Seven-seat SUVs are the default family car of the modern age.
Despite the SUV tag, the emphasis is usually less on bush-bashing and more about functionality, cabin space, safety equipment, driving quality and fuel consumption.
Two great examples of this breed are the Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Kluger. Rather than following the established 4x4 norm with ladder frame underpinnings, diesel engines and heaps of suspension travel, they are really station wagons with a bit of extra ride height.
These are cars designed to get you to the shops efficiently and comfortably to the beach for summer holidays, rather than beyond the black stump.
And as offerings from two of Australia’s most popular brands there are plenty of examples on the CARS24 website. Let’s go shopping!
Launched in 2016, the second -generation Mazda CX-9 is the one you’ll find offered by CARS24.
In an age where SUVs dominate sales in Australia, think of the CX-9 as the closest thing Mazda has to luxury limousine. Certainly, it’s the flagship of the range.
Its excellence has been deservedly recognised through the years with a series of car-of-the-year awards.
You can put that down to an important collection of positive traits; the cabin is quiet and comfortable, the equipment levels are competitive and the sporty driving experience is topped off by a refined yet strongly responsive 170kW/420Nm 2.5-litre petrol-turbo engine mated to a six-speed auto and front- or on-demand all-wheel drive.
At more than five metres long, the CX-9 is big enough so that occupants of row three aren’t after-thoughts; access is well thought out and adults can fit if necessary. There are no air vents in the third row but designers put plenty of thought into the flow of air from the main vents to ensure all occupants are well looked after.
It is also of an overall size that makes it entirely suitable for city driving. Claimed luggage space as a five-seater (row three folded down) is an impressive 810 litres.
The primary downside of the CX-9 has always been its thirst. The claimed fuel consumption is 8.4L/100km for the FWD and 8.8L/100km for the AWD. But in the real-world, especially around town, that number can climb well north of 10L/100km.
It’s also worth noticing the AWD CX-9 is no off-road bush basher. It’s a system better suited to gravel roads and traversing a smattering of snow on the way to the mountains. Nor is this an exceptional tower, rated at 2000kg braked.
When it rolled out in Australia in July 2016, the Japanese-made CX-9 was offered in four model grades – Sport, Touring, GT and luxury Azami – all with the choice of FWD and AWD.
Highlights included adult-friendly seating for seven, a comprehensive safety suite led by autonomous emergency braking and a five-star ANCAP rating.
An August 2017 upgrade increased the capability of autonomous emergency braking (AEB), which spread its working range from 4km/h-30km/h to 4km/h-80km/h. It also added the handling aid G-Vectoring Control that momentarily cuts torque to one front wheel while turning to sharpen responses.
About a year later Mazda introduced a new flagship, the AWD-only Azami LE, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto became standard fitment across the entire range. There were also some safety and comfort equipment upgrades and a retune of suspension and steering.
The factory warranty also lifted from three years/1000,000km to five-years/unlimited km, something to bear in mind when tossing up the CX-9 model year you might choose.
For 2020 the Azami LE disappeared and the Azami, complete with nicer Nappa leather, reclaimed its position atop the range.
Key additions across the line-up included night-time pedestrian detection for AEB, more powerful LED headlights, a larger 9.0-inch infotainment screen, a hands-free power tailgate function, a braking function for G-Vectoring Control (making it GVC Plus) and off-road traction control for AWD models.
For 2021 the Azamai LE yo-yoed back into the range, this time as a six-seater with captain’s chairs in row two. There was also a new GT SP and a limited-edition celebrating Mazda’s 100th anniversary.
Upgrades were also applied to the multimedia system and a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen installed. GT and above added smartphone wireless charging.
The Kluger name means ‘clever’ or ‘very clever’ in German. The Toyota Australia execs who first made the decision to bring the Kluger here back in the early 2000s definitely fall into that category as it has become a huge sales success for the brand.
We’re not delving all the way back to that time to round up the Kluger’s local history and assess its behaviour, as the examples featured on CARS24 stretch back to about 2015.
That means the Kluger’s you’re perusing are from the third generation that launched here in 2014 and a substantial mid-life facelift that rolled out in 2017.
The earlier cars can be picked by their large one-piece trapezoidal grills, while later the front-end became angled and the grille split in two by the bumper.
Kluger generation three launched in Australia with a carryover 201kW/337Nm 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and a new six-speed automatic transmission. But there was a choice of front-wheel drive or more expensive on-demand all-wheel drive.
At launch there were three grades – GX, GXL and Grande. For the first time, they all had seven seats standard. Another first was US sourcing, rather than Japan.
Standard specifications include seven airbags across the range, plus a reversing camera and rear parking sensors. The Kluger received a five-star ANCAP rating, but only the Grande came fitted with a form of autonomous emergency braking.
One comfort item you won’t find in any third generation Kluger is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There is Bluetooth smartphone streaming but that’s it.
The 2017 facelift brought with it an engine upgraded to 218kW and 350Nm and a new eight-speed auto. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the more powerful engine was more frugal than its predecessor, with the fuel consumption claim for the FWD dropping from 10.2L/100km to 9.0L/100km and the AWD from 10.6L/100km to 9.5L/100km. In the real world, consumption steepled toward 11-12L/100km in round-town use.
Sadly, the Grande remained the only model with AEB. This crucial safety aid was not added to the GX and GXL until 2018. The package also included lane departure alert (but not assist), active cruise control, automatic high beam and pre-collision safety.
A five-year unlimited kilometre warranty was made standard from 2019. Of course, being a Toyota, the Kluger is a great choice when it comes to fundamental reliability. The Mazda is also a dependable choice.
The Kluger is a big wagon at almost 4.9 metres long and one of the best things about that is third row space in which kids will be comfy for long hauls. But it’s not as good a fit for adults as the CX-9. Luggage space is substantial with three rows in place, but at 529 litres it’s not as good as the Mazda when its folded.
Being big and heavy also makes the Kluger a somewhat ponderous drive on-road. Off-road, the AWD’s centre diff lock, hill descent control and 200mm ground clearance helps tackle tracks slightly tougher than a straight-forward gravel road. Like the CX-9, the Kluger tows 2.0 tonnes braked.
A new generation Kluger launched in Australia in 2021, bringing with it a more frugal hybrid drivetrain.
Forced to choose, the Mazda CX-9 edges ahead in this two-way tussle. It’s more spacious and its safety gear runs deeper through the model range. Plus it’s a terrific large SUV to drive, even if the four-cylinder turbo engine will usually slurp more than its official fuel figures suggest.
The Toyota Kluger fights back with more of an eye on the bush, able to tackle some off-road tracks more convincingly. It has a lusty V6 that ultimately delivers more power, although it’ll use more fuel than the Mazda in the process. Still, with honest foundations and a reputation for reliability the Kluger is a convincing large SUV.