Mazda CX-9 VS Hyundai Santa Fe
- 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
Hyundai Santa Fe
- Ride comfort and driveability
- Luxurious interior on Elite and Highlander
- Cloth seats on base grade Active
- Petrol four cylinder lacks grunt
- No front wheel drive variant
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|
Hyundai Santa Fe
Kona, Tucson, Santa Fe. What is it with Hyundai naming its SUVs after sunny places in the United States? Also, the Santa Fe name may have suited what was once a cheerful and rugged looking little SUV when it first appeared in the year 2000, but over the years it has grown up into the big serious flagship of the brand.
So perhaps it needs a new name? And seeing as the car was tested so extensively in Australia for hot weather suitability and suspension tuning then maybe it should get an Aussie name? The Hyundai Gosford? No. The Hyundai Frankston. Nup. The Hyundai Mooloolaba? Nah. The Hyundai Freemantle? I’ve got it: the Hyundai Albury-Wodonga? Too long. Hyundai Byron Bay? Nah, that’s pretty much the same feel as Santa Fe. This naming thing is harder than it looks.
Okay, it doesn’t matter what it’s called, what is important is what’s changed – and a lot has, but then some things haven’t. Read on to find out more.
|Engine Type||2.2L turbo|
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.
Hyundai Santa Fe7.9/10
The previous generation Hyundai Santa Fe was excellent, and this giant leap forward in design and technology has turned it into something better. Not overly large, but seven seats and great storage make it super practical, the new suspension makes it pleasure to drive, and a new look inside and out takes the Santa Fe’s refinement to the next level. It doesn’t matter what this SUV is called because it’s exceptional.
The sweet spot in the Santa Fe range is the Elite, not only does it come with luxuries such as leather seats, and a bigger touchscreen with sat nav, there's the added advanced safety equipment, too.
Is the new Santa Fe the new benchmark for big, mid-sized SUVs? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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.
Hyundai Santa Fe9/10
This new-generation Santa Fe looks totally different to the previous model, inside and out. The front now has the same ‘upside down face’ as Hyundai’s smallest SUV the Kona with the LED DRLs placed high and the headlights low, either side of a super-sized version of Hyundai’s so-called 'cascading' grille. Running along the edge of the grille is chrome strip which looks so menacing that if you walked into a pub holding one the cops would be called immediately.
Like the Kona the Santa Fe’s design has more angles than a protractor. Apologies for the Dad joke, but just look at it – there are combinations of shapes and lines even Salvador Dali would find weird, but somehow it works, and the result is an SUV that’s stunning and different.
You might not be able to see it clearly in the images, but the bonnet is pressed with a ‘power bulge’ shape you really only find on muscle cars like the Ford Mustang. Also, hard to see is how the wheelaches are actually indented rather than bulging out. I like that high shoulder line which runs from the tip of the LED DRL to the tail-light accentuating the length of the SUV, then at the rear things get more high society and refined with sleek and clean lines.
It’s near-on impossible to tell the difference between the three grades from the outside. Which is good if you buy the base-spec car where the only giveaways are the 17-inch alloy wheels and the lack of bling on the grille which comes on the Elite and Highlander along with 18-inch and 19-inch wheels respectively. The body kit you see is standard on all Santa Fes including that subtle roof-top spoiler.
If you thought the outside had changed a lot from the previous Santa Fe, take a look at the interior images – not only is the cabin vastly different it’s next level stuff for Hyundai in terms of refinement. Again, there are some weird shapes such as the low dash with that rockpool-like area above the glove box, and the air vents which protrude like wasps nests, but the overall effect is sophisticated.
The Active’s grey/back cloth seats let the tone down a tad, but the leather ones in the Elite and Highlander grades are luxurious looking in Black, Dark Beige and Burgundy colours. There are stone, wood effect and carbon-fibre door and dash inserts on the top two grades, as well.
Body colours include the standard White Cream Mica and Stormy Sea Mica (blue). Then there are Typhoon Silver, Wild Explorer (grey), Magnetic force (another shade of grey), Earthly Bronze, Rainforest metallic, Horizon Red and Phantom Black.
The new Santa Fe looks a lot longer than before, but the dimensions show an increase in length of 70mm for a total of 4770mm end-to-end. Width has increased by 10mm for 1890mm across while at 1680mm tall (1705 with standard roof racks)the Santa Fee is 10mm shorter in height compared to the previous model.
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.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
All Australian Santa Fes are seven seaters. While this new-gen one has grown in length by 70mm and the wheelbase is 65mm longer, the interior dimensions have stayed much the same. In fact, legroom in the third row is 20mm less, while the second row gains just 1mm. Still, because the second row is on rails, when it’s pushed back to its furthest point I can sit behind my driving position with about a 50mm gap between my knees and the seat back, and I’m 191cm tall.
