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  • Writer's pictureCory Fourniquet

Mazda CX-90 First Drive: The New Flagship for Mazda

Mazda has always been known for producing fun vehicles, with engaging handling and attractive styling. However, the brand has yet to offer a vehicle that could really compete in the growing large, 3-row crossover segment. The old CX-9 was the brand’s only 3-row offering but lacked usability for real adults in the way back. Mazda hopes to change that with the introduction of the all-new 2024 CX-90.

Recently, we had the opportunity to drive the 2 versions of the CX-90 in Northern California, and we were impressed with what we experienced. We were at the vehicle’s global debut last month and were taken with its beautiful styling and use of premium materials, but this trip was all about getting this new flagship out on the road, both in the city and out on the highway.

The CX-90 is available with two new powertrains in three configurations: the base engine is the e-Skyactiv G 3.3L turbocharged inline 6-cylinder mild hybrid making 280 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque, the middle powertrain option is the e-Skyactiv 2.5L 4-cylinder plug-in hybrid (PHEV) making 323 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, and the range-topper is a more powerful version of the 3.3L inline 6 making 340 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. All are hybrid powertrains, all are paired to a new 8-speed automatic with a wet clutch vs. a torque converter, and all have standard i-Active all-wheel drive. We had the opportunity to test the top two powertrains in the PHEV and the Turbo S, and we were impressed with its power and efficiency.

We started our day in the PHEV which features a 17.8 kWh battery that allows the CX-90 to operate as a standard hybrid or travel on electric power alone in EV Mode, which is what we were encouraged to do as we left our hotel in downtown San Francisco. Its power delivery was smooth and effortless much like any other EV or PHEV we have tested recently. When the battery is depleted, or when the driver opts out of EV mode, the 4-cylinder engine kicks in. The entire system provides a total output of 323 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque.

Much like other PHEVs, there is also a “charge” button on the center console next to the Mi-Drive selector that allows you to engage the engine to charge the battery while on the go. This would be perfect for the end of a long trip that has you ending in the city where EV mode shines.

Outside of EV mode, we felt the PHEV powertrain was nice, but not groundbreaking. The gas engine was rather noisy in its operation and noticeable when it fired up. At times through our climbs through the wine country, the PHEV seemed to struggle a bit even though it has the same torque numbers as the 3.3L inline 6. I feel most of that can be attributed to the noise of the gas engine revving under the hood and the interaction of the regenerative braking when you let your foot off the accelerator. I went into this drive event really wanting to like the PHEV, and did while it was in EV mode, but left wanting a bit more time to experience the new powertrain to get a feel for exactly what it was doing.

Switching into the 3.3L inline 6 after lunch meant exploring the winding roads of Sonoma in sport mode. The power delivery in the 3.3L felt much more natural and hid the weight of the 3-row SUV it was carrying. Even though the power numbers are nearly identical to the PHEV, these are two clearly different ways to approach motoring. While the rain ruined most of our fun (no we weren’t out rally racing an unreleased vehicle) we did get to stretch its legs a bit merging into traffic. This is the powertrain I would buy if given the option right now. Don’t get me wrong, the PHEV has its place, but the inline-6 is more engaging from the onset.

Outside of the two engines, both vehicles felt very planted in the corners without much body lean or roll on twisty backroads. Rain or shine, the standard i-Active AWD will help put the power down where it is needed, and the eight-speed transmission never felt like it was hunting for the right gear.

No matter the road surface, whether city streets, pothole-marked highways, or curvy roads through rolling hills, the CX-90 made us feel pampered. This new large SUV platform is rigid and tough but emphasizes a rear-drive bias in its power delivery. Double wishbone suspension up front, paired with the narrow and longitudinally mounted inline engine choices means more room for the front wheels to turn which results in a sharper turning radius than the smaller CX-9 this CX-90 replaces. The rear multi-link suspension is tuned to improve rear grip and the Kinematic Posture Control applies a bit of brake to the inside rear wheel for improved cornering. That, paired with the rear suspension geometry, makes the CX-90 very stable in winding roads. We even had the opportunity to test out downhill descent control on the curviest street in the world, Lombard street. The vehicle kept us at a steady and stable 5 miles per hour, which is the posted speed limit when descending this switchback tourist attraction.

Ultimately, we were not disappointed in the way the CX-90 drove at all. Sporty and athletic with an air of sophistication.

One point that stuck with us from the reveal was its design. The exterior is a modern take on the Mazda design language. The vehicle is big, bold, and has a presence on the road. Those 21-inch diamond-cut wheels also give the CX-90 a premium look. I can vouch that the CX-90 does look much better in person than in pictures and seeing it in traffic both in the Rhodium White and Artisan Red of the test fleet really showed how much this design stands out.

