In the car market when it comes to popularity, SUV’s smash just about everyone else out of the ball park. Aside from dual-cabs, Aussie families flock to these like moths to a flame. While five-seats are fine for most, some like to go the extra yard. So, I’d thought we should look at one of the more popular options, the Japanese made Mazda CX-9 and a newcomer to the field, the US-sourced Holden Acadia.

The Contenders

In the right corner we have the flagship in the Mazda line up, the CX-9 Azami LE AWD, in the left corner sits the Holden Acadia LTZ-V. Both are top of the range models with all the fruit. The Mazda has been around since 2006 but is now in its second generation having been redesigned back in 2016. The “LE” model tested here was announced in September this year, adding even more luxury features to the previously top of the tree Azami.

The Holden Acadia LTZ-V is the brand’s big, bold offering sourced from the US where it’s built at the General Motors factory in Springhill, Tennessee. Known as the GMC Acadia in the States, this is no doubt the first of a long line of US imports for Holden given the end of local manufacturing. For this test I had access to the FWD version, although AWD is available as an option. AWD is only available on the Azami LE.

Vital Stats

When you crunch the numbers, the Mazda scores a 170kW/420Nm turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. It’s matched to a six-speed automatic and AWD.

The Acadia brings to the party a 231kW/367Nm 3.6-litre petrol V6 and nine-speed transmission. Claimed fuel economy for the CX-9 sits at 8.4L/100km while the Acadia claims 8.9L/100km. Surprisingly both returned similar actual figures of 10.2L/100km and 10.9L/100km respectively.

Behind the Wheel

First up I’ll say these two troop carriers are poles apart when sitting in the driver’s seat. The Mazda really pulls off a genuine luxury interior. There’s real wood panelling on the doors and centre console. Soft nappa leather covers the seats and there’s a unique colour palette with an emphasis on red.

If you’ve ever driven a Holden Colorado or travelled to the US and rented a GM-sourced vehicle, you’ll pick up on the more rugged interior of the Acadia. The plastics are harder, the knobs and switches don’t match the finesse of the Mazda. Overall, it’s a step down when it comes to a sense of occasion. However, there is leather-appointed trim and at a spec level it does go toe to toe with the CX-9.

The big Holden feels like a rocket ship compared with the more constrained Mazda. We are talking about a fairly large power deficit here. In fact, so brutal is the throttle I’d suggest forking out for the AWD is almost a must, I can’t remember ever driving a SUV capable of so much wheel screeching from the front-wheels.

However, for those who like some punch, the Holden is remarkably brisk for overtaking needs. The peak power figures do arrive much further up the rpm range than the opposing turbocharged 2.5-litre engine but gee it’s a pretty compelling experience compared to the CX-9’s more relaxed performance.

Both SUV’s are obviously large and should be driven as such. But Holden engineers managed to get their hands on the Adaptive Suspension tune. The result is a very good and even engaging drive, even at the edge. The system resists roll and pitch dramatically, cornering in the Acadia is actually fun.

The Mazda feels big at all times, it lacks the overall constraint of the Holden when pushed hard. I know these vehicles are rarely driven in such a “spirted” manner, but it’s important to tell you about the inherent capability of the set-ups.

Speaking of big both do the whole seven-seat thing very well. Many treat the third-row as a very small poorer cousin. Thankfully both cars are large enough to even accommodate a couple of adults for short trips back there. The Acadia is especially spacious, despite being marginly shorter than the Mazda. The Holden also scores USB fast charging ports in all three rows.

In the handling and drive department the Holden is a skilled heavyweight boxer, while the Mazda is a well-dressed businessman.


Both cars as mentioned are on an even keel in this area. All the latest and greatest driver assist technologies are present, including traffic sign recognition, autonomous emergency breaking and pedestrian / cyclist detection. The CX-9 does score a head up display however, but the Acadia gets wireless phone charging.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard on both as is a 360-degree reversing camera. An eight-inch touchscreen is provided for the Holden while the Mazda makes do with a floating tablet style seven-inch display. The MDZ system is more user friendly and attractive than the Holden system, which incidentally is on its worldwide debut on the Australian version of the Acadia.

The Better Half

My wife spent plenty of time in both cars and enjoyed the abundance of space both cars offer. She found the novelty of wireless charging in the Holden to be a big plus. But did find my occasional heavy right foot a bit disconcerting. She was most impressed by the Mazda experience simply based on the more lavish interior.

The Coin

The Mazda CX-9 Azami LE AWD will set you back $66,490 before on-roads. It comes with a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty. The as-tested Holden Acadia LTZ-V 2WD starts from $63,990 but the AWD escalates to $67,990, there are still some deals going on at launch so haggle at the dealership. It also comes with the same five-year unlimited kilometre warranty.

Good and the Bad.

If you want to be surrounded in near European Luxury, then the Mazda CX-9 Azami LE is for you. It also sports an attractive, almost delicate design that I’m sure many would find very appealing. But I miss the V6, the smaller unit still hustles along nicely but something this big needs a bit more punch.

The Holden Acadia looks like it belongs in a Presidential motorcade. It is the bad arse of SUV’s and I’m pretty sure the boxy looks will attract a certain type to showrooms. The engine / transmission KO’s the Mazda from a raw power point of view. It also easily out handles the Japanese model thanks to Aussie input. The interior can’t match the Mazda, it’s a bit truck-like in parts, others may see it as hard wearing.

EFTM Scoreboard

With similar pricing and the same warranty if I had to pick one of these I’d find it hard not to go with the Acadia, because it has some serious balls. On a spec and tech level both are at level pegging. But in reality, I know the Mazda CX-9 is a more sophisticated and most likely better screwed together car. It has broader appeal in the looks department and benefits from a solid brand reputation. So, it’s the Holden Acadia for me personally, but from a subjective point of view I can’t see how you’d turn down the Mazda CX-9 Azami LE.