Mazda's well-known, and well loved CX-9 faces a formidable foe in the form of Hyundai's eight-seat Palisade.
The Mazda CX-9 holds the honour of being one of the largest seven-seat family SUVs on sale in Australia. Well, longest anyway, among its crossover-SUV peers.
With three rows of seats and room for seven, it’s typical of what you’d expect to find when shopping for a family SUV. At least it was until the eight-seat Hyundai Palisade arrived.
If your family has grown a little larger, or you just think the extra internal space might be handy, the Palisade drops immediately onto your shopping list. Especially if something like a Kia Carnival or more agricultural Toyota LandCruiser were your other eight-speat options.
Diesel engines aren’t always the first choice of urban dwellers, so we’ve pitted the petrol V6 Palisade against the four-cylinder turbo-petrol CX-9. Different ways of getting the job done without resorting to diesel.
With space, functionality, comfort and flexibility put to the test, it’s time to find out which if these two three-row SUVs can come out on top.
Pricing and Spec
Hyundai’s plus-sized SUV is front-wheel drive only, but Mazda offers the option of front- or all-wheel traction. While the fairest fight would have been front-drive for both, Mazda wasn’t able to supply a CX-9 to suit.
What we do have is the entry-grade Palisade, which is priced from $60,000 plus on-road costs, running up against the mid-spec CX-9 GT, starting from $62,990 plus on-road costs, or with all-wheel drive as tested here for $66,990.
While it’s not a dollar-for dollar match, for the most part we’ll ignore the four-grand uptick for the all-paw CX-9. Base prices are similar, if not spot-on and while the CX-9 is a higher spec model, the base Palisade is actually quite comprehensively equipped to balance things out.
You’ll find more in the Tech and Infotainment, Cabins and Drivelines sections below, but at a glance you may most readily notice that the palisade has LED running lights, but halogen head and tail lights, whereas the CX-9 runs the opposite, halogen DRLs and LED main lights front and rear.
There’s power assistance for the Mazda’s tailgate, but it’s manually operated in the Hyundai. The CX-9 GT rolls on 20-inch alloy wheels, the Palisade on 18s, but the Hyundai carries a more rural-ready full-size spare to the Mazda’s space-saver, speed-limited temporary-use spare.
On the safety side of things you’ll find matching equipment like driver fatigue monitoring, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, auto high beam, tyre pressure monitoring, front and rear park sensors, rear view camera, adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking.
Hyundai slips in a few extra touches, like rear occupant alert reminders to check the back seats for passengers or pets, and a leading vehicle departure alert that warns if a car ahead moves off. On the other hand, Mazda has traffic sign recognition to relay current speed limit into (Hyundai’s is navigation based).
Both feature full length curtain airbags to the third row, plus front and side airbags for first row occupants. The Palisade comes with three ISOFIX child seat mounts (though one is in the third row) and five top-tether points to Mazda’s two ISOFIX and five top-tether mounts.
|2021 Hyundai Palisade V6||2021 Mazda CX-9. GT|
|Engine||3.8-litre petrol V6||2.5-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Power||217kW @ 6000rpm||170kW @ 5000rpm|
|Torque||355Nm @ 5200rpm||420Nm @ 2000rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed automatic||Six-speed automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||10.7L/100km||9.0L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up/down)||311L / 1297L||230L / 810L|
|Towing capacity (braked)||2200kg||2000kg|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not yet tested||Five stars (tested 2016)|
|Warranty||5 year / unlimited km||5 year / unlimited km|
Tech and Infotainment
Starting with screen estate, the 10.25-inch display found in both cars is a perfect match, but the user interface isn’t. Where Hyundai uses a touchscreen for control, Mazda has actually removed touch inputs for the upsized screen and relies solely on a rotary controller on the console.
It’s not a bad way to run through the system, though when stopped, being able to quickly type in an address, or stab at the on-screen menu you’re after is much quicker than jogging and scrolling through all available options (don’t get me started on the frustration of entering ‘Maple Avenue’ with a clickwheel, with so many letters at opposite ends of the keyboard).
Common to both are functions like inbuilt satellite navigation, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, Bluetooth, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both via wired connections). Once again, the ease of setting and retrieving stations and favourites in the Palisade makes you wonder how Mazda managed to make their system so needlessly complex.
Hyundai also packs in an unusual ‘sounds of nature’ feature, with pre-recorded ambient noise clips of a rainy day, forest sounds, snowy footfalls, a crackling open fire or a busy cafe.
Depending on your meditation schedule they may be useful, but the clips are short, so it’s easy to pick where they loop, and that gets a bit annoying – Oh, and there’s no ‘calm blue ocean’, if you were wondering.
Be it the clinking of forks on plates, or your own preferred playlist, both cars pack 12-speaker sound systems. Mazda sides with Bose, while Hyundai uses an Infinity sound system.
USB ports abound in the Palisade, with seven in total, three up front, two for the second row (in the side of the front seatbacks) and two in the third row (one on each side). Mazda provides six ports, but balances the shortfall with a wireless phone charger up front, lacking in the Palisade.
