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Mazda CX-9, Kia Sorento and Toyota Kluger 2016 review: 7-seater comparison


Joshua Dowling road tests and reviews the Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD, Toyota Kluger GXL AWD and Kia Sorento Platinum AWD with specs, fuel consumption and verdict in this comparison review. 

Diesel fuel economy with the power of a petrol engine: that's the promise for the new Mazda CX-9.

To test the theory, we lined up the Mazda with its peers: the top-selling seven-seat petrol SUV, the Toyota Kluger V6, and the best diesel in the family-car class, the Kia Sorento, the reigning CarsGuide Car of the Year.

Toyota Kluger

  • 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL AWD 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL AWD
  • 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL AWD 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL AWD
  • 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL AWD 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL AWD
  • 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL AWD 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL AWD
  • 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL AWD 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL AWD
  • 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL AWD 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL AWD

The Toyota Kluger was one of the pioneers of family seven-seat "faux-wheel-drives".

For more than a decade it duked it out for top spot with the homegrown Ford Territory.

Now in its third generation, the Kluger has been swamped by competition.

The Kluger still sells well -- even though it lacks the option of a diesel -- in part due to its popularity on rental fleets, and the winding down of Ford Territory production.

This generation Kluger arrived in 2014 and, as a sign of how fast new cars are improving, it is already starting to show its age.

We've tested the Kluger GXL V6 AWD which Toyota says is a favourite among private buyers; at $55,190 plus on-road costs it lines up closest to the others in this test.

The Kluger also has the benefit of the lowest servicing costs among its peers.

It's still the biggest bus among these three, has the easiest second-row access to third-row seats and comes with handy touches such as a massive centre console big enough to swallow a large handbag, and one-touch 'auto-up' power windows on both front doors.

Extendable sun visors block side glare, there are air-conditioning vents to all three rows of seats, and the front leather pews have heating for cold winter mornings. A full size spare is a welcome addition for anyone wanting to venture off the beaten track.

The Kluger also has the benefit of the lowest servicing costs among its peers, although it requires a visit to the dealer every six months versus nine months for the Mazda and annually for the Kia.

But the Kluger falls well short on equipment that is standard on rivals for the same or less money.

Conspicuous by its absence is built-in navigation (you must connect to a Toyota app that saps your phone data), and there is no radar cruise control or automatic emergency braking.

Nor are there basics such as front parking sensors or a powered tailgate at this price.

The Kluger has a bulky footbrake when the others have opted for an electric park brake.

The instrument display looks dated and lacks a digital speed readout.

The 3.5-litre V6 is still a powerhouse, and works well with the six-speed auto.

But it has so much grunt you can still feel a wriggle in the steering wheel under hard acceleration, before all-wheel-drive kicks in.

The Kluger can feel a little unwieldy at higher (but still legal) speeds because the steering at times feels vague.

We make these observations not comparing the Kluger to a Ferrari, but to other seven-seat SUVs that feel more secure on the road. After all, don't these vehicles carry our most precious cargo?

Mazda CX-9

  • 2016 Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD 2016 Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD
  • 2016 Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD 2016 Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD
  • 2016 Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD 2016 Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD
  • 2016 Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD 2016 Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD
  • 2016 Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD 2016 Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD
  • 2016 Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD 2016 Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD

The new Mazda CX-9 is a class act inside and out, even if this particular model is missing a strip of chrome here and there.

We've tested the CX-9 Touring AWD, the second model up from the most basic variant. Priced from $52,890 plus on-road costs Mazda says this will be the most popular model in the new CX-9 range.

When it comes to safety, the new CX-9 has the others licked, with automatic emergency braking (front and rear) standard on all models, as well as blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.

Uniquely, there are three ISOFIX mounting points in the Mazda.

Mazda has even angled the spare wheel downwards so that, in a rear-end crash, it's pushed under the backs seats rather than into them. However, it's a space-saver, not full size like the others.

The CX-9's cargo area is slightly longer than the Toyota Kluger's, and the third row seats have a touch more headroom because of two scallops in the roof lining.

Uniquely, there are three ISOFIX mounting points in the Mazda (two in the second row, like the others, plus one on the passenger's side third row spot).

This particular version of the new CX-9 is a joy to drive because it is on smaller, 18-inch wheels and tyres, which are more compliant on our bumpy back roads and yet still deliver a sharp steering response.

The biggest surprise, though, was the Mazda's turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.

We expected the Kluger V6 to have the best acceleration of this trio but the Mazda aced it: 0 to 100km/h in 7.3 seconds versus 8.0 for the Toyota and 9.0 for the Kia.

The CX-9 is also extremely fuel-efficient -- for a petrol engine.

The eight-speed auto matched to on-demand all-wheel-drive gives the Mazda much sharper reflexes than we were expecting. Had we not seen the numbers with our own eyes we wouldn't have believed it.

The CX-9 is also extremely fuel-efficient -- for a petrol engine. The Mazda consumed about 10L/100km in a combination of freeway and 80kmh driving that saw the Kia sip 8L/100km and the Toyota drink 12L/100km.

With a bit of stop-start driving around town each of these figures climbed by about 3L/100km each.

The upshot: as Mazda promises, this petrol engine bridges the gap between modern diesels and old school petrol power.

But the CX-9 is not perfect. At this price it lacks a digital speed display, radar cruise control, automatic tailgate, sunroof and privacy glass. To get these items you need to spend more than $60,000 in a Mazda showroom.

Furthermore, all new CX-9s lack air vents in the third row, extendable sun visors up front, and Apple Car Play in the dash (the latter is due some time in 2017).

