Buyers of large family SUVs are spoilt for choice these days, and most options are loaded with gizmos. The Acadia and CX-9 are two options, but which one stacks up best?
Astro Boy versus Sergeant Cordell Walker. I don’t know who would win in a bout between the Japanese android child and the all-American Texas Ranger, but they did both pop into my head for this comparison: the Mazda CX-9 versus the Holden Acadia.
They’re both seven-seat SUVs, big on size inside and out. They’re also big on style, in their own ways. While the American-sourced Acadia feels a bit like a big old redwood and iron log splitter, the CX-9 comes across a little more like a katana.
There’s plenty more alike between the two: petrol power, with a liking for 91-octane or E10 juice; automatic gearboxes; and all-wheel drive.
They’re also bristling with tech and features, right up at the pointy end of their respective specification ladders. They’re not far off each other’s listed price, as well.
LTZ-V denotes all-you-can-eat specification for the Acadia coming in at $67,490. For the CX-9, the Azami we have here is slightly trumped by the Azami LE.
LE gets upgraded interior bits like real wood inserts, chroma Nappa leather and a few special finishes. Other than that, the Azami here is like-for-like. Price: $66,760.
Let’s run through the kind of tech and features both of these rigs have. The front seats are heated and cooled, leather trimmed and electrically controlled.
The four driven wheels measure 20 inches in diameter, and there’s no key barrel between them: push-button start and keyless entry is the order of the day.
Both of these vehicles are covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre factory warranty. Service costs vary a little, however. Whereas the Holden has 12-month/12,000km servicing intervals, the Mazda’s intervals are slightly shorter (10,000km).
Over seven years or 84,000km, the listed total of dollars spent on the Acadia is $2153 compared to $2502 for the CX-9 over seven years or 70,000km. The waters are murky, however: both schemes have the fine print that allows the potential of additional costs sneaking in during that time.
More similarities lie in the adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, lane-keep assist, and autonomous emergency braking being standard inclusions.
While the Acadia’s infotainment display is bigger, both have Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, native mapping and a 360-degree reversing camera. There’s also a three-zone climate-control system, as well as blind-spot monitoring and a powered tailgate shared between the two.
It's worth noting here that the Acadia's reversing and 360-degree camera system is significantly better than the Mazda's.
What about differences in spec? The Mazda has a head-up display, heated outboard seats on the second row, and a 12-speaker Bose sound system.
The Acadia makes do with an eight-speaker Bose system, but does have a second sunroof for the middle row, wireless phone charging, and more air vents and USB points scattered around the cabin.
In this segment, battles are fought and won mostly on the inside. War will rage amongst siblings and parents across the three rows, which need to be spacious, comfortable and practical.
At this high spec level and asking price they also need to be nice, plus impressive to sit in, touch and look at.
The clearly American GMC heritage flows from the Acadia's exterior directly to the innards. It’s all about capacious comfort: made possible by the unapologetic boxed-off panelwork. No tricky curves or angles to eat into interior space, it’s a proud square on god-damn wheels.
The front-row seats are broad and lounge-like, something like a big leather sofa from the ’80s or ’90s. The cabin feels wide, as well, proportionally reminiscent of a Ford F-150 Raptor I drove a little while back.
Dimensions. Let’s talk dimensions. By the way I’m carrying on about size and presence, you’d be surprised to find out the CX-9 is longer (5075mm v 4979mm) and wider (1969mm v 1916mm). The Acadia is taller, however (1767mm v 1747mm), with a shorter wheelbase (2857mm v 2930mm).
Space continues to be the name of the Acadia game further back in the cabin. If you want a proper seven-seater that'll get plenty of work across all three rows, it’s hard to look past the big Yank.
Second-row head room is good, and there is an overflow of leg room available. That's handy because the second row slides forward plenty. So, with the second row slid forward and still comfortable, you free up plenty of room for those up the back.
Typically, the third row of a seven-seat SUV isn’t outright comfortable, and is normally compromised in terms of leg room and head room for adults.
The Acadia is best this side of a people-mover thanks to the second row and that flat, squared-off roof line. Bonus points for having air vents and a USB point for those in the back, as well.
The CX-9 isn’t bad in comparison, but simply not as spacious. Along with more accent through the hips, the raking roof line eats into your head room – limited for an adult, but good enough for kids.
The second row slides to free up enough leg room for both the second and third rows at the same time. Once again, not as outright spacious as the Acadia, but still plenty comfortable.
