Mazda CX-9 VS Kia Sorento
- 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
- Excellent features and good value
- Comfortable and easy to drive
- Cool styling, but still practical
- No petrol four cylinder engine
- Airbags don’t fully cover third row
- Engines are thirsty
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|
The Sorento is the mothership of Kia’s line-up. A big, seven-seater SUV which during the past decade has won over Aussie families for its spaciousness and practicality, its safety tech and the way it drives, while being great value for money.
Now the new-generation model has arrived looking leaner and meaner than the old Sorento. So, has it lost any of the charms which made it a winner, or has it only got better?
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.
Kia has done it again. The new-gen Sorento will be an instant family hit with its super-cool styling, modern cabin tech, practicality and space, while being great value for money. For such a modern SUV, there should have been a high-output four-cylinder petrol offered, as Mazda does with its CX-9. A superb engine like that, is what an SUV this great deserves.
The sweet spot in the range is the Sport+. Sure it doesn't have the remote parking feature of the GT-Line but it comes with a proximity key, privacy glass and leather seats.
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.
The new-generation Sorento looks nothing like the last one… n-o-t-h-i-n-g like the last one. Well, apart from the rear, side window which has the same angle to it, which is an intentional nod to the previous model.
The outgoing version was premium and friendly looking, but its proportions seem bloated compared to the muscular, angular, new-generation Sorento.
It appears to have had an attitude change, too. Sure, this is a family SUV but there are muscle-car traits from the Camaro-style headlights flanking that cliff face of a grille, to the Mustang-esque tail-lights, with everything in between filled with sharp edges.
The cabin is even more striking with its cheese-grater textures in the dash and doors, the large centre console with chrome trim and rotary shifter.
The 10.25-inch media display, standard on the Sport grade and above, is the most interesting I’ve seen on any car I’ve tested.
The level of detail, thought and styling which has gone into it is obvious with its neon people, fonts and icons, incandescent light bulb effect for radio frequencies, and even the ‘streetlight’ mode for the navigation is intriguing. At the same time, it’s one of the easiest to use systems I’ve encountered.
The top-grade GT-Line steps up the premium look with its fully-digital instrument cluster and Nappa leather seats.
The materials feel high quality, while the fit and finish is superb.
The Sorento’s dimensions have changed slightly with the SUV now measuring 4810mm long (+10mm), 1900mm wide and 1700mm tall.
There are seven colours to pick from but only clear white doesn’t demand the $695 cost of the rest which include 'Silky Silver', 'Steel Grey', 'Mineral Blue', 'Aurora Black', 'Gravity Blue' or the 'Snow White Pearl' of the Sorento in my video above.
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.
The new Sorento has more space inside, a bigger boot and more charging outlets for devices.
Climbing into the third row is also easier now thanks to a wheelbase that’s been stretched by 35mm to 2815mm and a second row which slides further forward.
Even somebody my height (191cm/6'3") and with my impressive lack of co-ordination can get in. Watch the video to see how elegant I look doing it.
Legroom is excellent throughout and I can sit behind my driving position in the second row, and behind that in the third row without my knees touching any of the seatbacks.
You now have more boot space, too. With the third row in place there’s 187 litres (up by 45 litres), and with third row flat there’s 616 liters (up by 11 litres).
Cabin storage is also excellent. There are eight cupholders, plus, four bottle holders in the doors up front and back. You can have 12 drinks on the go and it only fits seven people.
Then there are the charging points. The GT Line and the Sport+ have USB ports in the third and second row, and all grades have three USBs up front and two 12V outlets.
The GT-Line also includes wireless charging. There are directional air vents in all three rows. Nobody is going thirsty, or airless, or chargeless.
A special shout out needs to go to the Remote Smart Parking Assist feature of the GT-Line, too. The system makes the Sorento even more practical.
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.
The new-generation Kia Sorento costs about $3K more than the previous model, but in return you’re given better features and the latest tech.
There are four grades in the Sorento range: the S, Sport, Sport + and top-of-the-range GT-Line. All grades can be had with a diesel or petrol engine. The catch is, only the diesel version is equipped with all-wheel drive, while the petrol variant is front-wheel drive only.
