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Mazda CX-9


Hyundai Tucson

Summary

Mazda CX-9

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.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L turbo
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency8.8L/100km
Seating7 seats

Hyundai Tucson

The Hyundai Tucson is one of the go-to mid-size SUVs in Australia, along with the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan X-Trail. So, what makes it so popular, what do you get for your money, and what extra features have been added in this 2020 update?

Let me be your Tucson tour guide. Having been in and out of a stack of Tucsons, and having clocked up thousands of kilometres in them, I’m familiar with their great points and have discovered a few of their shortcomings, too.    

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.8L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Mazda CX-98/10

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 Tucson7.3/10

The changes to the 2020 Tucson are few, but important – the extra safety equipment added to the lower grades is great news.

Despite being a few years old and a new-generation Tucson coming by 2021-ish, the current SUV is a great workhorse that has served my family well in the form of a long-term test car, and more recently in these week-long stints in the updated model.

Parents will like the hard-wearing materials and wipe-clean surfaces, and I reckon everybody will appreciate the city-friendly size while staying fairly spacious on the inside.  

Design

Mazda CX-98/10

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 Tucson7/10

There’s a new-generation Tucson on the horizon, but we won’t be able to buy it for a couple of years yet. But rest assured Hyundai is cooking it up in its laboratories as you read this.

Can’t wait until around 2021 (probably)? Well, in the meantime this current generation still looks stylish even if it’s been here since 2015.

There have been some cosmetic upgrades over the years to freshen up the Tucson’s look, with Hyundai giving it a new grille and redesigned headlights in 2018. Same for the cabin which was also given a design revamp.

I’m a fan of the exterior and think it’s aged well, with its tough-looking face and elegant side profile. This sounds super nerdy, but I also like the shape of the tailgate with its little ‘lip edge’ and those taillights.

Even in the ‘government issue’ standard white paint worn by the Active X I tested (see the images), the Tucson still looks mighty fine. And it has to, the competition is a good-looking bunch – as a model comparison there’s the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Kia Sportage all on the rival list.

Talking of paint, the colour palette is limited to Phantom Black, Gemstone Red, Pepper Grey, Platinum Silver, Aqua Blue, Pure White, Sage Brown, Dusk Blue and White Pearl. Yep, no gold, orange, green or purple here I’m afraid.

The Tucson’s insides get fewer design accolades, with its fairly plain styling and there’s not a great deal of difference in look and feel between the cabin of an Active X and that of the Highlander - apart from the electric handbrake and dual-zone climate. Have a look at the interior images to see what I mean.

Spotting the difference between the grades from the outside isn’t easy: if the Tucson has dual exhausts it’s a Highlander, but if it doesn’t and it has chrome around the windows then you’re looking at an Elite, while an Active X has bigger wheels than the Active.

Now the dimensions. The Tucson is 4480mm end to end, 1850mm wide and 1660mm tall. That makes it 120mm shorter than a RAV4 and 70mm shorter than a CX-5. So, the Tucson is a smaller mid-sized SUV but that will suit many families in the city well.

Practicality

Mazda CX-98/10

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 Tucson7/10

The Tucson is a five-seat SUV and there’s no option to get a third row to make that seven. If you do need more seats and want to stay with Hyundai then the larger Santa Fe is what you’re looking for.

The Tucson’s size is an advantage in that, at less than 4.5m long, it’s easy to park, but the trade off is that the interior isn’t overly spacious. Still, even at 191cm tall I can fit behind my driving position in the second row with about 20mm to spare between my knees and the seatback. Headroom is also good, even with the sunroof in the Highlander which lowers the ceiling slightly.

Up front there are the big seats and good head, leg and elbow room.

What about boot space? The cargo capacity of the Tucson’s boot with the seats up is 488 litres. That was enough room to fit the CarsGuide pram and Kim Kardashian’s big suitcase (see the video), both at the same time. With the seats folded you’ll have 1478 litres to help you move house or pick up that thing you bought online. Not the biggest boot size in the class, but not the smallest.

Cabin storage is pretty average – there’s a deep, but narrow, centre console storage bin, door pockets, a standard glovebox and four cup holders (two up front and two in the back).

