The Mazda CX-9 is a favourite in the Wheels office. It wouldn’t be a Car of the Year winner if it wasn’t. However, the latest generation Santa Fe presents as strong competition – and now it’s endowed with 206kW of V6 power to take on the benchmark. So, which is best?
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EQUIPMENT AND VALUE
At $51,000, the Elite designation renders this Santa Fe V6 variant the middle-ground, value-for-money proposition within the range. Still, it’s decked out with kit such as AEB, driver attention warning, blindspot warning, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, radar cruise and auto high beam. The Santa Fe V6 is covered by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty (with one-year roadside assist), and you’ll need to get it serviced every 12 months or 15,000km.
Yes, the GT AWD is a higher spec level than the Santa Fe Elite, hence its price tag sits at $65,720. Still, the GT is well equipped for the coin, and the 2020 update sees the AEB system add night-time pedestrian protection. The CX-9 is also covered by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with roadside assist, but you could be frequenting your dealer more often, with 12 months/10,000km service intervals.
WINNER: Hyundai Santa Fe
SPACE AND COMFORT
The materials used and build quality are of a high standard, while both SUVs have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Hyundai’s infotainment system is better, though. Handily, there is dedicated air-con for the third row, a 12v power source, plus buttons in the boot to stow the middle row. Cabin space is generous, with the third row just for kids, like the CX-9. Cargo capacity is 130 litres with all seats in place and 547 litres in five-seat mode.
Interior quality is top-notch, but the MZD Connect system is old. Neither car is as simple as an MPV for accessing the third row, and once there both have comparable head- and legroom. The same goes for the sliding middle rows. The CX-9 gains USB charging points in all three rows, but lacks dedicated air vents and climate control for the third row. Boot space is 230 litres as a seven-seater and 810 litres (to the roof) with 50/50-split third row stowed.
WINNER: Dead heat
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RIDE AND HANDLING
Hyundai hasn’t just bolted a heavier bent-six in the front and left the suspension alone. The springs and dampers have been retuned to suit the new powertrain, meaning the Santa Fe V6 retains a comfortable ride quality and rewarding dynamics (riding on 18-inch alloys). It’s a shame the V6 isn’t offered with all-wheel drive. The cabin is noticeably louder than the Mazda’s, with the Santa Fe recording 63.8dB at 80km/h on the same road.
Not that you buy a seven-seat SUV for cornering prowess, but if you find yourself on a twisty road, the CX-9 has driver appeal. The 2020 update incorporates G-Vectoring Plus to help stability. The system aims to pull the car into a straight line past an apex – it’s quite noticeable and needs an acclimatisation period. The ride quality is supple, despite 20-inch wheels, while body control is kept nicely in check. It’s quieter too, at 60.9dB.
WINNER: Mazda CX-9
PERFORMANCE AND ECONOMY
Out goes the lethargic 2.4-litre four, in comes the trusted 3.5-litre atmo V6 with 206kW and 336Nm. That’s a 68kW/95Nm jump. And it’s noticeable behind the wheel, as the front can sometimes struggle with the extra grunt being sent to the front wheels alone. All-wheel drive is saved for the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four. It sounds great with a bent-six growl entering the cabin. It feels a little punchier than the 2.5-litre CX-9, but it’s also thirstier, at 10.6L/100km.
Despite being down two cylinders on the Santa Fe, the turbo 2.5-litre four in the CX-9 delves into its 420Nm of torque from as low as 2200rpm. Its meaty mid-range response is easy to access and perfect for city driving. In the GT model tested, power is sent to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic, which can’t quite match the slick eight-speeder in the Hyundai – although the CX-9 wins the economy race with a figure of 9.0L/100km.
WINNER: Mazda CX-9
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VERDICT: WHEELS FAVOURITE DEFENDS ITS HONOUR
The Mazda CX-9 is our 2017 Car of the Year winner for a reason. And that’s despite surviving on a few nips and tucks since its COTY crown. Even if the Hyundai Santa Fe V6 featured in a comparable Highlander spec ($57,500), the CX-9 would still have claimed this test. But the Santa Fe is far from embarrassed here. The addition of the V6 powerplant provides the extra verve that was lacking in the four-cylinder petrol-powered variant, and the car is feature-packed for the price. Yet the CX-9 remains a benchmark and continues to be as compelling as the day it launched in 2016.
Model: Hyundai Santa Fe V6 Elite
Engine: 3470cc V6, dohc, 24v
Max power: 206kW @ 6300rpm
Max torque: 336Nm @ 5000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 7.8sec Economy:
On sale: Now
Model: Mazda CX-9 GT AWD
Engine: 2488cc in-line 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 170kW @ 5000rpm
Max torque: 420Nm @ 2200rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
On sale: Now