Depending on your use case, Mazda’s second row USBs in the centre armrest are a clever way to hide from view, or a pain if you plan on loading the second row all the way up.
Both feature three-zone climate control, but only the Palisade provides vents to the third row, Mazda stops at the second row.
A head-up display can be found in the Mazda, but the Palisade goes without. Instead the Hyundai runs a 7.0-inch ‘supervision’ display between its analogue gauges to relay key info, compared to the 4.6-inch sub-display in the CX-9.
To the interior showdown, and if you want the short sharp version: Mazda excels when it comes to plush, rich fittings, but for sheer space the Palisade takes the win.
That’s not to say the Mazda is small, nor the Palisade low-grade. That’s simply not the case, but each does things a little differently.
Up front you’ll find slightly smaller seats in the Mazda, compared to broader backs and longer bases in the Palisade. That’s worth noting as the longer Hyundai cushions tend to pull shorter drivers forward in their seats.
Both have a neat sweep of logical controls and buttons, but Hyundai’s layout also includes a ‘floating’ console, with space under the push-button gear selector to stow your handbag, laptop bag or tote. Mazda’s traditional console sits high, but wastes a heap of space in the process.
Hyundai also wins the upper console stage war with a bigger centre console and a huge cup holder/phone/wallet holder bay compared to the CX-9’s smaller nooks.
Mazda uses more squishy surfaces and padded dash and door sections, while Hyundai is just a little more utilitarian. There’s still all the nicely trimmed parts, but they’re a little less ornate and less densely padded.
Depending on your preference, Mazda’s heavy use of glossy black trims, and the dust and fingerprint attraction they provide, may not suit family buyers as much as Hyundai’s easier to keep clean textured silver finishes.
Into the second row and the step up to the stadium seating of the CX-9 can feel lofty at first, though you quickly get used to it. There’s more sculpting and shaping to Mazda’s second row, which makes it great for two-up travel, less so for for three abreast.
Hyundai’s flatter seats don’t look as glamorous, but they are still comfy, and like the Mazda can slide and recline to get comfy on longer trips. The Palisade is also easier to sit in the middle of, and easier to slide from side-to-side for loading and unloading where required.
With cup holders in the flat rear door armrests, the Hyundai may not look as flash as the sculpted CX-9 rear doors, but utility comes first.
Every centimetre counts in cars like these, and neither is compact, but put to the tape measure (our own point-to-point measure, not official figures) the Hyundai boasted an extra 3cm of head room, 4cm of leg room, and a massive 9cm more width at the seat base and 7cm more at shoulder height.
It’s a similar story into the third row where the CX-9 feels tight for two-up travel and has occupants in close proximity to the headlining and cabin sides. The Palisade has a boxier rear, translating into more natural-feeling passenger space.
Against the tape the Hyundai gave up an extra 3cm of head room, 4cm of leg room, 6cm more width at the base of the seat and 12cm more shoulder room. While the Palisade is marketed as an eight seat, compared to the seven seat CX-9, the reality is, three bums in the third row will still be a tight fit.
If you’re stacking two in the rear, the Hyundai will take adults, where the Mazda doesn’t do it so well. Kids are always going to be happier in the back, but with bigger windows and a more airy space, the Hyundai is sure to remain the favourite.
Boot space leans Hyundai’s way as well, cm longer at the floor (to the third row), 22cm wider and with a 7cm taller tailgate aperture, getting things in and out of the Palisade is easier. The Mazda’s rounded load lip also trims back the available space.
You can stow the Palisade’s cargo blind under the boot floor, but Mazda doesn’t offer a blind at all, so with two rows of seats up, your cargo is on display in the CX-9.
From floor to roof the CX-9 claims 230-litres of cargo space behind the third row, the Palisade offers 311-litres. With the third row stowed that swells to a superior 810L in the Mazda, or a slightly smaller 704 in the Hyundai.
Seat folding is quick and easy in both, with a handle in the CX-9 on the third row seatbacks, or a strap on the backs of the Palisade seats. Second row seats can be electrically released from the boot, and there’s a push-button one-touch tilt-slide mode to get into the third row of both cars.
|2021 Hyundai Palisade V6||2021 Mazda CX-9. GT|
|GVM (gross vehicle mass)||2670kg||2575kg|
There’s some significant differences under the bonnet of these two large SUVs, yet the end results aren’t as far afield as you might imagine.
The CX-9’s sole engine is a 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine, paired with a six-speed torque converter automatic. It’s power figure looks a little modest with 170kW at 5000rpm, but it leads on torque with 420Nm at 2000rpm.
The Palisade offers a choice of petrol or diesel engines, but the version tested here is powered by a 3.8-litre petrol V6 licked to an eight-speed torque converter auto. There’s no torque-boosting turbo here, but the bigger engine manages 217kW at 6000rpm and 355N at 5200rpm.
The result sees the CX-9 as something of a strong but silent operator, surfing smoothly on its torque wave. Although the engine will rev, it's best to keep it in the midrange, where the diesel-like pulling power deliver deft acceleration.
That said, the Palisade is in no way out of its depth. There’s still a decent amount of torque available, and even with five adult occupants aboard the Hyundai never broke a sweat.
