2018 Mazda CX-9 vs Holden Acadia vs Hyundai Santa Fe


Big SUVs are the new family norm in leafy suburbia. There’s growing competition here, and the players are getting more sophisticated. We lob Holden’s new Acadia against the Santa Fe and revised CX-9

Words: Kyle Cassidy   |   Photos Tom Gasnier
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Back in the day you just squished as many kids as you could across the back seat of whatever car you had. Even the parcel tray was a good spot for a sleeping toddler. Times change, folk are more safety-conscious, and big seven-seat SUVs are the new family car. It’s an area of continued growth, one that Holden will be glad it’s a part of with the Acadia.

This newcomer fronts up against Hyundai’s latest Santa Fe and Mazda’s CX-9, recently updated with a new Takami range topper. Where should you spend your money?

The Contestants

We’ve gathered the top spec variants here but each has a range of models for buyers. Holden’s gone on the pricing offensive with its Acadia starting at $49,990 for the entry-level LT 2WD.

We’d suggest paying more for the AWD version as large SUVs go better with added traction. The top LTZ-V holds the middle ground here at $71,990. Santa Fe starts at $59,990, while the Limited diesel is $82,990 though oddly, Hyundai’s website doesn’t readily present pricing info. Mazda’s new Takami is the range topper at $67,895, $2600 more than the Limited.

Nine now with more

All CX-9 models now get CarPlay and Android Auto and more active safety with a head-up display, auto high beams, radar cruise and lane departure warning. Mazda’s relentless fiddling continues with tweaks made to suspension and steering. What constitutes a Takami? A few added luxuries like alloy and wood detailing, soft Nappa leather trim with seat ventilators up front, hand-stitched detailing and ambient lighting.

It also receives a TFT display for the speedo, and a surround view monitor, though the image is a bit fuzzy. It continues on with its 2.5-litre turbopetrol, a well conceived engine that forgoes heedy power numbers in favour of ample and accessible torque, with 420Nm tapped at 2000rpm. Utilising a novel exhaust manifold design, turbo lag is greatly diminished while it happily runs on 91 and the overall fuel use is listed at 8.8L/100km. It still gets by with six-speeds. Is that enough when the others here now have eight or nine?

this trio is hard to seperate in terms of how they go and the accommodations and level of standard spec offered

Santa Fe renews

The biggest Hyundai now sits on a new platform that improves the drive experience while adding interior space. Like the others, it runs an on-demand AWD system but it has been improved for the new model. While the engine carries over, in this case a 140kW/440Nm 2.2 diesel, it gets an eight-speed auto to make more of the output.

A Smart driving mode is new, selecting between the Eco, Normal and Sport modes to suit the driver’s attitude on the day. The diesel is rated at returning 7.5L/100km and, like the others here, conforms to Euro5 emissions standards. It’s now better placed to compete with the CX-9, but has Hyundai done enough to unseat the Mazda?

Enter Acadia

Acadia is another new Holden nameplate crossing the Pacific from the US, where it has been developed and built. Holden has retuned the suspension and steering for life in the Antipodes and the LTZ-V comes with continuously adaptive dampers. There are no turbos here and while the 3.6-litre V6 brings the most kilowatts with 231, it has the least pull with 367Nm. Making amends is a nine-speed auto while fuel savers like idle/stop and cylinder deactivation help reduce the use to a claimed 9.3L/100km.

The AWD system differs by having a front-drive mode which disconnects the rear drive shaft from the transmission to conserve energy. This is activated via the Traction Select dial which accesses the 4WD and Sport modes as well as an Off-Road setting. This American sure looks the part but does it actually have game to back up the swagger?


Where seatbelts were once optional and a towel was a safety device (to prevent searing legs on super heated vinyl) there are now all sorts of nannying features on board.

Holden and Hyundai sound a reminder to check the back seat before exiting while the Santa Fe even has an alarm system to detect living things left locked inside. It’ll also guard against opening a door if there’s oncoming traffic. All the important safety features are standard for each contender here; AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, some kind of lane departure warning, the Holden and Hyundai actively (and annoyingly) steering you back on line, and blind spot monitoring.

The LTZ-V lacks for a head-up display and is the only Acadia to gain active cruise. The others have this too, and all work right down to a stop in traffic. Even though the Hyundai’s can be a little abrupt come time to halt, it’s the smoothest in action here. The Acadia’s is oddly noisy with clicks and buzzing from the brakes. Still, we’d rather be with it than not; these systems make slow grinding traffic more bearable.

Acadia and Santa Fe can park themselves, and do so in smart fashion, into surprisingly tight spaces. Each has a remarkably similar level of kit; smart keys, sat nav, high-end trim with seat heaters front and rear, ventilators for the two most important occupants, big shiny alloys and powered tailgates. Like the exterior, Hyundai puts an effort into the cabin design with its flowing lines and textured surfaces.

The seats could be cushier but the trim is nice, even if it’s not real cow. There’s good all-round vision and storage, both the best here, while you can easily switch between parking camera views using touchscreen buttons.

The infotainment system is adequate, although more functionality, such as voice control, is accessed only by hooking up your smartphone. Acadia’s infotainment system is superior; quick acting and easy to operate with some smarts to the voice control, even if it does struggle with the dulcet tones of the Kiwi accent.

The camera relays crystal clear imaging for the surround view and even manages to create a 3D effect. Acadia has a chunky A pillar and, combined with the side mirror, creates a blind spot at intersections.

The overall cabin design is fairly generic with more hard plastic on show (and an annoying trim rattle) but it’s soft in the right places. The seats are comfy and it does okay for storage and recharge options with a wireless pad like the Hyundai.