If I slide the second row forward to give myself about a hair’s breadth of room, I can then sit in the third row with the same amount of space. Not ideal, but not a deal breaker either when you consider the third row really is for kids or a good save if you need to ferry adults unexpectedly. You need to remember the Santa Fe isn’t as big as say a Toyota Kluger or Mazda CX-9, instead look at it as a large mid-sizer with a bonus third row.
Entry into that third row has been improved, too, with the second row sliding further forward to offer easier access with a push of a button. The entry is still not super easy for somebody of my height (and lack of coordination) but it’s better than the previous model.
A huge strength of the new Santa Fe is storage. Up front there’s a big centre console storage bin under the centre armrest, more storage under the dash and in front of the two cupholders, a big glove box and a shelf with a grippy surface above it, plus big bottle holders in the doors.
Second-row inhabitants have a two cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest, bottle holders in the doors and a storage tray in the rear of the centre console.
People in the backrow have two cupholders on the right-hand side and a storage bin on the other.
All Santa Fes have two fast changing USB ports in the second row, and one up front along with a regular USB port for media input, as well as a Qi charging pad. There's also an AUX port and a 12-volt outlet in the hidey hole under the dash and another in the boot.
Talking of the boot, the increase in length has given the Santa Fe more luggage space with cargo capacity increasing by 31 litres to 547 litres. There’s also storage under the boot floor for your muddy shoes and wet togs.
Price and features
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.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
There are three grades in the Santa Fe range: the base-grade Active which starts at $43,000 (before on-road costs) for the petrol and $46,000 for the diesel; the middle of the range and diesel-only Elite for $54,000 and the top-spec $60,500 Highlander which is also offered just in diesel form.
The Santa Fe is Hyundai’s flagship and the enormous standard features list reflects this king-of-the-brand status.
The entry-grade Active comes standard with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, air-conditioning with rear temperature controls, cloth seats, 'Autolink', LED daytime running lights (DRLs), auto headlights, roof rails and 17-inch alloy wheels.
There’s also an impressive amount of advanced safety equipment which you can read about below.
Stepping up into the Elite adds leather seats (power driver’s and passenger), an 8.0-inch screen with sat nav, front parking sensors, proximity key, paddle shifters, Infinity stereo system, dual-zone climate control, tinted rear windows with sunshades, power tailgate and electric folding mirrors.
The top-of-the-range Highlander has all of the Elite’s equipment plus a panoramic glass roof, auto parking, surround view camera, LED headlights and tail-lights, 7.0-inch virtual instrument cluster, heated front and rear (outboard) seats, Qi phone charger and a head-up display.
The Santa Fe’s new direct rival is the Mazda CX-8, both are a close match for size and price. Also consider the Kia Sorento – it’s the Santa Fe’s brother from a different mother and shares the same platform as the Hyundai. Nissan’s seven-seat X-Trail, or its French twin the Renault Koleos, are also absolutely worth a model comparison to the Santa Fe, too.
Engine & trans
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.
Hyundai Santa Fe7/10
There are two engines in the Santa Fe range – a 2.4-litre 138kW/241Nm four-cylinder petrol with a six-speed automatic transmission and a 2.2-litre 147kW/440Nm four-cylinder turbo-diesel with a new eight-speed auto. Both have been carried over from the previous generation Santa Fe and have the same outputs.
Only the Active grade gives you a choice of both engines, while the Elite and Highlander are diesel-only.
Drive is distributed to all four wheels via the HTRAC AWD system which offers four modes: Comfort, ECO, Sport and Smart (complete with dash graphic showing drive distribution). The first three are obvious but Smart analyses your driving style and puts together an engine, transmission and steering configuration to suit you.
Towing capacity remains the same at 2000kg.
Both engines have a timing chain rather than a timing belt – the chain has a lifetime service life which saves on maintenance costs of changing a belt.
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.
Hyundai Santa Fe7/10
Fuel economy has been improved in both engines – but only slightly. According to Hyundai the 2.4-litre petrol uses 9.3L/100km (down from 9.4L/100km) and the 2.2-litre diesel uses 7.5L/100km (down from 7.8L/100km) over a combination of open and urban roads.
The trip computer in the Active petrol reported an average of 12.3L/100km for the launch drive, while the Elite diesel's read 9.9L/100km. That’s not great mileage, especially when compared to comparable offerings from Mazda, a company which is taking big steps to improve the efficiency of its combustion engines.
The petrol engine isn’t fussy about fuel and will happily drink 91 RON regular unleaded.
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.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
CarsGuide’s test pilot Matt Campbell drove the new-generation Hyundai Santa Fe in Korea early in 2018, but the SUV he steered reflected an engine and suspension that won't be seen in Australia. So, this was our first opportunity to drive an Australian Santa Fe and see how it feels on local roads.
You may already know this, but Hyundai has an engineering team in Australia that ‘tunes’ each new model to cope with the type of roads we drive on and to suit local preferences. For example, Australians like their suspension on the firm side for a sportier feel, not soft and wafty like they do in the US of A.