The difference is, for overtaking or to built steam on a freeway onramp, the Hyundai will rev harder to tap into its potential. That’s no bad thing, really, and it feels and sounds just fine doing so.
It’s short around-town trips that show up the difference. You never need to lean as hard on the Mazda to whisk it up to speed. Whereas the Hyundai transitions from relaxed to alert more noticeably, and more consciously.
While the Hyundai is only available with front-wheel drive for the V6 models, it’s big, heavy, stable and sorted enough to feel quite neutral. There’s no tugging at the wheel under heavy acceleration and no front tyre chirping unless you really provoke it.
Interestingly, despite being equipped with all-wheel drive, the CX-9 we tested demonstrated a touch more front-end push accelerating out of bends, before the all-wheel drive system balanced power to the rear. Nothing alarming, but there all the same.
Of course, with more torque available much earlier, the Mazda’s behaviour comes as no real surprise. By the time you build revs in the Palisade, it’s already on the go, mitigating some of those front-drive effects.
If you’re looking to tow Mazda states a maximum braked capacity of 2000kg for the CX-9, but a somewhat light 150kg towball load limit. While Hyundai boasts a larger 2200kg braked towing capacity, it’s hobbled by a ball weight of just 100kg – severely limiting, depending on what you’d like to hitch on.
Fuel consumption for the CX-9 is rated at 8.4L/100km for FWD models, but 9.0L/100km for the AWD tested here, on tests we recorded 10.4L/100km. The Palisade V6 claims 10.7L/100km but used 11.3L/100km in testing – not only closer to its claim than the Mazda, but also recorded right as Melbourne’s school pick-up traffic chokehold took place, something the Mazda missed.
While the Mazda was still the more frugal of the pair, the Hyundai certainly wasn’t too far wide of the mark.
On the Road
Compared to the questionable refinement issues of the past, Mazda has well and truly buried its road noise demons. The CX-9 is as quiet and graceful an open-road tourer as you’ll find.
The Palisade isn’t far behind though, and it’s not that the interior is any louder, but it’s the type of noise that makes a difference.
The CX-9 does a fantastic job of isolating higher-pitched noises like tyre shear on coarse tarmac. What you get is a lower-note of background noise, compared to some higher, slightly more piercing intrusion from the Palisade.
Neither one rides with a hint of discomfort. The CX-9 feels more buttoned down around town. The CX-9 isn't what you’d call stiff, but it is more prompt with its bump control, sort of up-over-settled, which can see it struggle with multiple hits in succession.
There’s more suspension float in the Palisade, that makes it bob up and down a little more over things like speed humps, but because it doesn’t recover with the same regimented accuracy as the Mazda, it can buffer road imperfections into a gentler ride feel.
The Palisade also uses much, much lighter steering. It’s handy for twirling to fit into tight spaces – and every little bit helps with cars of this size in tight urban parts. The CX-9 carries more weight and accuracy, it’s smooth as you turn from side to side, and has a more positive and settled feel in a straight line.
On the surface there’s little to pick apart from the transmissions, though Hyundai’s eight-speed looks superior to the six-speed Mazda. In practice there’s no rude surprises around town. Both are smooth and refined.
Pick up the pace, and call for a burst of acceleration and the CX-9 extra torque, and less gears to pick from mean you may get a single smooth downshift from the Mazda as speed swells. The Hyundai digs deep and revs hard, often dropping two gears at a time.
It feels much more energetic, but in reality the rate of acceleration isn’t too different. It’s a much more frenetic experience, and ultimately not quite as refined.
Putting adaptive cruise control systems to the test, The Palisade does a decent job of imitating a human driver, anticipating lead vehicle speed changes and making small adjustments.
Mazda is a little notchier in its control, and the CX-9 tends to chip in some brake-accelerate-brake motions as conditions change. A little less calm and composed, but hardly a deal breaker.
Regardless of which family SUV you choose, you’ll be covered by a five year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Mazda bundles in a five year roadside assist program, should you need it, but Hyundai includes roadside assistance only to customers who service with Hyundai, however after the five year mark you’ll get a 12 month renewal with each service.
Service intervals for the Mazda are every 12 months or 10,000km, which is a littler less distance than the 12 month/15,000km intervals offered by Hyundai.
Service costs over the first five visits are close. Hyundai charges a set $399 for each of the first five visits, Mazda’s rates vary from $363 to $609 depending on the service schedule. If you travel a little further than 50,000km in the first five years, expect to squeeze in an additional service or two within that five year span, too.
As a long-running benchmark among seven-seat large SUVs, the Mazda CX-9 gives prestige brands a run for their money, with a serene composure and interior tactility that has stood the test of time.
It’s good as a family vehicle, but in some areas, not great as one.
That’s where the Hyundai Palisade steps in. With more room to move, room to grow, and room to stack cargo. Though it may not cut the sleekest silhouette, it uses every cubic centimetre to its advantage.
Add in more supple ride, practical storage solutions, and a more user-friendly infotainment system and the Palisade proves that Hyundai has its finger on the pulse when it comes to building a car the whole family can enjoy.