Toyota RAV4 VS Mazda CX-9
- Good safety gear
- Solid and dependable
- Roomy interior
- Poor media system
- Noisy diesel
- RAV4s are not cheap
- 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 can't stand still, even if you're often number one on a car buyer's list and your name is Toyota. Reputation is hard-won and easily lost, and the Japanese company hasn't dropped the ball on that score. Toyota's huge and often top-selling range of SUVs has cemented it's place in the Australian motoring landscape.
The evergreen RAV4 recently enjoyed an upgrade to its specification for the MY18 version. The vast bulk of the MY18 upgrade is to do with the inclusion of a comprehensive list of safety gear to keep it in the ring with the all-conquering CX-5. It hardly needed it - the RAV consistently outsells younger, cheaper rivals with the exception of the Mazda.
With prices up on most models and down on a couple, it's time for a thorough review of the RAV4 range.
Read More: Toyota RAV4 Reviews
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
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 RAV4 remains a dependable medium SUV with a spacious interior, excellent build quality and a good range of features and options. It's also an expensive option when compared like-for-like against its main rivals from Mazda, Subaru, Hyundai and even Volkswagen. None of them have the pedigree or reputation of the Toyota and that's clearly worth money. But some of them will throw in floor mats.
The best of the RAV4s has to be GXL 2.5 petrol AWD. It tows the most, has the best specification level and is the most competitively-priced.
The RAV4 is almost the default choice in the medium SUV market. Where does it come on your list?
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.
The segment in which the RAV4 plays is filled with stylish cars, so Toyota has brought a more interesting styling language for its mid-sizer's exterior design. While not aggressive-looking and there's nothing in the way of a body kit or sport edition, each model has a tiny rear spoiler. Racy it isn't, but there's a clear theme emerging on Toyota SUVs from the C-HR to the Kluger.
The different models are distinguished by wheel designs and a bit more chrome and metallic finishes on the exterior.
The RAV4 is a five-door SUV hardtop (no soft top - sorry folks), with a good wide rear tailgate for access to the cargo area.
You can add a bit of ruggedness with a roof rack or side steps from the dealer accessory list. Extras like a bull bar or nudge bar will require you to look further afield, the same for a snorkel, different rims, wheel arch extensions and more comprehensive tool kit.
Where is the Toyota RAV4 built? Our supply comes from Japan.
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 RAV's interior dimensions are nothing to sneeze at. While size isn't everything in this segment, it certainly helps. Our interior photos illustrate a roomy cabin with good storage space for passengers and luggage capacity, with particularly good rear legroom.
The question of how many seats is easily answered - the RAV4 is a five-seater, there is no third row seat option. Passengers are well-looked after with places to put their things, with four cup holders, bottle holders in each door and on the GXL and Cruiser a decent sized front centre console. The glovebox easily swallows the owners manual.
The boot size is 550 litres. Dropping the seats obviously brings an increase in boot space dimensions and an increase in volume to 1760L. It's a big space once you remove the standard retractable cargo cover. If you trawl through the accessories list you can also add a rubber boot liner and cargo barrier and the roof is ripe for bike racks with roof rails on the GXL and Cruiser. You can have the dealer fit roof rails to the entry-level GX for a price.
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
There are three trim levels in the RAV4 range - GX, GXL and Cruiser - to which you can then choose fuel type, engine size and number of driven wheels.
How much is a Toyota RAV4? How big is the range? Does Toyota offer drive away pricing? Read on for the answers to these questions, with a price list, specification guide and model comparison from the bottom to the top of the range.
Common to all RAV4s is the 6.1-inch touchscreen which powers the multimedia and sound system, which includes DAB radio, CD player (but no CD changer or DVD player), six speakers (but no subwoofer) and basic smartphone integration via USB or Bluetooth, both iPhone and Android. It works, but the interface is very basic and only baby's fingers can accurately hit the tiny targets.
The media systems still doesn't feature Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but the GPS navigation system slightly cushions the blow of the sub-par infotainment.
