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The three-row midsize SUV segment gains an enticing new model with the first-ever Mazda CX-90. It aims to compete against popular models in the segment, including the Toyota Highlander. And the 2024 Mazda CX-90 has one huge strength over the 2023 Toyota Highlander that gives the new SUV an edge. It delivers better performance with its more powerful engine options.

2023 Mazda CX-90 has better performance than the 2023 Toyota Highlander: More powerful engines

Front view of red 2024 Mazda CX-90 midsize SUV
2024 Mazda CX-90 | Mazda

Mazda has built a reputation for offering vehicles that perform well and are highly enjoyable to drive — even for its SUV lineup. And now, the Japanese automaker has done the same for its new midsize SUV, the 2024 Mazda CX-90. It has much better performance than the 2023 Toyota Highlander. 

All of the CX-90’s engine options are more powerful than anything that the Highlander offers. The Mazda SUV has two variants of a new turbocharged 3.3-liter inline-six engine with a 48-volt hybrid system. It generates 280 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque for the base 3.3 Turbo models — and 340 horsepower and 369 lb-ft in the 3.3 Turbo S. The latter variant is the most powerful mass-produced engine ever built by Mazda.

There’s also the new e-Skyactiv plug-in hybrid. Combining power from a 2.5-liter inline-four engine and an electric motor, it doles out 323 hp and 369 lb-ft torque.

In comparison, the Highlander has two engine options. The turbocharged 2.4-liter inline-four engine generates 265 horsepower and 309 lb-ft of torque, and the 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid produces a total system output of 243 horsepower. 

2024 CX-90 likely has better driving dynamics than the 2023 Highlander

Front angle view of green 2023 Toyota Highlander midsize SUV
2023 Toyota Highlander | Toyota

While we don’t yet have a test drive to confirm it, the 2024 Mazda CX-90 likely has better driving dynamics than the 2023 Toyota Highlander. This is based not only on the excellent driving character of the similar CX-9 midsize SUV and other Mazda models — but also because of some of the performance features it offers. 

This includes Mazda’s Kinematic Posture Control system. First offered for the MX-5 Miata sports car, the system minimizes body roll and tightens the turning circle by lightly applying the brakes to the inside part of the rear wheels. 

The all-wheel drive system in the CX-90 also has a rear bias, which adds to the sporty driving experience. Additionally, Mazda claims that the suspension of the midsize SUV is tuned for greater “balance and control” for a variety of driving situations. 

While the Highlander is a smooth-riding SUV that’s good for families, it doesn’t exude driving excitement. It’s not designed for a sporty driving experience. 

Other advantages of the Mazda CX-90 over the Toyota Highlander

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The 2024 CX-90 has some other advantages over the 2023 Highlander. This includes a more luxurious design. With its premium features and high-quality materials and craftsmanship, the CX-90 seems like a luxury SUV, despite being a reasonably-priced mainstream model. Plus, it provides a comfortable ride for passengers with the available second-row captain’s chairs. 

Also, the aforementioned all-wheel drive system for the CX-90 comes standard for all trims. However, for the Highlander, front-wheel drive is standard, while AWD is optional. If you want AWD for the Highlander, you have to pay extra.

Furthermore, unlike the Highlander, the CX-90 has a plug-in hybrid model. An advantage of the plug-in hybrid model is the ability to drive with electric-only power for short distances — along with high-level efficiency.

The better performance with more powerful engines is a huge strength that the 2024 Mazda CX-90 has over the 2023 Toyota Highlander. The excellent performance is an element to consider for those deciding between the two midsize SUVs.