Mazda CX-9 VS Kia Seltos
- 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
- Outstanding value-for-money
- Life-enhancing packaging
- Stupendously easy to live with
- Full safety suite only available on GT-Line
- Parcel shelf only standard on Sport+ and up
- Feels a little loose traction-wise on gravel roads
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|
Sometimes a new model arrives with one particular grade that seems to exceed the sum of its pricing as well as parts. Just such a model is the entry-level Kia Seltos, the S.
Launched in late 2019 as the company’s small SUV answer to the successful Mitsubishi ASX, the SP2-series Seltos is a lot like a Kia Cerato, but with a big and boxy body plonked on top for more space, extra utility, higher seating and greater ground clearance (at 177mm) – courtesy of the related Hyundai Kona DNA infused within.
Result? The cheapest version makes for an ideal value urban runabout. And here’s why.
Read More:Kia Seltos 2020 Review
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
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.
On paper, the cheapest Seltos might seem the least appealing of the range. Base model, tiny wheels, unremarkable 2.0-litre engine and a CVT auto are hardly the stuff of champions.
Yet, with its boxy good looks, utilitarian proportions, hardy presentation, agreeable performance, absorbent ride, ample road clearance, thoughtful equipment levels, accessible pricing, low running costs and superlative after-sales care, the S starts to shape up as a handsome and likeable overachiever of the small SUV set.
Budget for the Safety Pack and do insist on that AWOL parcel shelf, and you’re left with what might be one of the today’s most suitable and formidable real-world urban propositions. The Seltos S rises above its station with an infectious can-do swagger.
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.
An imposing nose. Chunky styling. A ‘floating roof’ design. Vibrant colour choices. With a hint of old-school Subaru Forester in its boxy utilitarianism, the Seltos literally stands out in a very crowded sector. Little wonder it’s already a big hit.
It’s interesting how Kia and Hyundai went down very different visual avenues with what are essentially the same basic mechanical ingredients. The former is all about space and sensibility while the latter is very much contemporary style orientated.
Maybe that’s why, despite brandishing a handsome set of hubcaps, the S’ 205/60R16-shod steelies look a wee-bit tiny in those huge wheel arches.
That pleasing practicality ethos outside has been transferred inside the Seltos too, with a simple approach to the dashboard design that aims to enhance your interaction with it rather than distract, confuse or even intimidate. That just isn’t Kia’s way.
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.
First thing’s first. It’s difficult to think of a cheaper new car that’s easier to get in and out of than the Seltos. Big doors, wide apertures, a tall ceiling, overhead grab handles, lofty cushions and a sense of airiness make it utterly undemanding. Swinging your hips up and on high flat seats (and down and off again), are further bonuses.
If you’re somewhat creaky in the bones and not so mobile, ensure this is on your list.
Most materials are of the hardy, durable variety, with the plastic (rather than leather-sheathed) wheel probably the next biggest giveaway after the wheels that you’ve chosen bargain-basement.
But at least you can sink yourself into soft and inviting cloth-ish seat fabrics. And there’s still some flair in there anyway, from door grilles which either look like an ode to Melbourne’s Fed Square or punched-in speaker grilles, to dimpled textures and contrasting shades of silvers and greys. Very Teutonic.
The majority of drivers should count on excellent front and side vision (though wide C-pillars do blot out over-the-shoulder parking sight lines), as well as a tilt/telescopic steering column and a height-adjustable cushion for locating the ideal seating position.
And everybody should admire the outstandingly concise instrumentation markings, plentiful ventilation and copious storage – including the deep front door pockets, shallow fascia shelves (one next to the two 12V and single USB outlets for maximum practicality) and a sizeable centre-console bin-cum-elbow rest.
It’d be near-impossible finding a less painless rental experience after 30 hours flying to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, than the user-friendly Seltos. That also applies to the uncomplicated multimedia connectivity and transparency of all vehicle controls.
Moving on to the back (possible without having to leave the car thanks to clambering-aiding space between the front seats), that flat and somewhat featureless cushion too is raised, which – like the wide-arc door opening – assists entry and egress as well as the view out for shorter folk.