Not all car companies carry out this type of local tuning. Many are taken ‘straight out of the box’ and put into the showroom, but we’re not going to name names here. You should know, though, that Hyundai put this new-gen Santa Fe through intensive testing on Aussie roads, changing the shock absorbers in the front 27 times and the rear 22 times along the way. Steering, too, was calibrated specifically for Australia.
The local launch saw us drive about 300km through the wilds that lay inland from Coffs Harbour on the NSW north coast, over a combination of dirt roads, motorways, winding coarse-chip bitumen and the not-so-great surfaces of country town streets. What was missing were the types of city and urban roads where many Santa Fes will probably spend their entire lives.
Still, it was more than enough to learn the new suspension set-up has resulted in a Santa Fe which feels comfortable but sharp at the same time. Big dips are absorbed well with next to no bounce coming out of them, while the body stays composed on patchy surfaces.
I drove the mid-grade Elite first and found the Kumho Crugen tyres (235/60/R18) a bit noisy on coarse-chip roads despite the sound deadening which Hyundai says has been added to the Santa Fe’s underbody.
Steering was light enough for me to carry out a three-point turn using just my pinky finger – which is what you want for parking and piloting through supermarket car parks.
That steering is quite direct, meaning you don’t have to turn the wheel far to change direction.
There’s a good feeling of connection between the wheels on the road and your hands on the steering wheel. This, combined with the composed, comfortable, but firm suspension, adds a lot of confidence and surety. It’s the difference between running in gum boats and sneakers.
The Elite has a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine (there’s no petrol alternative in this grade). It’s smooth, with plenty of grunt, and while it's not as quiet as Mazda’s equivalent, it’s more refined and quiet than most – so fear not, this diesel engine is not ‘truck like’ at all.
The new eight-speed automatic is excellent. A weakness in the previous Santa Fe was the six-speed auto and having another two gear ratios is welcome – especially for highway driving.
The base-grade Active rolls on Hankook Ventus Prime tyres (235/65 R17). I spent just 25km driving this grade but the difference in ride and comfort between it and the others is almost indiscernible. If anything, those tyres, with their taller sidewall, are likely to give a slightly softer ride.
The Active grade gives you a choice of petrol and diesel engines. I drove the petrol and immediately missed the mumbo of the diesel, which boasts almost double the torque and more power. That four-cylinder petrol with the six-speed just isn’t as suited to this even bigger Santa Fe. If Hyundai was to bring out a V6 petrol, as it did with the previous generation, it would be a tempting, albeit, thirstier Santa Fe.
The top-spec Highlander has the largest wheels with the lowest profile tyres – Continental ContiSportContact 5 which are an excellent (and about twice the price of the Hankooks). The Highlander is diesel-only like the Elite. Again – great grunt and a comfortable ride, but there’s still some road, engine and wind noise filtering into the cabin.
All Santa Fes are equipped with Hyundai’s new 'HTRAC' (Hyundai Traction) all-wheel drive (AWD) system and the many kilometres of winding dirt and gravel roads gave it a workout. HTRAC is an on-demand system which distributes torque to the four wheels where it’s needed. I was impressed – even at 80km/h on loose gravel the Santa Fe cornered like it was on tarmac – pushed a bit harder there was some slippage, but the system quickly brought things under control.
The Santa Fe is not an off-road vehicle in the same way a Toyota LandCruiser is. It doesn’t have a four-wheel drive system with a low range, but its 185mm ground clearance and AWD will take you further than you might have thought.
In the video at the top of this page we had to drive through soft sand to get to the water’s edge on the beach and we actually passed a ‘hardcore’ four-wheel drive which had become bogged.
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.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
The new-generation Santa Fe has not been awarded an ANCAP star rating yet, but given the amount of advanced safety equipment, we are expecting a high score.
We'd like to point out, however, that while all Santa Fe's have curtain airbags covering the first two rows, they only cover the windows of the third row.
All Santa Fes come with AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, along with blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane keeping assistance, plus active cruise control.
The blind spot warning also includes collision avoidance, which will steer you back into your lane if the system senses that you veer into the path of another vehicle coming up the side.
The Elite and Highlander grades are also equipped with a system called 'Rear Occupant Alert' which uses motion sensors to detect babies or dogs accidentally left in the vehicle before sounding the horn. Both grades also have a child-lock system called 'Safe Exit Assist' which prevents the rear doors unlocking if an approaching car is detected. Amazing and life-saving stuff. There’s also a self-parking feature and surround view camera.
Under the rear of the car is a full-size spare wheel.
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.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
The Santa Fe is covered by Hyundai’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km. A lifetime service plan is offered and works out to be about $400 a year, with a complimentary (1500km) first service.
Free Roadside assistance is also offered for the first year and a roadside assistance plan is offered for up to 10 years.