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The Mazda CX-90 arrived to nothing short of fanfare and would-be groupies swooning all over this new Mazda three-row SUV. This is the first plug-in hybrid vehicle from Mazda, and it hits all the right notes, except one. This family-sized SUV has style, class, and a cabin filled with impressive features, but “something’s foul in the state of Denmark.”

What’s wrong with the Mazda CX-90 PHEV’s powertrain?

Typically, we admire Mazda powertrains for their quick acceleration, power delivery at low rpm, and impressive refinement. Unfortunately, the CX-90’s powertrain isn’t refined enough for most drivers.

In fact, some MotorTrend reviews noted strange and unsettling behavior from the transmission.

“Gosh, does Mazda have refinement work to do on this powertrain. [It] needs improvement [and has] behavior and strange noises at low speeds.”

Buyer’s guide editor, Zach Gale

“At parking lot speeds, the eight-speed transmission felt jerky when coming to a full stop, and although it wasn’t frequent, its something that needs to be addressed in future updates.”

Miguel Cortina

Several MotorTrend editors spent time behind the wheel of the CX-90 PHEV, and many experienced the shuddering and hesitation at slower speeds or after a full stop. This isn’t a situation that always occurs, but it can be unpleasant. The testing director provides a better explanation of the problem:

“The transmission is generally well-behaved when the gas engine is running. In EV mode, it occasionally makes a hard and abrupt shift, which always reminds me that even when operating purely on electricity, most PHEVs can’t match the smoothness of a full EV. That’s really noticeable during the transition from EV to hybrid operation when the powertrain regularly stumbles. First, it seems to cut electric power, then it suddenly feeds the gas engine with too much torque.”

Eric Tingwall, testing director
The 2024 Mazda CX-90 parked near foliage
2024 Mazda CX-90 | Alison Barfield, MotorBiscuit

Mazda provides an explanation

The explanation of the strange jerking and shuddering at lower speeds in the CX-90 PHEV is less than ideal and acceptable.

“This design eschews the conventional torque converter for a multiplate wet-clutch setup, which not only improves efficiency by offering a more direct transfer of power from the engine to the drive wheels but also allows for a more connected driving experience. In certain circumstances, this can result in an increased powertrain feedback.”


The wet-clutch transmission argument is a bit of a cop-out by Mazda. Many vehicles have dual-cultch automatic transmissions, and don’t have the same herky, jerky feeling found in the new Mazda CX-90 PHEV.

Mazda owners have turned to the CX-90 Forum to voice complaints about the transmission feel at low speeds. This means professional driving revewers aren’t the only drivers experiencing this feeling. Actual owners reported this issue as well.

Does this problem occur in other CX-90 models?

The CX-90 comes with a new inline-six engine ofering a traditional driving feeling. This regular version has far fewer transmission behavior complaints than the PHEV models. Still, there’s enough evidence to suggest Mazda has work to do to remove the low-speed shuddering and jerkiness of the Mazda CX-90 PHEV’s eight-speed automatic transmission.