It’s a light-filled expanse of rear-seat space, in contrast to the oppressive darkness of most small SUVs. We’re looking at you, Toyota C-HR and Mazda CX-30.
There are a few surprising extras and omissions. On the credit side you’ll find two-angle reclinable backrests, a reading light and windows that wind almost all of the way down. Fido will be pleased. None are base-grade guarantees. But could the carpet feel grittier? Optional mats ($163.89 ex-Kia) are a must.
There are no face-level air outlets, map pockets, USB ports or cupholders back there, while the S and Sport grades miss out on that parcel shelf. That’s almost dog-act penny-pinching. If you want one, that’s $346.12 thanks.
Speaking of the luggage area, the boot opening is huge, the floor flat and the load space level. There’s a wagon-like low lip to haul things over, and there’s more cargo capacity at 433L than every one of its popular small SUV foes, including the Qashqai (430L), ASX (393L), Toyota C-HR (377L), Suzuki Vitara (375L) and Kona (361L). The Tardis-like HR-V, meanwhile, pips the Kia by just four litres at 437L. A space-saver spare lives underneath.
All in all, then, the Seltos’ cabin is big and spacious and inviting to interact with, but what it isn’t is innovative. We can’t help thinking that, given all that interior space, Kia missed a trick not engineering a sliding rear seat as per the Skoda Karoq, or under-seat storage drawers.
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.
From $25,990 before on-road costs, the Seltos S represents compelling buying, and not just among similar small SUV autos like the versatile Honda HR-V VTi (–$500) and bestselling but ancient Mitsubishi ASX ES (also a tenner under $26,000), as well as the exxier Toyota C-HR 2WD, Mazda CX-30 G20 Pure (both +$4300 apiece) and Nissan Qashqai ST (+$4600).
Thanks to some deft design and packaging, subjectively the Kia feels just about large enough to play in the medium SUV league, alongside favourites such as the Mazda CX-5 Maxx 2WD (+$7290). And while, stood side-by-side, the latter’s larger proportions are plainly obvious, its cargo capacity is just nine litres more than the Seltos’ 433L.
As with all of the above, the base Seltos is front-wheel drive, in this case employing a 2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine and box-fresh continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic combination. No manual is available, sadly.
The S is very well equipped for an opener, boasting an 8.0-inch touchscreen multimedia display, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, cruise control, automatic on/off headlights, reverse camera, rear parking sensors, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with vehicle and pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, driver attention alert and 16-inch steel wheels with a space-saver spare tyre.
We advise ticking the $1000 'Safety Pack' option, since it ushers in worthwhile goodies like adaptive cruise control, electric folding exterior mirrors, a driver’s side auto up/down window, cyclist collision avoidance braking as part of a more-sophisticated AEB system, larger rear disc brakes and an electronic park brake with hill-hold. Bargain.
However, there are some spec anomalies. You’ll need the $28,990 Sport for digital radio and alloy wheels (though it does also introduce a nicer full-colour 10.25-inch touchscreen with sat-nav); only the $32,490 Sport+ onwards brings a parcel shelf/cargo area cover (!), blind-spot alert, rear cross-traffic avoidance and remote unlocking, while rain-sensing wipers, wireless phone charging and any sort of front LED lighting are the preserve of the GT-Line AWD flagship, from $41,400.
The latter includes a more powerful 1.6-litre turbo with all-wheel drive, though it’s also a $2500 option on the aforementioned Sport+; note that also bags a multi-link independent rear suspension system in place of the more-rudimentary torsion beam arrangement in FWD models. Metallic paint lightens your bank account by another $520.
Do you need all that extra gear? The upper Seltos’ play in serious medium SUV territory… highlighting just how much car the base S actually offers.
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.
Kia offers two distinct four-cylinder petrol powertrains in the Seltos.
In the three lower-end models including the S tested here, there’s a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine producing 110kW of power and 180Nm of torque driving the front wheels via a CVT, while a 1591cc 1.6-litre turbo delivers 130kW/265Nm to all four wheels via a seven-speed DCT in the Sport+ AWD and GT-Line AWD.