Where the CX-9 no doubt has the Acadia beat is in the overall quality and presentation of the interior. There’s a definite premium feel inside the Mazda: knurled control dials, soft-touch materials and the general presentation is really well executed. When you compare it to the sometimes flimsy touchpoints, basic surfaces and plastic switchgear of the Acadia, the Mazda looks even better.
Leather on the seats and the steering wheel feel higher quality on the Mazda, although there is a similar level of appointments to the Acadia.
Attention to detail on the Mazda is certainly much better, but the Acadia does get a few points back when it comes to storage flexibility. It's not an out-and-out in this regard, but it just feels a little more spacious overall.
The Acadia is let down by the 60/40 split on the second-row seats, which hasn't been adapted from the left-hand-drive origins of the vehicle. That means the easier entry and egress for the third row is on the traffic side, rather than the footpath side. It's something you can live with, but it would be annoying.
The Acadia's more monolithic presence also pays dividends on storage space, as well. Its 290L of storage space converts into 1042L when the third row is folded away, whereas the Mazda can only muster 230L and 810L at the same time.
In the real world, the difference sounds bigger than it is: you'll need to fill either right up to the ceiling in order to get the most out of the space, and the amount of floor space available for loading isn't hugely different.
While both are petrol-powered AWDs with an automatic gearbox, they go about their business in slightly different ways. The Holden has a 3.6-litre V6, which makes 231kW at 6600rpm and 367Nm at 5000rpm with a nine-speed gearbox.
On the other hand, the Mazda uses a turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine to push out 170kW at 5000rpm and 420Nm at 2000rpm with six ratios. Less power at lower revs, and more torque at lower revs, gives the Mazda a much different feeling to the relatively rev-happy Holden.
The extra power is handy for when you need it, and pushes the Acadia's heft with a surprising amount of eagerness. The throttle and gearbox are both responsive, which allows you to get away quickly without the need for floor-mashing throttle inputs. When you don't need that kind of pace, the Acadia can feel a little touchy, almost overwilling at times.
The Mazda, on the other hand, lacks that outright power and acceleration, and instead depends on that thick surge of mid-range torque to get moving. It's no slouch, but feels a little more composed and refined when punting around the place.
Fuel economy figures on our test mostly mimicked the quoted consumption figures, and only marginally higher during our testing. The Mazda is the more frugal of the two with a combined quoted figure of 8.8 litres per 100km (compared to 9.3L/100km for the Acadia).
Where the Mazda seems best (or the Holden worst) is urban driving, where these family-focussed vehicles will likely spend most of their time. When you have traffic and intersections to face, the Mazda will use 11.4L/100km versus 12.7L/100km in the Acadia. And in our testing, both figures were only a little higher than these.
So, performance points go to the Acadia and economy favours the Mazda. Both are quiet, smooth and refined, although back-to-back driving left me preferring the Mazda's more relaxed, mid-range-happy driving characteristics.
Both big rigs offer an impressively smooth ride around town, as well. The LTZ-V is the only Acadia to get FlexRide adaptive dampers, which change the nature of the vehicle according to the different driving modes available.
A chequered flag feels a little redundant in a 2032kg kerb weight, seven-seater SUV. Towing mode might come in handy here and there for you, but it's all about the soft, cushioning ride that the Acadia affords you. It's impressive thanks to the local tuning Holden has done to the bouncing bits for the Australian market.
The CX-9 is smooth and quiet, as well, but might be half a step behind the Acadia for outright ride comfort. It feels more sharp and responsive through the steering wheel, however, along with having less body roll through the corners.
Neither of these vehicles are trying to be sports cars, but if you find yourself having to dart out of a tricky situation or through traffic, the CX-9 feels slightly more in control of its weight (2000kg kerb mass).
The Acadia is a very good vehicle overall, performing admirably where it counts in this segment: safety, space, comfort and convenience.
While not as cheap to run, it is cheaper to service. It's let down by a hit-and-miss interior, which is left in the weeds when compared to the Mazda.
If you're only an occasional user of the third row (like I suspect most are), the Mazda's interior is far-and-away more impressive, even though it's beaten on the air vent and USB port count. It's also a slightly nicer drive overall, with a little more efficiency and refinement through the driveline.
It's a close-run race, but I found myself erring towards the Mazda as being a stronger overall choice in this comparison.