Hyundai Santa Fe vs. Mazda CX-9
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited
- This is the biggest surprise of the day. No one expected this crossover to make it past the first round, or be as good as it is. And it's pretty damn good.
- "How much horsepower does that V-6 engine have?" "290." "Wow, it felt like more than that."
- The third-row seats are bolted directly to the floor, and the second-row seats shake when no one is sitting in them and the car is in motion.
- Shade of Gray: Iron Frost.
- The greatest panoramic sunroof we've seen aside from that of the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque. Definitely worth springing for the $2900 Technology package.
- It feels agile and light on winding roads, although not as sporty as, say, the Mazda CX-9.
- Shifts from the transmission are slow but not clunky. It's a wash.
- Emergency second- and third-row fold-down time: 5.3 seconds. (Quick time assist goes to the two handles on both sides of the cargo area that remotely fold down the second-row seats.) Forget the zombies; they'll never catch you. You might not even get wet when you're trying to load up your groceries in the rain.
- Things that make this your classic Hyundai: finish that's much better than fit; rear suspension that clunks over road imperfections; and a sport mode that changes steering effort and nothing else.
- "I'm blown away," says DeMatio. "Getting into this car reminded me that crossover interiors don't have to be grim and depressing. This is the most carefully packaged vehicle in the group."
2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring
- People like us -- people who care about the driving experience -- will err on the side of the Mazda. But most people -- those who actually buy seven-passenger crossovers -- won't.
- "Mazda nails the basic dynamic qualities that other automakers overlook, which makes this the most enjoyable seven-passenger crossover to drive," says Zenlea.
- Worst third-row seating of the bunch. Tiny side windows, no panoramic sunroof, and no cup holders. And it's not if you'll fit, it's how you'll fit. Knees up, heads down.
- Shade of Gray: Meteor Gray.
- "The interior is a horror story -- a black hole," says Jordan. "Really?" replies Nordlicht. "I think it's upscale without being pretentious."
- 22 mpg on the highway? Yeah, this old Ford V-6 needs to go away.
- If you want to see what the outside temperature is, why do you have to press the "outside" button? Why can't it just always be on display?
- Emergency second- and third-row fold-down time: 25.4 seconds. If you're loading up your groceries in the rain when zombies attack, getting wet is the least of your worries. Leave the food, or the zombies will eat you.
- "The seats make you sit very upright," says Jordan. "It's like you're getting your portrait done."
- "The CX-9 is a fabulous value," says Nordlicht.
The Mazda is the best driver's crossover, but it's too one-dimensional to be a family-friendly beach cruiser. We're as shocked as you are, but it seems like the new Hyundai Santa Fe is going to upset an Automobile Magazine favorite. - Christopher Nelson
Winner: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited. The Santa Fe moves into the final round.
Come back to automobilemag.com tomorrow for a head-to-head comparison of our finalists (we go to a local drive-in for an old-fashioned, family-style meal) and to find out which crossover comes out on top.