TOWN SHIPS

The $70K top-spec sev­enseaters nav­i­gate eas­ily with pre­cious cargo

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

M eet the cars for the mod­ern fam­ily: large seven-seat wag­ons with enough height to pro­vide a com­mand­ing view of the road ahead — and to make it eas­ier to get kids in and out.

Third-row seats that fold flat en­dow them with cav­ernous cargo holds for week­ends away or trips to the hard­ware store. Diesel is a pop­u­lar choice; how­ever, the top-sell­ing Toy­ota Kluger and Mazda CX-9 are petrol-only propo­si­tions, as is the new Holden Aca­dia, built by GMC and sent to chal­lenge them.

We’ve tested the flag­ships, which also hap­pen to line up clos­est on price. Here’s how they com­pare.

TOY­OTA KLUGER

The Kluger starts from $43,990 drive-away but we have the Grande AWD at $68,990 drive­away, down from its full RRP of $75,000. The ap­peal of Aus­tralia’s favourite seven-seat SUV is ap­par­ent as soon as you open the door. The in­te­rior, though it’s start­ing to look dated, is ex­tremely prac­ti­cal.

There’s a mas­sive cen­tre con­sole, large door pock­ets and glove­box, ex­tend­able sun vi­sors and air­con­di­tion­ing vents for all three rows.

Unique among this trio, the rear win­dow opens in­de­pen­dently of the tail­gate, to throw a towel in quickly. The cabin and cargo hold are huge — over­shad­owed only by the Aca­dia — yet there is a full-size spare un­der the boot floor.

How­ever, the Toy­ota loses points on con­nec­tiv­ity. There are two 12V sock­ets and a USB port for the front row, one 12V socket for the mid­dle row, and noth­ing in the rear. The in­stru­ment clus­ter doesn’t have a dig­i­tal speed dis­play and the eight-inch touch­screen lacks Ap­ple CarPlay or An­droid Auto, al­though there are dig­i­tal ra­dio, built-in nav­i­ga­tion and, unique among this trio, a CD slot.

As with each ve­hi­cle tested, au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing, radar cruise con­trol, blind zone warn­ing, rear cross traf­fic alert, front and rear sen­sors and 360-de­gree cam­era are stan­dard (tap a sym­bol on the screen for the over­head view). The sun­roof is above the front seats only but there’s a built-in DVD player in the roof to keep the back stalls quiet.

As with the oth­ers, there’s leather up­hol­stery through­out, with heat­ing, cool­ing and power ad­just­ment for the front pews.

A pos­si­ble an­noy­ance for some: the park brake is foot-op­er­ated rather than an elec­tronic switch in the oth­ers.

On the road the Kluger feels sure­footed and fuel econ­omy and ac­cel­er­a­tion have ben­e­fited from the re­cent in­tro­duc­tion of an eight-speed au­to­matic.

The V6 has a lusty sound, the steer­ing is well weighted and pre­cise, and the sus­pen­sion has good con­trol over bumps, al­though the tyres are a touch nois­ier than the oth­ers.

MAZDA CX-9

The CX-9 starts from $45,990 drive-away but we’re test­ing the range-top­ping Azami LE AWD at $68,190 drive-away.

With its sleek looks and up­mar­ket in­te­rior, it brings a taste of lux­ury to the mass market.

Stan­dard fare in­cludes a sun­roof above the front seats, Nappa leather, elec­tric ad­just­ment for the heated and cooled front seats, heated steer­ing wheel and a head-up dis­play that re­flects speed and other info into the wind­screen in the driver’s line of sight.

All three cars have rear cross-traf­fic alert and sen­sors but the CX-9 is the only one with rear emer­gency brak­ing.

Cabin and cargo space, while still roomy, are small­est of this trio. The door pock­ets, cen­tre con­sole and glove­box are not as gen­er­ously sized and the third row seats are for kids only, with tight knee and head­room.

There are am­ple charge points: two USB ports and a 12V socket up front, two USB ports in the cen­tre arm­rest of the mid­dle seat and a 12V socket for the cargo area.

Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto have re­cently joined dig­i­tal ra­dio and built-in nav­i­ga­tion as stan­dard.

Some testers pre­fer Mazda’s con­sole­mounted con­trols for au­dio and nav­i­ga­tion — rather than a touch­screen — en­abling the driver to keep eyes on the road.

Neg­a­tives? The cen­tral dis­play screen is small, the cam­era view is fuzzy, there are no air vents in the third row, the sun vi­sors don’t ex­tend to block side glare and rou­tine ser­vic­ing costs are at least 35 per cent dearer than for the other two.

On the road the CX-9 is the most en­gag­ing and en­joy­able to drive among this trio.

The four-cylin­der turbo lacks the out­right power of the V6s — and can be rau­cous when pushed — but it has sig­nif­i­cantly more torque, pro­vid­ing am­ple oomph where you need it most, low in the rev range. The steer­ing has the most nat­u­ral feel of the three and the CX-9 has the best blend of cor­ner­ing grip and bump ab­sorp­tion.

HOLDEN ACA­DIA

The Aca­dia starts from $42,990 drive-away but we’re test­ing the LTZ-V AWD, which is $67,990 drive-away.

Its boxy de­sign pro­vides the big­gest in­te­rior in the class, even though it fits in a smaller park­ing space than a CX-9.

The third row seats are roomy enough for two adults with the sec­ond row moved for­ward a notch. How­ever, the Aca­dia is pri­mar­ily de­signed for left-hand drive, so the seat be­hind the driver flips over eas­ier and with a larger gap to clam­ber into the rear — on the safer, foot­path side you need to shift the heav­ier and larger two-thirds of the sec­ond row.

At least there’ll be no ar­gu­ments when charg­ing de­vices: the front seats have two USB ports and one 12V socket, the mid­dle row has two USB ports, and the third row has one USB and one 12V. There’s also a large drawer un­der the cen­tre con­sole to stash odd­ments.

There is a sun­roof each for the front and mid­dle rows and leather for all seats, with heat­ing, cool­ing and power ad­just­ment for the front pair.

All three ve­hi­cles have a sen­sor key with push-but­ton start but the Aca­dia can be un­locked by pulling on any of the four doors, not just the front two.

There’s a large dig­i­tal speed dis­play in the in­stru­ment clus­ter and the high res­o­lu­tion touch­screen is home to Ap­ple CarPlay/ An­droid Auto, dig­i­tal ra­dio, built-in nav­i­ga­tion and the sharpest 360-de­gree cam­era view among the trio.

All Aca­dias come with a tow­bar and a sev­en­pin plug — just add the neck and ball. How­ever, as with the oth­ers, it can haul only 2000kg.

The space-saver spare may en­able more cargo space but it’s a chore to get to it and, be­ing a low-pro­file type, it’s more pre­car­i­ous to drive on than other tem­po­rary tyres.

The nine-speed auto is in­tu­itive and the V6 is gutsy, if a lit­tle noisy.

The steer­ing is lighter than the oth­ers and, though re­quir­ing more turns lock to lock, it turns with im­pres­sive ac­cu­racy.

There’s plenty of tyre grip but the sus­pen­sion feels taut rather than plush. The brakes are the small­est of this trio and have the long­est pedal travel.

VER­DICT

The Kluger re­mains a solid propo­si­tion but in con­nec­tiv­ity and con­ve­nience terms, it’s show­ing its age. If you want the feel­ing of lux­ury and the most plush car to drive, the CX-9 is for you. If you want the big­gest, most pow­er­ful and most prac­ti­cal box on wheels, get the Aca­dia.

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