3 Ways the Mazda CX-90 Excels and 2 Areas Where It’s Lackluster
The all-new 2024 Mazda CX-90 marks several firsts for the Japanese brand. It’s the first to offer a mild-hybrid inline-six engine. It’s also the first Mazda available as a plug-in hybrid, and marks the U.S. debut of the brand’s “Large Platform.” The CX-90 also features more upscale amenities, sports a more rugged styling and is slightly larger than the CX-9 it replaces.
But more importantly, how does all this translate to the CX-90’s real-world experience? I spent a week behind the wheel of the 2024 CX-90 in the range-topping S Premium Plus model to review and find out. Here are the areas in which the CX-90 is a standout, and two ways in which it lacks competitors.
Excellent: The CX-90 delivers first-rate driving dynamics
Credit to Mazda for understanding that not everyone who purchases a three-row midsize SUV wants handling characteristics that are as exciting as unseasoned, boiled chicken. The CX-90 is, thankfully, rich in flavor and texture from behind the wheel.
The CX-90’s handling is exceptional for its class, boosted by standard all-wheel drive. Steering feedback is first-rate, providing the confidence to throw the biggest Mazda on the block into corners with gusto. Chassis refinement is impressive, keeping the CX-90 planted through and composed through corners with only enough body roll to remind drivers they are piloting a three-row SUV.
There are some caveats to these praises. The CX-90’s steering is on the heavy side and hard bumps can cause jolts in the cabin. But for the enthusiast with a family, these are easily overlooked given the Mazda’s overall driving verve. It’s a three-row midsize that’s actually enjoyable to drive.
Downside: Despite its larger dimensions, it’s still less pragmatic than competitors
The entire Mazda lineup seems to underscore the brand’s belief that good things come in small(er) packages. However, the CX-90 is still notably less practical than most of the entries in its class despite its larger dimensions over the model it replaces.
My wife, who is all of 5-foot-1, still didn’t have room to stretch in the front passenger seat with my daughter’s forward-facing car seat behind her. Hip and shoulder room are also noticeably tighter than that of the also-new-for-2024 Toyota Grand Highlander. And just about everything else in the CX-90’s class.
Cargo space also trails the pack at 14.9-15.9 cubic-feet behind the third row (the figure depends on if the model in question has two or three rear seats). The Volkswagen Atlas and Kia Telluride offer a far more spacious 20-21 cubic feet.
Excellent: The CX-90’s is rich with upscale amenities
My top-of-the-line S Premium Plus tester certainly infringes into luxury territory. Fitted with features like quilted Nappa leather upholstery, heated and ventilated seats in the first two rows, a Bose sound system, second-row sunshades and much more, the top trim certainly meets Mazda’s desires to go more upscale with its models.
But even lower models are impressive in their upmarket features. The base model is still equipped with desirable features like synthetic leather upholstery, a power liftgate, 19-inch allow wheels, tri-zone automatic climate control, a 10.25-inch infotainment screen and a suite of active driver aids.
No matter the trim, the CX-90’s cabin exudes modern style. It’s a nice place to spend your commute.
Downside: Some controls and voice command can be frustrating to use
It’s easy to appreciate the CX-90’s bank of physical inputs on the dash, but they have quirks. For instance, there are two switches to adjust the climate control temperature, one for hotter and colder. But both move in the same direction (down). It’s a relatively minor complaint, but it would be far more intuitive to have one switch that moves in both directions.
Changing the SiriusXM station is an exercise in patience. Switching to a channel outside the “favorites” list requires navigating several menus. It shouldn’t be this complicated.
The CX-90’s voice command system was practically useless. Despite a study of Mazda’s manual, it simply couldn’t seem to understand a single instance of my voice commands.
Excellent: The CX-90’s inline six is silky smooth and surprisingly efficient
Mazda’s new 3.3-liter inline-six engine comes with a 48-volt mild hybrid system developing 280 horsepower or 340-hp in high output versions. The 340-horspeower version in my tester certainly is peppy, but perhaps not as much as expected. The CX-90 doesn’t “feel” notably quicker than its competitors, which have less ponies, but power delivery is quick, linear and velvet smooth.
To boot, the mild hybrid system and the wet clutch eight-speed automatic transmission provide excellent efficiency. The standard and high output engine return 25 combined mpg, according to the EPA. As such, the CX-90 resides in the upper tier of most efficient three-row midsize SUVs. Mazda claims the CX-90 PHEV delivers about 26 miles of all-electric range.
Overall, the CX-90 is a significant step up from the CX-9. It furthers Mazda’s ambitions to occupy the space between mainstream and luxury and does so with its performance, comfort, style and amenities. Like the model it replaces, though, it lacks the all-around pragmaticism of some rivals. And there are a few downsides to its daily usability.
Those who value practicality above all else will want to shop around. Buyers seeking a more premium midsize three-row SUV with excellent driving dynamics will undoubtedly be pleased with the CX-90.