The GX opens the range and is available with all three engines. Standard features include 17-inch steel wheels, automatic LED headlights (no HID, projector or xenons here), fog lamps, auto wipers, Bluetooth, remote central locking, reverse camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, push button start and daytime running lights.
There are five GXs: the 2.0 manual FWD at $29,450 (up $900) and the GX auto FWD at $31,490 (up $900), which is actually a CVT. Stepping up to the 2.5 auto will cost $34,490 (up $840) and is a proper auto. Another step is the 2.2-litre diesel, starting at $39,060 for the manual and finally the GX auto sells for $41,100 (both up a hefty $2350). More than $41,000 for a car with steel wheels strikes me as a little stiff.
The GXL picks up 18-inch alloy wheels (16 and 17 inch alloys wheels are not available), dual zone climate control (as opposed to the standard ac), smart key with keyless entry and start and privacy glass (a darker window tint on the rear windows).
You have a choice of three GXLs, all automatic - the 2.0 FWD CVT for $35,490 (up a modest $100), the 2.5 AWD is $38,490 (up an even more modest $40) and the 2.2 diesel AWD is $41,100 (again, a whopping $2350 increase).
The premium interior pack is available on the 2.0 GXL FWD and adds heated and power adjustable leather seats with two memory positions while maintaining all the good stuff from the rest of the range, including sat nav.
Step up to the Cruiser and you get what is effectively a GXL with the premium package on any of the available engine options plus different wheels, power tailgate and an 11-speaker JBL-branded stereo with MP3 compatibility. Available in just 2.5 petrol automatic for $44,490 (down $910) and 2.2 diesel for $50,500, the Cruiser escapes the MY18 diesel model price rises.
Toyota's website offers drive away pricing, but you'd be mad not to negotiate on those prices.
Not available are a panoramic sunroof, homelink, seat belt extender, heated steering wheel, or tonneau cover.
Across the range, you can choose from eight colours - Glacier White, Liquid Bronze, Hazel, Silver Sky, Graphite (a charcoal grey), Ink (very dark blue), Blue Gem and Atomic Rush (red).
If you pick the GXL or Cruiser, you have two more to choose from: Crystal Pearl (fancy white) and Peacock Black. Sadly, green is off the menu.
As there is a space-saver spare, Toyota does not supply a tyre repair kit. A steel full-size spare is available for $300, but won't match your alloy wheels if you have them.
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
The range has three engine options and a choice of 4x2 or 4x4 drivetrains along with three gearbox types. Absent from the range are full EV, plug-in hybrid or LPG versions. Not all engines are available in all specification grades.
The two petrols are both four-cylinder naturally-aspirated engines and available with front wheel drive or AWD. There aren't that many turbo petrol options in this segment, so it's no surprise there isn't one in Toyota's line-up.
The 2.0-litre engine is available in manual or CVT and delivers 107kW and 187Nm. Its towing capacity is listed at 800kg for a braked trailer and 750kg unbraked.
If you want a bit more horsepower or just like a bigger engine size, the 2.5-litre engine is available only in AWD with the six-speed auto. The specifications sheet says it produces 132kW and 233Nm. The 2.5-litre's towing load capacity jumps by quite a lot, with a trailer ratings of 1500kg braked and unbraked at 750kg.
Finally, the 2.2-litre diesel knocks out 110kW and 340Nm. The diesel models are all-wheel drive only but are available in manual if you like a clutch, or a six-speed automatic for those lazy left-leggers out there.
The turbo-diesel, curiously, has less towing capability than the 2.5 petrol, with a 1200kg braked and 750kg unbraked rating. Usually the diesel vs petrol argument is settled on what you can drop on the tow bar, but not here.
Timing belt or chain? The diesel and petrol engines all have timing chains. Each RAV4's battery can be found under the bonnet but is easily accessible. Oil types differ by model, each with varying capacity.
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 there are so many drivetrains from which to choose, fuel consumption is a big question.
Claimed fuel economy on the 2.0-litre petrol is rated at 7.7L/100km on the combined cycle, 8.5L/100km for the 2.5 and the diesel is good for 6.7L/100km. If you want to flip that around, you'll get about 13km/L for the 2.0, 11.76km/L for the 2.5 and just under 15km/L on the diesel.