Make no mistake, even with fewer muscles to flex, the S’ 2.0-litre four provides more than enough performance for its intended function. Just a light press of the throttle will have the Kia leaping into action, and the front wheels scrambling for traction burying the pedal to the metal, and pulling strongly up, right up to the 6500rpm red line.
In doing so it’s neither the quietest nor the smoothest engine in its class – the downsized 1.2-litre turbo in the C-HR shines in this regard – but there is nevertheless more than enough punch in reserve for safe and confident overtaking. Expect a 0-100km/h figure of well-under nine seconds, which is strong for this class of SUV.
Such willing performance would not be possible without the natural and eager responses from the new transmission, which is probably the best CVT we’ve ever experienced in terms of emulating a (decent) torque-converter auto. It shifts smoothly, evenly and without the gearing-related roaring and droning that have blighted these sorts of powertrains for decades.
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.
Better still, given the size and space offered in the Seltos, the 2.0-litre/CVT combo is a comparatively economical one, returning an indicated 8.6L/100km after eight days of restful and spirited driving alike, 0.2 litres per 100km better than the official urban rating. The S’ combined urban/extra-urban average is 6.8L/100km, for a carbon dioxide emissions figure of 157g/km.
The Kia will gladly run on standard 91 RON unleaded petrol or 94 RON E10 ethanol/unleaded.
Fitted with a 50L fuel tank, expect up to 735km between top-ups based on that 6.8L/100km official combined average number.
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.
Here’s where the Seltos’ core strengths of pace, space, access and ease come to the fore, dovetailing with a few more virtues to highlight how well the small SUV works in an urban environment.
As outlined earlier, the S is hot to trot from the word go, making it a prompt point-to-point performer, with the CVT presenting none of the hesitation or lag on inclines that blight some dual-clutch (DCT) autos. This is a smooth and relaxing machine to scoot around town in.
The steering, too, feels light and prompt, for effortless cornering and U-turn manoeuvres; and while there’s some lean due the Seltos’ raised centre of gravity, the upshot is sufficient spring travel for soaking up the ragged ruts and bumps peppering many urban streets, backed up by hump-traversing ground clearance.
Kia, like Hyundai, makes much noise about how it tunes most new models specifically for Australian conditions, and that seems to show out on the open road, thanks to solid and surefooted handling.
If you really push through fast corners the Seltos will lean quite a bit and seem a tad ponderous as the vehicle’s weight shifts about through tighter turns, but it never feels top-heavy or unwieldy.
As far as tall SUVs go, the S is pretty planted. Plus, while not especially quiet, the amount of wind, road and tyre noise heard inside is acceptable.
Note, however, that over gravel at even fairly moderate speed, the stability and traction systems seem a little too relaxed in that they allow the Seltos to slide wide before they intervene to straighten things out again, and do too abruptly at times, cutting power and making for some jerky progress.
If this is a concern then you might want to consider either spending the extra $10K on the AWD version or avoiding such roads, because the S behaves best on bitumen.
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.
The S comes with a long list of standard safety kit, including anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake-assist, stability and traction controls, AEB with vehicle and pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, driver attention alert, downhill brake control, hill-start assist, reverse parking sensors, rear-view camera with parking guidelines, six airbags (driver, passenger, and side and curtain airbags), and auto on/off headlights with delay function.
There are also two rear-seat ISOFIX points as well as three top tethers for straps.
Like we said earlier, a more sophisticated AEB system with added cyclist collision avoidance braking, adaptive cruise control with stop/start functionality, electric folding mirrors and larger rear-disc brakes are among the extra features of the $1000-optional Safety Pack on S and Sport grades.
Thus-equipped, the S is at the forefront of safety for the small SUV class. ANCAP says the AEB works between 10km/h and 40km/h.
The Seltos scored a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating during 2019.
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.
For some time now, Kia has led the industry with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty as well as roadside assistance.
Service intervals are every year or 15,000km, while published basic capped-price servicing ranges from $261 to $593 depending on the interval. The total is $2818 over seven year, averaging $402.58 annually over that period.