The all-new CX-90 is a three-row crossover that replaces the CX-9 in the Mazda lineup. Mazda are also said to be planning a new 6 sedan using the new platform. On the CX-90, two engines, an inline six turbo with a 48 volt mild hybrid system and a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) that combines the efforts of a 2.5L four and an electric motor, are available. The sole transmission offered is an eight-speed automatic created in-house that uses a wet clutch (but not a dual-clutch system) instead of the torque converter.
Compared with the discontinued CX-9, the CX-90 is built on a 190 mm (7.5 inch) longer wheelbase, and is 55 mm (2.2 inches) longer, 58 mm (2.3 inches) wider and marginally higher.
The inline six engine format, long-abandoned for packaging reasons on front-wheel drive based cars and crossovers, seems to be making a comeback. Over the past few years, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Stellantis and now Mazda, have released new engines using this very traditional layout. The turbocharged 3.3L inline six also features a 48 volt mild hybrid system and is rated at 280 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque on the GS, GS-L and GT trims, and 340 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque on the GT-P and Signature models. Power output of the base engine is unimpressive considering the extreme over-complexity it imposes on the buyer. The CX-90 is also available as a PHEV which combines the efforts of a normally-aspirated 2.5L four and a 62 kW electric motor to create 323 combined system horsepower, 369 lb-ft of torque and 37 kilometers of all-electric range. The electric motor on the PHEV variant is sandwiched between the inline-mounted gas engine and the transmission. The CX-90 PHEV can be charged from 20 percent to 80 percent in 6.4 hours on a Level 1 charger and 1.3 hours hooked up to a Level 2 charger. All-wheel drive is standard and power reaches the wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission in all cases.
|Vehicle tested||2024 Mazda CX-90 GT Turbo MHEV|
|Body Style||Crossover vehicle|
|Engine||3.3L turbocharged inline six with mild hybrid system|
|MSRP Spread||3.3L: $45,900 – $63,300|
|Price as Tested||3.3L GT: $55,350|
|NRCan combined fuel economy||9.3L/100 km|
|Observed fuel economy||12L/100 km|
The front of the CX-90 displays a very Mazda grille underlined by a chrome chinstrap that become turn-signal-incorporating winglets that meet the rounded-corner cube-shaped headlights. Under the headlights are the fascia piercings that have become an almost mandatory styling accent in our time, but they are more subtle than most. The lower front fascia is underscored by an air intake with a striking chrome trim element at its base. The side profile is visually calm and uses shape rather than surface busyness to create a visual tension that is very elegant. The shape of the car and its stance actually telegraph the fact that the car is built on rear-wheel drive architecture. There are some interesting styling flourishes like the chrome strip at the bottom of the rear doors with the Mazda name pressed into it. About the only styling miscue is the superfluous black plastic plugs that are inserted into the upper front fenders. The tail of the CX-90 is as elegant and finely drawn as the rest of the car.
The cabin is very traditional and mostly elegant. The driver faces Mazda’s ubiquitous gauge package with a TFT speedometer flanked by conventional instruments, a tachometer on the left and a combined gas and temperature readout on the right. The climate control is operated by a plethora of physical buttons which are at the bottom of the dash centre stack. Fan speed, distribution and recirculation are all the same size and not that easy to distinguish from each other. The physical buttons are appreciated compared with the screen-based controls on many cars, but having the fan speed as a different colour or slightly different size than the other buttons would be useful. Temperature adjustments are handled by toggles for both front occupants, and there is an auto climate toggle on the driver’s side. A medium size shallow screen is propped up on the dash. The low height of the screen restricts the view when reversing. The infotainment system is controlled by a large rotary control mounted on the centre console. The wheel is surrounded by four buttons which access the various functions. The on-off volume knob for the audio system is located to the right of the buttons. Reviews on the roto-wheel system are mixed, but some prefer the apparatus over a touch screen as it is easier to manipulate while driving. The sound from the Bose branded audio system is unimpressive. Though the glazed area of the dual-panel sunroof is substantial, the actual opening part of the sunroof is miniscule.
