2024 Mazda CX-90 Review: A Good Alternative to Luxury SUVs
The Mazda CX-90 is the brand’s new three-row crossover, and it’s the clearest signal yet of the automaker’s intention to move upmarket. Mazda has gone in a different direction than brands like Toyota or Honda, long considered its direct competitors, to build a vehicle that BMW, Mercedes, Acura, Audi, and other luxury brand buyers should consider. Not only is it considerably less expensive than similarly equipped models from those brands, but in many cases it’s better to drive.
This is not just a facelift of the current CX-9, either. The CX-90 is totally new, with a new platform, new straight-six engine, and a mild-hybrid system among other developments. There’s also a plug-in hybrid model that combines a four-cylinder engine with an electric motor and 17.8 kWh battery.
The CX-90 is a compelling entry in the big crossover class, with specs and prices that should make Honda and BMW shoppers alike take notice.
All of it. The CX-90 rides on Mazda’s new longitudinal architecture, which allows the brand to fit its first straight-six engine, which is combined with its first mild-hybrid system. There’s also the plug-in hybrid model, which is another first from the brand.
The interior is a notable step up from the CX-9 it will eventually replace, with our S Premium Plus test vehicle making creative use of fabrics and materials to create a premium environment.
Brand new and smooth straight-six engine.
Value, value, value.
Some expected features are missing.
Start-stop calibration needs some work.
Massive in every direction.
Performance, Engine & Horsepower
The CX-90 can be had as a straight-six with a mild hybrid system or as a full-on plug-in hybrid. The plug-in has 323 hp, while the turbocharged straight-six has 280 or 340 hp, depending on trim level.
The straight-six in our test car was the 340 hp version, and it was more than adequate to move the large, nearly 5000-lb SUV quickly off the line. Passing in traffic is effortless. The engine is happiest in middle of the rev range, as it can become gutless as redline approaches. It’s linked to an eight-speed automatic of Mazda’s own design, with wet clutches performing quick, nearly seamless shifts.
The start-stop system did balk a few times from a quick stop, making for a jerky getaway. But the CX-90's engine provides an overall smooth experience. It felt slightly less refined than a straight-six from Mercedes or BMW, but considerably more high-end than the V-6s and turbocharged four-cylinder engines in so many other crossovers.
Features & Specs
It might be easier to talk about what our S Premium Plus test car didn’t have. This is an extremely well equipped car, with multi-zone climate control, heated and cooled seats, a heated steering wheel, two 12.3 inch displays, CarPlay and Android Auto, cross traffic and blind spot alerts, and more.
Thing is, it’s missing a few key features that you’d think would be a given, especially in a car that can cost $60,000+. The proximity unlock only works on the front doors, not the rear. The center screen locks out touch functionality on the move. And while the center controller is intuitive and easy to use, CarPlay is easier to use with touch and Mazda’s menus tend to take a few more steps than you’d want to just change a radio station.
Finally, the instrument display lacks some reconfiguration options, like the ability to add a numerical speedometer. Minor gripes, but at this price level and in this class of vehicle, they should be standard.
Over the duration of our time with the car in the city and on the highway, the CX-90 averaged about 24 mpg. Fine, but also not great. The hybrid would surely do better.
Mazdas are typically among the best cars to drive in their class, and the CX-90 is no exception. For a car that’s more than 200 inches long, it drives much smaller. Steering is nicely weighted, perhaps a bit too heavy, and feels direct. It rides well, though the large 21-inch wheels on this test car did make the ride slightly crashy on more abrupt imperfections, like small potholes and expansion joints.
Minor quibbles. The new engine is smooth and has a throaty sound; though it never feels quick or fast, it’s more than enough to get this truck up to speed without any chance of holding up traffic. If the BMW X7 is the best-driving large SUV, the CX-90 is a close second.
CX-90 pricing starts at $40,970, which is comparable to the CX-9, but runs all the way up to $62,000+ for the top trim with all the options. That’s a new level of price for Mazda, but that’s still about $20,000 less than the starting price of the BMW X7. Something to think about.
A lovely place to spend some time. While other manufacturers have been getting rid of buttons, Mazda has kept them, and it’s better for it. The interior feels modern, uncluttered, and easy to use. It’s BMW iDrive-style controller in the center console is intuitive, though it does take a few more steps to perform some simple tasks than it should.
Our top-trim S Premium Plus test car made use of some excellent materials, like suede on the dash and door cards, but if you have a small child consider a trim with less interesting materials. If your kid gets peanut butter or something else sticky on that alcantara, you’ll never get it out.
The ride quality on the highway and around town is excellent, and the seats are well bolstered and highly adjustable. Trims with the larger 21-inch wheels will be a bit crashier over smaller bumps and imperfections, but not to a level that should make you consider another car.
While it doesn’t have the most advanced cruise control or driver assistance aids, the CX-90 does have blind spot warning, front and rear cross traffic alerts, a 360 camera and front and rear cameras, as well as a heads up display. There’s also wireless CarPlay and Android Auto.
Mazdas aren’t known for having the largest interiors, but the CX-90 aims to fix that with its wider, longer platform. The space with the third-row folded is simply massive, and even with it in place it’s enough for a full grocery haul, luggage, or a little of both. With both second and third rows folded, total cargo volume is 75.2 cubic feet.
It has everything you’d expect, and even knee and side curtain airbags. There’s also lane keep assist, blind spot warning, cameras, braking assist, and more.
Mazda has divided the CX-90 into eight trims across its straight-six powered variants with a further three for the plug-in hybrid. Our choice would be the S, which starts at $53,125. This trim gets the 340-hp version of the straight-six and is well equipped otherwise. What it eschews in higher end materials, tech, and luxury from the S Premium Plus, it makes up in price.
The CX-90 is a big deal for Mazda, and a big bet that the brand can be embraced as a more premium offering. Mazda has been heading this way for a long time, but now, with the new platform and engine, it finally has the tools to make an upmarket move a reality. This is an alternative to both volume and luxury SUVs that deserves consideration.
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