For the petrol line-up list prices start at $45,850 for the S, then steps up to $48,480 for the Sport, $52,850 for the Sport+, and $60,070 for the GT-Line. Want that in diesel? Just add $3000 to each price.
Kia does drive-away pricing almost permanently, which will save you money on rego and other on-road costs. At the time this was published you could buy a GT-Line diesel for $63,070 drive-away.
What do you get for the money?
The Sport grade adds 18-inch alloy wheels, a big 10.25-inch display, sat nav, dual-zone climate, and a power adjustable driver’s seat, but it still has cloth seats.
Things are getting pretty spesh with the Sport+ grade. There’s all of the Sport’s features plus 19-inch alloy wheels, leather seats (heated up front), proximity key with push-button start, power tailgate, privacy glass, LED tail-lights and remote engine start.
And at the top of the tree is the GT-Line which adds 20-inch alloy wheels, quilted Nappa leather seats, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, mood lighting, 12-speaker Bose sound system, head-up display, a wireless phone charger, heated seats in the front and second row, and a panoramic sunroof.
By far the most impressive feature of the GT-Line is it's ability to park itself without anyone being in the car. Yup, you read that right. It's called 'Remote Smart Parking Assist' and it's for tight parking spaces.
It's astounding, and to see it work watch the video above where I demonstrate how easy to use and practical the feature is.
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.
As with the previous Sorento there’s a choice of a 3.5-litre petrol V6 or a turbo-diesel four-cylinder.
Essentially, they are the same engines from the previous model and the outputs are almost unchanged with the diesel making 148kW/440Nm, while the petrol produces 206kW/336Nm.
The transmission in the diesel variant is properly new. It’s an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. The eight-speed that comes in the petrol is an old-school traditional automatic transmission.
The braked towing capacity for the petrol is 1898kg while the diesel can pull 1908kg.
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.
Fuel consumption is down slightly in both diesel and petrol engines. Kia says the petrol engine should use 9.7L/100km after a combination of open and urban roads.
As for the diesel, Kia says it should use 6.1/100km. I drove the GT-Line diesel for a week, living with it like you will – school drop offs, shopping centres, city streets, motorways, you name it.
I put 195.1km on the clock and used 18.6 litres – that’s come out to be a very real-world 9.5L/100km.
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.
We’ve test driven the diesel version of the Sorento in the GT-Line grade, as the diesel is likely to be the more popular choice. And once we get our hands on the petrol version, we’ll let you know what that’s like to pilot, too.
You definitely won’t forget what's powering the diesel. It’s fairly noisy on the outside, but the cabin is well insulated so not much clatter finds its way in.
That’s just the start of what feels like a plush and premium driving experience.
The ride is excellent, comfortable and composed even on the crumbling city roads around where I live. The same roads I’ve driven Benz and BMW SUVs on and some of those don’t feel as good as the Sorento.
I’m serious. The Sorento’s body control is outstanding. It doesn’t wobble, doesn’t feel too bouncy, and provides a superb connection between the driver and the road. I can’t say the same for some much more expensive SUVs.
It’s down to the hard work Kia puts into getting its suspension right for Australia. Months before the Sorento came out in January 2020 Kia’s local engineers were driving it all over Australia, and through a process of trial and error found the right suspension that felt as good as they could get it. And they have nailed it.
So, along with the Sorento being comfortable on Aussie roads, it handles better than you’d expect something this large to.
I pushed it hard into corners I take all my test cars though, without the major lean or roll you’d experience in some large SUVS.
Steering is also a highlight. It’s accurate, smooth, and gave me a good feeling of connection with the road.
The diesel engine, while a bit noisy, is instantly responsive with no turbo lag and provides good acceleration. Only the diesel Sorento is all-wheel drive, so this is the pick if you’re planning to head on to dirt roads regularly.
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.
Then the GT-Line also has blind spot view monitor, which shows the view behind you on whichever side you’re indicating towards.
All Sorento also have seven airbags including one which pops up between the driver and front passenger.
Curtain airbags extend to the third row, but don’t completely cover the windows of those very back seats. This may make you reconsider whether you want to have children back there.
If you do, there are ISOFIX points and top tether mounts for the third-row seats, plus two more ISOFIX points and three top tethers mounts across the second row.
It’s good to see the Sorento has kept its full-sized spare wheel, which is under the car.
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.