Mazda wins on cabin quality with a genuinely crafted feel about it. In Takami form, it’s almost too nice to let the kids loose in. The Auburn brown trim makes a change from the usual black, and the soft leather is lavish. Seat comfort is subjective but these ones fitted best, even if the seat adjuster is noisy (struggling under duress?). You can get lower in this, though some might feel hemmed in by high-set centre console.

The head-up display packs a lot of useful info but the infotainment system is showing its age. You can now circumvent its shortcomings with smartphone connectivity. The CX-9 comes with a three year/100,000km service deal, which is now matched by Holden, while Mazda offers the best warranty with five years and unlimited kay cover, Holden and Hyundai with the usual three years/100,000km.

Space ships

Each offers abundant lounging space in the second row, the Mazda with the most cabin width, while they all have seats that split 40/60 with sliding and reclining functions and Isofix hooks for two car seats. While there’s not a lot between them for overall interior space, the Acadia has the better accomodations in each row, if not quite the overall cabin width.

Lower limbs still do it tough in the third row of the Santa Fe though head room improves. Like the Hyundai, the Mazda needs a little concession from the second row, and while noggins can brush the roof, there’s just enough stretching territory for an adult. There’s more turf in the rear of Acadia however, while the seat is comfy too. It’s easy to get back there with a simple but effective tilt and slide mechanism for the second row seat. However this is on the driver’s side, highlighting Acadia’s LHD origins.

Peugeot 508 GT

Hyundai has a tricky one-touch folding seat though it’s not quite as straightforward to relocate. Kids however generally prefer to climb over the back seat like the spider monkeys they are. Acadia has an annoying bit of body trim extending out past the rear sill, and while it’s stamped ‘No Step’ it will eventually break after someone stands on it.

But the Holden alone gets unlocking buttons on the rear door, handy when loading kids. It also has a uniformly shaped boot space which is wider than the others at the narrowest point and while the Santa Fe has a big hold in five-seat mode, it has the least room left with all of them in use.

Getting around

The Santa Fe’s diesel is generally a quiet operator, with only the occasional sniff of turbo lag when you’re in a hurry but otherwise the torque is ramped up smartly for easy progress. Speaking of smart, it’s the only drive mode you need, sorting the powertrain nicely, particularly the auto.

Mazda’s gearbox might only have six ratios, but that’s still enough as the 2.5-litre turbo produces good go from down low. The auto delivers lower ratios when needed and the engine pulls strongly from just 2000rpm. What Acadia lacks in Newtons it makes up for with gears, the low ratios giving it genuine urge off the mark without the need to rev the nuts off the V6, and the shifts are smooth and readily available.

The V6 is the quietest operator here. The Mazda suffers a minor torque reaction up front when powering off the mark, something you don’t notice in the Santa Fe or Acadia, provided you’ve selected 4WD in the latter. The two petrols were tracking in the 11L/100km zone for fuel use, those gears of the Acadia again working to good effect, while the diesel was in the 9s. Acadia’s adaptive dampers deliver the doughiest ride though neither the Hyundai nor Mazda is ever harsh.

Acadia is quieter on most surfaces as well. The Holden’s decorum remains on the highway, and when pushed along in Sport mode, a firming of the dampers adds a degree of control on winding roads. The V6 has enough poke below 3000rpm but the overtake requires a full pedal’s worth to see it rev to 6500rpm while the auto is adept at shuffling the ratios to add haste when needed. Its steering filters more than the others here but Acadia obediently follows instructions.

However, it’s the first to trouble the ESP when the going gets tough and its emergency stop recorded the longest distance, with the ABS particularly noisy in operation. The CX-9 turns well for such a sizeable beast, and hangs on in there too. The ride’s a little lumpier than Acadia’s but there’s also better body control. The engine produces well in the 2000-4000rpm zone and the auto is good at keeping it there, though will stretch it to 5500rpm when warp speed is required.

Santa Fe now perhaps edges the CX-9 in terms of holding on in turns, the ESP remaining dormant during pressing manoeuvres, though it doesn’t have that sweet steering connection of the Mazda. But both are easy to pilot along smoothly, keeping occupants calm inside.

A clear winner?

Usually there is but this trio is hard to seperate in terms of how they go and the accommodations and level of standard spec offered. It’ll come down to the dollars, and the RRP of the Santa Fe Limited is hard to justify in this company.

The Acadia is surprisingly good (we never expect much from American-sourced products) with ride and powertrain refinement that impresses, and it’s no thirster than the Mazda, with plenty of gadgets and space. It looks good too which might help you overlook the shortcomings of the cabin.

A few updates help keep the CX-9 at the top but the gap has closed. It’s the cheapest, with the best aftersales package, and it still works well as a proper seven seater. We’d be happy enough with the cheaper Limited too, using the money to go on holiday, hopefully without the kids.

The Stats

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Model Holden Acadia LTZ-V  Price $71,990

Engine 3649cc, V6, DI, 231kW/367Nm

Transmission 9-speed auto, on-demand AWD

Vitals 7.51sec 0-100km/h, 9.3L/100km, 219g/km, 2001kg

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Model Hyundai Santa Fe Limited 2.2  Price $82,990

Engine 2199cc, IL4, TDI, 147kW/440Nm

Transmission 8-speed auto, on-demand AWD

Vitals 9.74sec 0-100km/h, 7.5L/100km, 198g/km, 1942kg

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Model Mazda CX-9 Takami  Price $67,895

Engine 2488cc, IL4, T/DI, 170kW/420Nm

Transmission 6-speed auto, on-demand AWD

Vitals 8.12sec 0-100km/h, 8.8L/100km, 206g/km, 1975kg

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