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Hyundai Santa Fe Vs Mazda CX-8

The new Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-8 arrived Down Under at about the same time, and both offer something similar, a roomy seven-seater with rough-ish road capability. So, which one should you buy?

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander

Price $60,500+ORC Warranty five-years, unlimited km Safety 5 stars Engine 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder Power 147kW at 3800rpm Torque 440Nm at 1750-2750rpm Transmission eight-speed automatic Drive on-demand all-wheel drive Dimensions 4770mm (L) 1890mm (W) 1680mm (H) 2765mm (WB) Seats seven Boot Space 547 litres Weight 1870kg Towing 2000kg (braked) Fuel Tank 71 litres Thirst 7.5L/100km claimed/11.4L/100km tested

2018 Mazda CX-8 Asaki 

Price $61,490+ORC Warranty five-years, unlimited km Safety 5 stars Engine 2.2-litre twin-turbo-diesel four-cylinder Power 140kW at 4500rpm Torque 450Nm at 2000rpm Transmission six-speed automatic Drive all-wheel drive Dimensions 4900mm (L) 1840mm (W) 1725mm (H) 2930mm (WB) Seats seven Boot Space 742 litres Weight 1957kg Towing 2000kg (braked) Fuel Tank 74 litres Thirst 6.0L/100km claimed/10.6L/100km tested

THERE are many similarities in this comparison test between two near-identically-priced, similarly sized SUV models. Both the new-generation Hyundai Santa Fe and the Mazda CX-8 arrived in Australia at virtually the same time this year, and each manages to carve about the same frame as a not-medium, but not-large seven-seat family vehicle.

The new Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-8 arrived Down Under at about the same time, and both offer something similar, a roomy seven-seater with rough-ish road capability. So, which one should you buy?

The Santa Fe and CX-8 are larger than their Tucson and CX-5 siblings that sell so well in the medium SUV class, yet they are smaller than both the Toyota Kluger and Mazda’s own CX-9 that primarily target the land of Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me – the good ol’ US of A.

2018 Mazda CX-8 Review

Unlike Trumpville’s preference for petrol power, which is the only choice in those latter duo of large SUV models, both of the mid-to-large SUVs tested here utilise a same-sized 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder with near-identical economy to a petrol i30 or Mazda3 hatch.

These flagship Santa Fe Highlander and CX-8 Asaki also offer more equipment inside than the equivalent model grades of the larger breed, so the question here is simple: is it worth sacrificing size and presumably space for potentially better economy and more equipment?

What Are The Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander and Mazda CX-8 Asaki?

At $60,500 plus on-road costs, the Santa Fe Highlander requires $990 less than the $61,490+ORC CX-8 Asaki, the latter of which measures up 130mm longer in the body, at 4900mm, but falls 50mm shorter in terms of width, at 1840mm. There isn’t much in it… 

Then it gets even closer. Seven seats and all-wheel drive are both standard, while the Hyundai produces 147kW of power and 440Nm of torque delivered by an eight-speed automatic to claim fuel consumption of 7.5 litres per 100 kilometres. And the Mazda makes a lesser 140kW but greater 450Nm, transferred by a six-speed auto, to claim 6.0L/100km.

2018 Mazda CX-8 Review

Yet that frugality (a petrol i30 hatch claims 7.4L/100km and a petrol Mazda3 5.8L/100km, for example…) doesn’t betray the luxury equipment of both. Each scores 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, LED foglights, power tailgate, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, leather trim, heated and electrically adjustable front seats, heated outboard-middle seats, head-up display, digital radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and satellite navigation.

Meanwhile, the Hyundai’s wireless smartphone charging, ventilated front seats, automatic reverse-park assist and a panoramic sunroof are all exclusives. The Mazda misses even a small sunroof, but it does get voice control for its nav and tri-zone climate control (against its rival’s dual-zone climate) before moving on to deliver a safety advantage (see below).

What About Safety?

As expected from $60K-plus flagship model grades, this duo get just about every bit of safety equipment available.

It all starts with front and rear parking sensors, backed by a bright and clear 360-degree camera. Forward collision alerts with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) are standard on both, and impressively both offer AEB in reverse as well. Similarly, automatic high-beam is included in each, but only the Asaki’s is adaptive and able to detect traffic, ahead or oncoming, then block out only the strand of light affecting particular vehicles – by contrast, its rival just flicks between low-beam and high-beam when any other drivers are around.

The Highlander wins back some points with a more finely calibrated blind-spot monitor, whereas its rival can be prone to detecting parallel traffic two lanes away, plus a unique system that keeps child-lock on momentarily if there is passing traffic and a driver attempts to unlock it. However, its adaptive cruise control takes longer to get back to speed once cars are out of your way. But each model’s active lane-keep assistance works equally as well, and superbly, subtly holding their SUV bodies steady to avoid lane wander.

Where the CX-8 is an approved five-star ANCAP performer, however, the Santa Fe has not yet been tested. Crucially, the former also adds certified third-row airbag coverage to these models’ shared suite of dual front, front-side and front-middle-curtain protection, whereas the latter is claimed to have curtains that cover the furthermost side windows only – but aren’t technically sixth and seventh passenger-approved. For a family car, this is an issue.

What’s Are Their Interiors Like?

Both of these top-spec seven-seat SUV models deliver equally fantastic interior quality and, from plastics to switchgear, a properly semi-premium cabin feel. The Mazda gets plusher trimmings, especially on the lower console area, and lusher (Nappa) leather on every seat.

