Skoda Kodiaq VS Mazda CX-9
- Plentiful power
- Super-supportive front seats
- Plenty of practicality perks
- Not as sporty as RS badge implies
- Suspension can feel firm
- Expensive compared to rest of lineup
- 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
You don't hear the words 'performance' and 'diesel-powered, seven-seat SUV' together often, do you? Like Marvel and DC, the two things just feel like they're from completely different universes, one of which is filled with prams and groceries and weekend sport, and the other with twisting roads, plentiful fuel and burbling exhausts.
But Skoda is now attempting to merge these two distant worlds together with the launch of the new Kodiaq RS, blending the impressive practicality of the Czech car maker's (occasional) seven-seat SUV with the sporting promise of its performance sub-brand.
It's a delicate tightrope to walk, though. Too hard and sporty, and the Kodiaq RS will fail at its primary task of moving people and stuff. Too family focused, and it becomes an RS in badge only.
The question now, then, is has Skoda got the balance right?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
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|
It might not be the sportiest SUV on the market, but it balances its extra performance with its core family carrying duties with aplomb.
Seven seats, plenty of equipment, practicality for days and with enough grunt to keep you smiling, the Kodiaq RS ticks plenty of boxes.
The only question mark really remaining is does it justify the extra spend over 132TSI model?
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.
A lot like a Skoda Kodiaq, just with more sportiness. It never screams "look at me", but in our humble opinion, that's no bad thing.
You do get a bespoke front bumper arrangement, and the grill, under bonnet meshing, roof rails and and side skirting are blacked out. The wheel arches are filled by those jumbo 20-inch alloys, and, stepping around to the back, you'll find two squared-off exhaust outlets.
Inside, I'm a big fan of the super-supportive front seats, finished in leather and Alcantara, but for mine, the carbon-look trimming is less effective, and feels thin and hard to the touch.
That said, Koda deserves props for sending the best front-seat design elements into the second row, and if you forget the RS stuff completely for a moment, you'll find the cabin to be a clean, comfortable and tech-focussed space, with the the big central screen especially giving the cabin a modern feel, and the switch gear all emitting a commendable sense of quality.
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 Kodiaq RS pulls of an incredible party trick in managing to not look like a cruise ship from outside the car, while also serving up a big and spacious-feeling cabin.
To be clear, the Kodiaq isn't small, stretching 4699mm in length, 1882 in width and 1685mm in height, but its crisp design ensures it never looks slab-sided, looking more like a five-seat SUV than it does a full-time seven-seater, like the Mazda CX-9.
Those riding up front have plenty of space to stretch out, with the two seats separated by a wide centre console toped by an armrest that slides backwards to reveal a really usable storage space below. There are pockets in each door and two cupholders between the seats, too.
The front seats are electronically adjustable, and there's wireless charging, a USB connection and everything else you might need to make your life a little easier (including umbrellas hidden in the front doors).
Space in the backseat is genuinely impressive, even for taller passengers. I'm 175cm (so no giant) and there was so much room between my knees and the seats in front I could cross my legs comfortably, and more than enough headroom, too.
Yes, space will get considerably tighter should you attempt to squeeze three adults in the second row, but should you instead deploy the seat divider (itself home to 2.5 tiny cupholders), you'll find the back seat a pleasant place to spend time.
For a start, the nicer cabin materials from the front make their way to the second row, and you'll also find air vents with their own temp controls, a 12-volt charge point, bottle holders in the doors and two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat.
The third row is tighter, of course, but these are intended more as occasional jump seats rather than a permanent solution, and because the second row is on rails, there can be a surprising amount of leg room, provided the seats in front are pushed as far forward as they go.
Step around to the auto-opening boot and you'll 270 litres of space with the third row in place, 630 litres with the Skoda in five-seat mode, and a huge 2005 litres (to the roof) with the second row folded flat, too.
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.
Price and features
The go-fast Kodiaq will set you back a not-insignificant $65,990(+$770 for metallic paint) - or about $12k more than the second most-expensive model in the lineup, the 132TSI Sportline - but Skoda's first RS-badged SUV does at least arrive with enough kit to ensure you won't be troubling the limited options list.