Price and features

Mazda CX-98/10

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 Tucson7/10

The Tucson range has four grades: Active, Active X, Elite and Highlander. There used to be a grade called Go, but it’s now gone, replaced by the Active.

The most affordable Tucson is the front-wheel-drive petrol Active with a manual gear box that lists for $29,290 (add $2500 for the auto), but if you want all-wheel drive you’ll need the diesel engine with the auto for $37,090. That escalated quickly, eh?

Next step up is the Active X, which lists for $32,290 in front-wheel drive, manual guise (and $34,790 for the auto), and the diesel auto all-wheel drive in this grade is $40,090.

Now we’re getting into the auto-transmission-only upper echelons of the range, with the Elite coming in three variants. The first variant uses the same petrol engine as the lower grades with front-wheel drive for $37,850, then there’s a turbo-petrol with all-wheel drive for $43,150, and the diesel all-wheel drive for $43,150.

Lording it over the range is the Highlander (which I always read with a Scottish accent in my head). There’s two to pick from and both are all-wheel drive with automatic transmissions. The turbo-petrol Highlander lists for $46,500 and the diesel is $48,800.

So, with almost $20K separating the top and bottom of the range let’s look at what you get for your money.

The Active comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED running lights, a seven-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a six-speaker stereo, single-zone air conditioning, rear parking sensors, a leather steering wheel and roof rails.

The Active X has larger 18-inch alloy wheels, sat nav, an eight-inch screen, an Infinity eight-speaker stereo system, digital radio, leather seats and heated and power-folding mirrors.

The Elite is the sweet spot the range and scores proximity unlocking with push-button start, rear privacy glass, a power-adjustable driver’s seat and dual-zone climate control.

The Highlander has all the Elite’s features but adds 19-inch rims, LED headlights and taillights, a panoramic sunroof, ventilated and heated front seats, auto tailgate, wireless charging, a heated steering wheel and a powered front passenger seat. 

The Highlander’s tailgate is an automatic one which will open if you stand next to it with the key fob for three seconds. It works a bit too well, and I found myself often opening the boot unintentionally.

The big news for this 2020 model year Tucson, however, is that the lower grades have been given more safety equipment. You can read all about this a bit further on.

Engine & trans

Mazda CX-97/10

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 Tucson7/10

There are three engines in the Tucson range: a 2.0-litre petrol making 122kW and 205Nm; a 1.6-litre turbo petrol making 130kW and 265Nm; and a 2.0-litre diesel with an output of 136kW and 400Nm. All are four-cylinder engines.

A six-speed manual can only be had with the 2.0-litre petrol engine, but for a bit more money you can swap that for a six-speed auto instead. The 1.6-litre petrol engine only comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto and the diesel is teamed up with an eight-speed auto.

There are pros and cons with each engine: the 2.0-litre petrol feels a bit under powered, but the transmission is smooth; the 1.6-litre petrol is punchy off the line but at low speeds the dual-clutch can make acceleration a bit jerky; while the diesel’s eight-speed is excellent, and so is the torque from the engine, but it sounds a little bit like farm equipment.

 

Fuel consumption

Mazda CX-98/10

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 Tucson7/10

If you’re choosing the engine based on fuel efficiency, then don’t. Unless you’re picking the diesel, because it is considerably more fuel efficient than the petrols. Hyundai says that after a combination or open and urban roads the diesel engine will have used 6.4L/100km. My own testing in the Elite with the diesel supported the frugality of the engine with our test car recording 6.9L/100km.

According to Hyundai, the 2.0-litre and 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engines - regardless of transmission or gearbox - will get within 0.2L/100km of each other. So, after a combination of open and urban driving the 2.0-litre with the manual will use 7.8L/100km while the auto needs 7.9L/100km. The 1.6-litre with the dual-clutch is more economical, but only just, at 7.7L/100km.

My own testing saw me use an average of 9.2L/100km in the 1.6-litre Highlander and 10.3L/100km in the 2.0-litre Active with the auto

More good news is you’ll only have to feed the petrol engines cheaper, 91 RON fuel.

Driving

Mazda CX-98/10

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 Tucson7/10

There’s a lot to like about the way the Tucson drives, but there are some areas where rivals do better.