The new Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-8 arrived Down Under at about the same time, and both offer something similar, a roomy seven-seater with rough-ish road capability. So, which one should you buy?

However, where the Hyundai’s 8.0-inch touchscreen works just as well as its competitor’s 7.0-inch screen with a console-mounted rotary dial (and shortcut tabs), its Infinity audio system beats the other’s Bose unit, and the extra connectivity works a treat. But the biggest advantage is the seats themselves – or should we say the near-perfect ‘lounge chairs’.

2018 Mazda CX-8 Review

The CX-8 gets fractionally more middle-row legroom, but its high-set bench is firmer and flat, failing to match the much more pampering (if a little support-lacking) front chairs. The Santa Fe’s ‘one touch’ button for kids to enter the third-row is also inspired, though it fails to return to the previously-set position, forcing a middle passenger to fiddle with it incessantly. Meanwhile its rival requires a pull of a lever then to tug the backrest forward, but it returns to the previously set position. Pleasingly, both have the centre row’s 40% part of the 60:40 split bench on the kerbside for safe school pick-up or drop-off entry or egress.

The new Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-8 arrived Down Under at about the same time, and both offer something similar, a roomy seven-seater with rough-ish road capability. So, which one should you buy?

Once in the third row there is marginally more legroom, but less headroom and a flatter seat in the South Korean model, whereas its rival ensured that this 178cm-tall tester missed nudging the roofline in the back while being better supported by a cushier, tilted-up seat base. But the Japanese SUV, disappointingly, lacks air vents right back there, whereas its challenger even includes third-row fan control (if not a third climate zone for middle riders).

The new Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-8 arrived Down Under at about the same time, and both offer something similar, a roomy seven-seater with rough-ish road capability. So, which one should you buy?

There’s less between them for boot space, though, with Hyundai claiming 130 litres with all seats up, and 547L in five-seat mode, but measured to the start of the glass; Mazda claims 242L/742L respectively but measured to the roof. We found the latter to be slightly larger overall, though, owing to underfloor storage missing from its rival; which does get a full-sized spare wheel versus a space-saver temporary unit here, to be quite fair.

2018 Mazda CX-8 Review

What Are They Like To Drive?

Not only because the Santa Fe has a full-sized spare, but also because it has a 50:50 torque-split ‘lock’ button for its all-wheel drive system, we would feel more comfortable taking it down rocky and muddy paths compared with the ‘adaptive’ variable torque-split CX-8 system – which, worryingly, can be prone to front-wheelspin in wet conditions. But neither of these are off-roaders, to be clear…

2018 Mazda CX-8 Review

Back where these SUVs will live out most of their lives – on the road – and the Mazda’s is clearly the quieter of the 2.2-litre turbo-diesels, especially at idle. And, it has stop-start technology to switch the engine off at a set of traffic lights, leaving the Hyundai to buzz and slurp fuel – which it did on test, drinking 11.4L/100km versus its rival’s 10.6L/100km. Thankfully it smoothens out at speed, and with similar power and similar torque, it isn’t a surprise that both offer decently strong performance. What the figures don’t show is that each also mostly eliminates dreaded turbo lag off the line, and their autos are very intuitive.

The new Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-8 arrived Down Under at about the same time, and both offer something similar, a roomy seven-seater with rough-ish road capability. So, which one should you buy?

The Highlander has the sweeter, more direct steering of the two, and thanks partially to hugely grippy 19-inch Continental tyres, really quite agile and fun handling that betrays the SUV tag. The Asaki is rollier, obviously softer, but it’s still sweetly balanced enough to feel more reminiscent of a big hatch than a bloated SUV. And where it finds a lead is with ride comfort that is more silken, if a touch pillowy, compared with a rival that can be just too busy, and too jiggly too often. Swapping into Hyundai’s smaller Tucson Highlander the following week proved to be a lush-riding revelation – so why couldn’t it be replicated here?

Still, these remain the two best-driving vehicles in the segment, so the comments are really relative to each other only. Each brand also offers a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and annual servicing – but the CX-8 needs checks every 10,000km, for a capped-price $1097 over three years or $1487 to four years/40,000km; versus the Santa Fe’s 15,000km intervals for its capped-price $1197 to three years/45,000km or $1696 to four years/60,000km.

So, Which One Wins And Why?

These are top-tier performers in the mid-to-large SUV class, and as with their size and pricetag and power and torque and equipment and boots, they’re just so close in the end.

As a five-seater it’s difficult to go past that lush middle row of the Santa Fe, while all passengers will enjoy a more premium audio system and a panoramic sunroof overhead, plus a bit more technology such as wireless phone charging. Meanwhile the driver can enjoy the excellent steering and handling, and punchy performance, of this well-sorted model.

As a seven-seater, though, the CX-8 just manages to nab the gold medal courtesy of that proper third-row airbag coverage. It boasts a little extra driver-assistance tech with its adaptive high-beam as well, is quieter under the bonnet, more frugal, and smoother riding – even if its middle row isn’t quite as impressive and the plusher third-row lacks ventilation.

It’s best to weigh up where your priorities lie with the above, because this one genuinely could go either way. For us, though, it’s Asaki over Highlander by a nose.

2018 Mazda CX-8 Review


Dan DeGasperi

Dan DeGasperi