For that spend, you get that punchy diesel engine driving all four wheels, of course (and we'll drill down on that in just a moment), but you also get a host of performance kit, like a Dynamic Sound Boost amplified exhaust, adaptive dampers calibrated for the RS, and several drive modes, including Sport.
Outside, you'll find jumbo 20-inch 'XTREME' alloys, red brake calipers, LED automatic headlights, LED DRLs, rain-sensing wipers and a boot that opens automatically.
Inside, expect super-supportive leather-and-Alcantara sports seats, triple-zone climate control, an awesome 9.2-inch multimedia screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Skoda's digital cockpit, wireless phone charging, heated seats in the first two rows and a solid Canton stereo.
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.
Engine & trans
It's pared with a seven-speed DSG automatic, and power is sent to all four wheels.
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.
It's here that the joy of diesel power makes itself clear. The Skoda Kodiaq RS, with its seven seats and half-tonne of torque, will drink a claimed 6.2 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. Emissions are pegged at 167g/C02 per kilometre.
It means you should theoretically get close to 1000kms out of the Kodiaq's 60-litre fuel tank.
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.
When it comes to performance vehicles, we're usually the first to begin waggling our fingers at a car that's not loud enough, angry enough, stirring enough, to wear the hallowed go-fast crown.
Usually the "hot" part of a car's description refers to a booming exhaust, super show-off looks and a suspension tune stiff enough to double as one of those weight-loss vibrating plates. And yet the Skoda Kodiaq RS really does none of those things. And to be honest, it's a better car for it.
The more subtle way the Kodiaq approaches its sportiness perfectly suits the nature of a car like this. This is, after all, a (sometimes) seven-seat SUV, and so it will likely be spending a lot of it's time with a family on board. And having kids in the back is even less fun if they're bouncing off the roof lining every time you hit a bump.
In the Kodiaq, they won't be. In its Normal drive setting (you can also choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport, Snow or Individual), the Kodiaq definitely lingers on the firm side of comfortable, but not so much so that it neuters its worth as a family hauler.
And even when you engage Sport, the Kodiaq remains comfy enough. The exhaust perhaps takes on a more noticeable, artificial timber (thanks to the Dynamic Sound Boost function) and the car tightens, but it's never feels overly aggressive or sharp.
Skoda's engineering team has done a terrific job of minimising body movement here, and you can legitimately throw the Kodiaq up and down a twisting road without ever feeling sea sick when you get to the other end. So much so, in fact, that you can forget you're driving a 1.8-tonne, seven-seat SUV, the predictable steering and composed ride helping convince you you're in something much smaller and more nimble.
It's not lightning-quick, with the bi-turbo diesel propelling you to 100km/h in 7.0 seconds (1.2secs quicker than a 132TSI version), but there's more than enough punch to get you up and moving in a hurry, and the engine has a fine relationship wth the seven-speed gearbox, with shifts largely occurring when you want them to (though it can feel a tough jumpy when you first start it up in the morning).
It's like a performance for responsible adults, then. It won't blow your socks off, but it offers just enough of everything to keep you engaged on the right road.
The only lingering question you need to ask yourself, though, is does that make it worth the extra bucks over a petrol-powered car?
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.
There is a heap of stuff on offer here, with the Kodiaq RS really wanting for little on the safety front.
The regular Kodiaq already wears five-star ANCAP safety rating, which carries over to the RS, and you can expect nine airbags, adaptive cruise control, city AEB, a rear-view camera, Lane Assist, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and a driver fatigue monitor.
And if you're a nervous parallel parker, the Kodiaq RS will take care of that for you, too.
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 Kodiaq RS is covered by Skoda's five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with servicing required every 12 months or 15,000kms.
You can also pre-pay your servicing at the point of purchase, with five years costing $1700, and three years setting you back $900.
Skoda also offers a nifty guaranteed value program, which allows you to settle on a kilometre window when you purchase your vehicle, then return it to the dealership after three years with no more payments to make.
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.