A minor but important foible when manoeuvring such a big vehicle: the driver's side mirror does not have a wide enough view.

Kia Sorento

  • 2016 Kia Sorento Platinum AWD 2016 Kia Sorento Platinum AWD
  • 2016 Kia Sorento Platinum AWD 2016 Kia Sorento Platinum AWD
  • 2016 Kia Sorento Platinum AWD 2016 Kia Sorento Platinum AWD
  • 2016 Kia Sorento Platinum AWD 2016 Kia Sorento Platinum AWD
  • 2016 Kia Sorento Platinum AWD 2016 Kia Sorento Platinum AWD
  • 2016 Kia Sorento Platinum AWD 2016 Kia Sorento Platinum AWD

Some people turned up their noses when we awarded the Kia Sorento our Car of the Year for 2015.

But as we said at the time, if you're put off by the badge, it's your loss.

Here we've tested the $55,990 Sorento Platinum, which Kia says is the most popular model despite being the dearest in the line-up.

That explains why it is by far the best-equipped car here.

Its long standard equipment list and sharp price make it hard to beat.

Standard fare includes radar cruise control, panorama sunroof, LED headlights, automatic tailgate, lane wander warning, blind spot warning, one-touch auto-up windows for all four doors, a high resolution digital speed display, seat heaters and coolers up front, heated second row seats, air vents for all three rows, premium audio, privacy glass (with blinds), extendable sun visors, and rear-view camera guiding lines that turn with the steering. The list goes on but you get the idea.

The interior is fairly upmarket and made of good quality materials.

The 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine is relatively quiet thanks to extra sound deadening on this model, and super fuel-efficient.

The Kia is not the sharpest handling SUV in its class, but it feels solid on the road.

Its long standard equipment list and sharp price make it hard to beat.

Verdict

An overhauled Toyota Kluger is about to go on sale in the US and is due in Australian showrooms early next year. It can't come soon enough.

If you're wedded to the Toyota badge, wait until then, or haggle hard on the price of a runout model.

The Mazda CX-9 is an impressive vehicle and if you can afford a higher fuel bill than a diesel -- and appreciate performance -- we would not discourage anyone from buying it.

But Mazda needs to adjust the CX-9's price and equipment lists because at the moment it is charging too much for too little in the way of standard fare.

That leaves the Kia Sorento Platinum as the pick. It has by far the most standard equipment of any car here, is the most fuel efficient, fair priced servicing and, of course, that incredible seven-year warranty -- more than twice the coverage of the Toyota and Mazda.

And the Kia Sorento Platinum will only get better when automatic emergency braking is added later this year.

 

Toyota Kluger GXL AWD - 3 stars

Likes

Roomy cabin
Powerful V6
​Low servicing costs


Dislikes

No built-in navigation on this model
Relatively thirsty engine
Easiest access to third row seats

Price: $55,190 plus on-road costs
Warranty: 3 years/100,000 km
Capped servicing: $1080 over 3 years
Service interval: 6 months/10,000km
Safety: Five stars, six airbags, rear view camera, rear parking sensors
Engine: 3.5-litre V6 petrol, 201kW/337Nm  
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, on-demand AWD
Thirst: 10.6L/100km
Dimensions: 4865mm (L), 1925mm (W), 1730mm (H), 2790mm (WB)
Weight: 2020kg
Spare: Full-size alloy
Towing: 2000kg (200kg ball weight)
Turning circle: 11.8m

Click here to see more 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL pricing and spec info.

Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD - 3.5 stars

Likes

Sharp exterior styling, luxurious interior
AEB standard across the range
Relatively efficient and powerful petrol engine

Dislikes

No power tailgate, front sensors, radar cruise control on this model
No Apple Car Play or Android Auto, coming late 2017
Driver's side mirror doesn't have a wide enough view


Price: $52,890 plus on-road costs
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Capped servicing: $1600 over 3 years (estimated)
Service interval: 9 months/10,000km
Safety: Five stars, six airbags, automatic emergency braking, rear-view camera, blind zone warning, cross traffic alert, rear parking sensors  
Engine: 2.5-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol, 170kW/420Nm  
Transmission: 6-speed auto; AWD
Thirst: 8.8L/100km  
Dimensions: 5075mm (L), 1969mm (W), 1747mm (H), 2930mm (WB)
Weight: 1911kg
Spare tyre: Space-saver
Towing: 2000kg (ball weight 100kg)
Turning circle: 11.8m

Click here to see more 2016 Mazda CX-9 Touring pricing and spec info.

Kia Sorento Platinum AWD - 4.5 stars

Likes

Well equipped
Diesel fuel efficiency
Seven year warranty


Dislikes

Steering feel could be improved
AEB not yet standard, coming in late 2016
Apple Car Play not yet standard, coming in late 2016

Price: $55,990 plus on-road costs
Warranty: 7 years/unlimited km
Capped servicing: $1339 over 3 years
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: Five stars, six airbags, rear view camera with turning lines, radar cruise control, blind zone warning, lane wander warning, cross traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors
Engine: 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, 147kW/441Nm  
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, on-demand AWD
Thirst: 7.8L/100km
Dimensions: 4780mm (L), 1890mm (W), 1690mm (H), 2780mm (WB)
Weight: 2036kg
Spare: Full-size alloy
Towing: 2000kg (100kg ball weight)
Turning circle: 11.1m

Click here to see more 2016 Kia Sorento Platinum pricing and spec info.

What would your pick be? Tell us in the comments below.

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