The driver’s door window switch panel and the interior door handle are awkwardly placed, which is odd, as there is lots of acreage on the door to place things more appropriately. There is a massively wide and tall centre console, way beyond what is necessary, which reduces space for front occupants — that’s disappointing in such a large vehicle. There are two cupholders to the right of the shifter; they’re a stretch for the driver. The shifter is very odd. Instead of being at the top of the PRNDL, Park is off to the left, with the rest of the PRNDL being on its own plain. There is a medium-size open bin in front of the shifter, which has a wireless cellphone charging pad. The front door trims are punctuated by large door bins but the storage bin under the console armrest is small. The cabin trim is generally attractive but there are a few gaffs. The expansive alloy-look trim panels on the doors and centre console bear a painted pattern that looks busy and is not to all tastes. The dash top and the vertical portions of the dash bear pebble grain finishes; too bad that they don’t match.
As in a number of other Mazdas, the seats of the CX-90 are, on first meeting, very firm. That said, the occupants and the seats somehow accommodate to one another and the seats end up being acceptably comfortable after a few days. The driver’s seat is multi-adjustable but some drivers could not find an ideal position for themselves. The middle row captain seats on our GT test car were supportive enough and legroom is reasonable but not as generous as the XXXL nature of the car would suggest. The third-row seat itself is substantial but legroom is tight.
With a turbo and a 48 volt mild hybrid system, the 3.3L inline six powering our GT tester is a fiendishly complex way to generate 280 horsepower. The engine is very quick and willing and moves the car along with sufficient alacrity. And while the engine is mechanically smooth, a hallmark of the inline six format, the intrusive exhaust system squanders the potential refinement available.
The eight-speed automatic transmission of our GT tester must have a “learning curve” when it encounters a new driver. On first drive, shifts were a bit rough with the one-to-two shift being quite harsh. That said, after a few days, shifting improved markedly. The transmission is very active, especially as you slow, where the transmission downshifts itself and it responds instantly if you request a lower gear.
Steering is nicely weighted and geared and transmits some road surface information to the driver.
Handling is crisp and reassuring with little lean evident during normal driving.
The 21 inch wheels shod with 275/45/21 tires are attractive, but the tires are more suited to a sports car than a family hauler. The CX-90’s ride is very firm, bordering on harsh over major bumps, and could be much improved with a more forgiving 55 or 65 aspect ratio tire without any practical diminishment of handling.
Braking is strong, with good pedal feel and no lost motion.
Fuel economy of 12L/100 km is not bad for a gigantic, heavy, quick crossover, but there really doesn’t seem to be a payback for the super-complex and unproven 48 volt mild hybrid system.
There is a GS trim variant of the CX-90 listed in the catalogue but it won’t be available until the fall, if it actually makes the scene at all. The least-expensive model currently available is the GS-L. It adds second-row captain chairs, a dual-panel sunroof, a foot-gesture-operated tailgate, rear parking sonar and wireless cellphone charging, at a bargain price. The GT model adds leather seating, 21 inch wheels (up from 18), a 360 degree camera system, Head Up display, front parking sonar, traffic sign recognition, auto dim driver’s door mirror, navigation, a Bose-branded audio system, garage door opener, heated middle row seats and a number of minor items, and is good value. The GT-P upgrade includes Nappa leather seating, an eight-way power passenger seat, with a memory system, ventilated front seats and 60 extra horsepower, at a reasonable price. Moving up to the range topping Signature trim includes a power-adjustable steering wheel, a junction-turning intervention system, a larger 12.3 inch centre screen and genuine wood trim, but is significantly overpriced. The 2024 CX-90 GT is a good lease value if you elect to acquire your vehicle in that way.
The concept of the new CX-90; rear-wheel drive based architecture, powered by an inline six, is novel and intriguing. While steering and handling are very pleasant, the ride is hampered by the odd choice of sports car-like 275/45/21 tires, overly stiff suspension settings and an intrusive exhaust system that disturbs the serenity expected of an expensive crossover. Mazda could certainly address the refinement and ride issues exhibited in our GT tester without too much effort or delay, resulting in a much improved vehicle.