I tested the Highlander grade with the 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine and seven-speed dual-clutch, followed by the Active X with the 2.0-litre engine and six-speed automatic, and then I drove the Elite with the diesel engine and an eight-speed auto.  

In one week I put more than 500km on the clock of the Active X, using it as a family car for the preschool drop-offs and grocery shopping in Sydney, with a trip away to see the grandparents on the weekend up in Newcastle. That gave me a combination of inner-city grind and open motorways.

I put about 300 kilometres on the Highlander and most of those were suburban and city kays, with some motorways thrown in, too.

Both have their merits. For the city I preferred the six-speed automatic in the Active far more than the seven-speed dual-clutch in the Highlander, especially in hilly areas. Traffic and intersections are the enemy of that dual-clutch which cause a lurching motion as you come off the brake and onto the throttle. Yes, there is a hill-hold button but activating it adds a ‘sticking’ sensation that does stop roll-back but does nothing for smoothness.

The six-speed auto meant smooth motion in low speed traffic and assured no roll back on hills.  

As for the engines, the 2.0-litre is fine. You’re not going to break any land speed records, or maybe not even any speed limits because acceleration is definitely not rapid, but it's more than adequate.

The 1.6-litre turbo engine is peppy at lower speed, but as you start to push it harder it does feel like it runs out of puff. Being a turbocharged engine, the delivery of the grunt feels different to the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre. If you’ve driven turbo cars before you’ll know the ‘whooshy’ feel they have as the turbo winds up and you’re catapulted away.

On the open road, the dual-clutch is magnificent, changing fast and smoothly. Whereas the six-speed auto doesn’t seem to be enjoying itself anywhere near as much as it DCT sibling.

So, if you’re a passionate driver, then go the dual-clutch which, combined with the 1.6-litre engine, provides a more engaging drive. But if this SUV is just to get you around town then I reckon you’ll be happier with the 2.0-litre. Forget fuel economy - there’s nothing in it between them.

But wait, there’s something you should know. The diesel is my pick of all the variants as the best to drive both in the city and country. I tested the Tucson Elite with the diesel engine and eight-speed automatic and while it does sound like a delivery truck, that 400Nm of torque is fantastic for being able to move quickly when you need to, without much in the way of turbo lag. 

As for ride and handling all Tucsons have the same suspension set-up: MacPherson struts at the front and a multilink in the rear, which provides comfort and good cornering for the class.

Hyundai has tuned the suspension in the Tucson for Australian roads – a lot of car companies don’t do this.

The Tucson isn’t a large SUV (it’s only 140mm longer than an i30 hatch back) and that makes piloting it into parking spaces and in narrow streets easy. Visibility is hindered by thick A-pillars either side of the windscreen and seeing out the back small windows is tricky, but the reversing camera helps here.

If you’re planning to tow, you’ll need to know the braked towing capacity of all Tucsons is 1600kg.

And while all-wheel drive isn’t four-wheel drive, the Tucson’s ground clearance of 172mm is higher than a normal car and will mean you can go a little bit further off the bitumen.

Safety

Mazda CX-99/10

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 Tucson7/10

While the Tucson’s styling hasn’t changed in this 2020 update, the safety equipment list has in that the lower grades now come with more life-saving tech as standard.

New safety tech on the Active and Active X grades includes AEB that operates at city and urban speeds and lane keeping assistance. That’s in addition to rear parking sensors, rear view camera, and six airbags.

The Elite and Highlander have even more safety equipment such as blind spot warning, AEB which works at higher speeds and can detect pedestrians, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.

For child seats, all Tucsons have three tether points and two ISOFIX mounts across the second row. A full-sized alloy wheel is located under the boot floor.

The Tucson scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2016.

Ownership

Mazda CX-98/10

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 Tucson9/10

The Tucson is covered by Hyundai’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months/15,000km. For the 2.0-litre petrol Tucson you can expect to pay $280 for each of the first three services, while the 1.6-litre is a smidge more at $295.

The diesel is more expensive to service – you can expect to pay $390 for each of the first three services, and also at 12 month/15,000km intervals.