servicing prices you can see from the table below the Kluger’s capped price of $250 is more affordable than the Mazda’s scheduled maintenance costs.

Kluger wins for ownership as well.

 Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
Warranty lengthFive-year/unlimited kmFive-year/unlimited km
Yearly average service price (over five years)$250/service$350-400/service
Service interval12mnths/15,000km12mnths/10,000km

 

Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
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Driving

I’m going to keep this as short as possible because you just want to know which is better to drive: the Kluger GXL Hybrid or the Mazda CX-9 GT SP.

The answer is the Kluger GXL Hybrid. 

Here’s why.

The CX-9 GT SP is actually more fun to drive on a twisty country road with a sporty, responsive engine, direct steering, a torque converter transmission with shifting paddles and suspension which makes it go around corners faster and more impressively than a two tonne regular family SUV should. 

The problems for the CX-9 start where a SUV will spend most of its time: in the city and suburbs, in peak-hour traffic on a road that’s been repaired with concrete and bitumen patches. 

The engine in the CX-9 is quite noisy and wants to rev which is great for the open road, but not so great for urban driving. The engine in the CX-9 is quite noisy and wants to rev which is great for the open road, but not so great for urban driving.

Life in the CX-9 here is far from easy, effortless and comfortable. Well compared to the Kluger GXL Hybrid, that is.

See, the CX-9 has a good connection to the road, but that means you feel the bumps, the cracks and the potholes. 

Then there’s the transmission which is keen to hold gears even in Normal mode and that’s a bit like a dog pulling on a lead walking you rather than the other way around. 

The engine, too, is quite noisy and wants to rev. All good things on the great open road through the mountains.

  • The CX-9 has a good connection to the road, but that means you feel the bumps, the cracks and the potholes. The CX-9 has a good connection to the road, but that means you feel the bumps, the cracks and the potholes.
  • The CX-9 GT SP is actually more fun to drive on a twisty country road with a sporty, responsive engine. The CX-9 GT SP is actually more fun to drive on a twisty country road with a sporty, responsive engine.

Not so great to the supermarket, or the school, or swimming lessons or the other places you’ll spend 90 per cent of your time driving to. 

The Kluger GXL Hybrid on the other hard, is effortless and comfortable to drive under all conditions. I spent weeks with it driving my family around on bad city roads, as well as nightmare traffic, and in a weird way I looked forward to journeys because it was so comfy and easy. 

The CVT in the Kluger shows its worth in the city as a smooth transmission that suits stop-start traffic. The CVT in the Kluger shows its worth in the city as a smooth transmission that suits stop-start traffic.

The Kluger GXL Hybrid’s ride is exceptionally comfortable and composed, the steering is light, and the powertrain is seamless in its engine-motor dance routine. 

The CVT, while not great for sporty driving, shows its worth in the city as a smooth transmission that suits stop-start traffic.

Heck, the Kluger Hybrid isn’t bad in the bends, either. Even on the twisty country road loop we took both SUVs through, my fellow tester Andrew Chesterton remarked if we weren’t doing this back-to-back with the CX-9 you’d say the Kluger handled well.

  • The Kluger GXL Hybrid is effortless and comfortable to drive under all conditions. The Kluger GXL Hybrid is effortless and comfortable to drive under all conditions.
  • The steering is light, and the powertrain is seamless in the Kluger. The steering is light, and the powertrain is seamless in the Kluger.

In terms of fit for purpose (that being daily driving in the city and suburbs) the Kluger GXL Hybrid is outstanding and wins here, too.

Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
98

Verdict

This comparison between the Toyota Kluger GXL Hybrid and Mazda CX-9 GT SP was like a heavy weight title bout. 

The Mazda has been the benchmark for this segment in terms of safety, value, design and how good it drives for years, but the new-generation Kluger was good enough to outdo the CX-9 in this test.

The CX-9 GT SP, is still the best value, has the best design, and with its safety tech and third row airbags which cover the occupants heads, it’s the safest. 

The Kluger GXL Hybrid, however, offers better practicality and space, and it’s more affordable to service. But pushing the Kluger on to win the comparison is its hybrid system, which not only offers outstanding fuel efficiency, but suits regular roads and traffic. Add how comfortable and effortless the Toyota is to pilot and it’s clear the Kluger GXL Hybrid is the family seven-seat SUV champion. 

See our overall score table below, for a reminder on how we came to our verdict.

 Kluger Hybrid GXLCX-9 GT SP
Price and features89
Design78
Practicality98
Powertrain98
Fuel consumption97
Safety78
Ownership98
Driving98
OVERALL8.48


Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.

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