The fuel tank capacity is 60 litres in all variants.
In our testing, the eco mode doesn't do a great deal for the mileage.
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.
The RAV4 is a classic Toyota - well-built, solidly engineered but not particularly exciting to drive. Let's get the complaints out of the way first, because there aren't many.
Road noise is a little higher than on most of the competition, the former owner of the noise crown being the old Mazda CX-5. While it isn't hugely noisy, it isn't as quiet as most of its competitors. The diesel is a bit clattery around town and when you accelerate for, say, an overtake, it really lets you know what kind of fuel it is drinking.
It also took me a while to find a driving position I liked and the electric power steering is a bit inconsistent and hard to read. Lastly, it's not a lightweight, either, with kerb weights between 1465kg and 1635kg and gross vehicle weight between 2000kg (GX manual) 2280kg (Cruiser diesel auto).
There, that's the worst of it out of the way. In every other way, the RAV4 is an agreeable machine. While not fitted with off road tyres, its off road capabiliity is better than most of its rivals. Part of that is down to the centre diff lock (activated with a button) and a fairly traditional sort of all-wheel drive system.
Toyota does not quote a wading depth so proceed with care should attempt a water crossing.
The suspension can handle a fair bit of punishment and puts the car high in the air, with a ground clearance figure of 197mm. Front suspension is McPherson struts and the rear trailing arm double wishbones with coil springs, which is fairly advanced but mighty good for on-road manners and ride quality. Live rear axle fans will have to look at the Fortuner.
The turning radius is reasonably tight, resulting in a turning circle of 10.6m
None of the models are known for its 0 100 acceleration or top speed performance, but obviously it's not that kind of car. The 2.0-litre in either manual, CVT (FWD) or auto (AWD) form is never going to set the world alight and if you want to tow even a modest load, it's not for you.
Stepping up to the 2.5 petrol fixes the towing issue and, bizarrely, tows the most of any of them. It's a refined, unstressed unit and when matched with the unfussy six-speed automatic, is probably the most relaxed - if not cheapest to run - of the RAVs.
The turbo-diesel is punchy and economical but, ultimately, it would probably come down to range requirements - you won't have to fill up as often in the diesel but it is also the most accomplished on the highway. As mentioned, it's a little noisy and its figures aren't earth-shattering when viewed in comparison with Hyundai, Mazda and Volkswagen.
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.
The recent MY18 update brought with it a stack of safety features in additional to the seven airbags, ABS, stability control (VSC), traction control and brake assist.
All RAVs now come with Toyota Safety Sense which includes a basic lane assist technology in the form of lane departure warning. Safety Sense also adds auto high beam, forward collision warning and auto emergency braking (AEB).
The RAV4 GXL and Cruiser variants pick up a blind spot monitor system.
As far as park assist technology goes, you have reverse cross-traffic alert and front and rear parking sensors depending on the model.
Your baby car seat can be fitted using the three top-tether anchor points or two ISOFIX points.
The RAV carries a five star ANCAP safety rating, the highest available.
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.
Toyota offers a standard three year/100,000km warranty, which will give you peace of mind should any problems or issues arise. Toyotas enjoy high reliability ratings and the RAV4 is no different, but should any defects or problems arise, the dealer network is extensive. An extended warranty is also available from dealers.
As for servicing, service cost is dependent on the model and capped price servicing is available, including labour, oil, fluids and some parts. Service intervals come in at six months or 10,000km. Servicing for the petrol-engined cars is capped at $180 per service and for the diesel at $240 per service.
Toyota offers a service called Express Maintenance at some dealers, which puts your car at the front of the queue to get it done while you wait.
Resale value is strong, with few common faults reported in the usual places. Occasional transmission issues or automatic transmission problems have been reported, but generally in older models before 2010. The same goes for power steering issues, but again, these appear on earlier versions of the car. A second hand RAV4 is rarely a bad buy when properly looked after and serviced.
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.