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