Inside, the CX-90 is just as impressive. The cabin is spacious and comfortable, with seating for up to eight passengers. In fact, Mazda offers 6, 7, and 8-seat models. Depending on your trim and option package, you can get seating configurations of 2/3/3, 2/3/2, 2/2/3, or 2/2/2. We had the opportunity to test both a 2/2/3 and a 2/2/2 configuration. The second-row captain’s chairs are nice, and the Turbo S model featured a center console between them, which provides a luxurious experience for those riding in the back. Nappa leather, heated and ventilated seats, and real wood trim add to the premium feel of the interior. Unfortunately, the rear seat is still too narrow to accommodate 3 adults, if you opt for a 3-person rear bench, know going in that they will be best used for children or teenagers.

Additionally, the CX-90 comes standard with a suite of advanced safety features, including lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and much more, though Mazda still views the driver as the biggest proponent for vehicle safety. Mazda told us the CX-90 has 20 cameras and sensors to aid the driver through various situations, which definitely helped as we were plopped into these new vehicles in torrential downpours. Each CX-90 also comes equipped with 10 airbags to protect all occupants in the event of a crash.

Overall, we were impressed with the 2024 Mazda CX-90. It's clear that Mazda has put a lot of effort into designing a vehicle that is both attractive and technologically advanced, while still retaining the fun-to-drive character that the brand is known for. The PHEV powertrain is nice and will work best for commuters, while the 3.3L inline-6 will be the option to choose for more driving fun. If you're in the market for a large SUV with seating for up to 8, the CX-90 should definitely be on your shortlist!

2024 Mazda CX-90 Specs:

  • All-New Platform for Large SUVs with Emphasis on RWD and Longitudinally Mounted Engines

  • 3 Powertrain Options (2 engine choices)

    • Base: e-Skyactiv G 3.3L Turbocharged Inline 6-Cylinder Mild Hybrid

      • 280 Horsepower

      • 332 lb-ft of Torque

      • 48V Mild-Hybrid

    • PHEV: e-Skyactiv 2.5L 4-Cylinder Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV)

      • 323 Horsepower

      • 369 lb-ft of Torque

      • 7.8 kWh Battery

      • Full-electric Mode

    • Turbo S: e-Skyactiv G 3.3L Turbocharged Inline 6-Cylinder Mild Hybrid

      • 340 Horsepower

      • 369 lb-ft of Torque

      • 48V Mild-Hybrid

  • All-New 8-speed Automatic

  • Standard i-Activ All-wheel Drive

  • Seating for 6, 7, or 8 People

  • Available Second Row Captain's Chairs and Center Console

  • Available Nappa Leather

  • Available Heated and Ventilated First and Second Row Captain's Chairs

  • Available Real Wood Trim

  • Available 12.3-inch Infotainment Screen

  • Full Digital Gauge Cluster

  • Available 21-inch Diamond-cut Wheels

  • Also Launching Mazda's Latest Takuminuri Color: Artisan Red

Starting Pricing

  • Turbo

    • Select: $39,595

    • Preferred: $43,335

    • Preferred Plus: $45,900

    • Premium: $48,900

    • Premium Plus: $52,950

  • PHEV

    • Preferred: $47,445

    • Premium: $52,900

    • Premium Plus: $56,950

  • Turbo S

    • Turbo S: $51,750

    • Premium: $56,450

    • Premium Plus: $59,950

CX-90 Seating Configurations:

8-SEATER is 2/3/3 with second and third-row bench seats

STANDARD ON: CX-90 3.3 Turbo Select, Preferred, and Preferred Plus and CX-90 PHEV Preferred

7-SEATER is 2/2/3 with second-row captains chairs with a center pass-through

STANDARD ON: CX-90 3.3 Turbo Premium and Premium Plus and CX-90 PHEV Premium and Premium Plus

AVAILABLE ON: CX-90 3.3 Turbo Preferred, Preferred Plus and CX-90 PHEV Preferred

7-SEATER is 2/3/2 with second-row bench seats and more contoured third row

STANDARD ON: CX-90 3.3 Turbo S

6-SEATER is 2/2/2 with second-row captain chairs with center console and more contoured third row

STANDARD ON: CX-90 3.3 Turbo S Premium and Premium Plus

AVAILABLE ON: CX-90 3.3 Turbo S

***This video is sponsored by***

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2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV:

2024 Mazda CX-90 Turbo S:

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