|✓ Handsome styling||☓ The PHEV powertrain feels (and sounds) like it still needs work|
|✓ Turbo engine offers smooth, punchy power delivery||☓ Confusing trim walk, especially for the Turbo models|
|✓ Top-shelf driving dynamics, firm yet compliant ride||☓ $60K+ may be a bit too indulgent for some buyers|
|✓ PHEV offers commute-distance electric driving (but…)|
Overview: The 2024 Mazda CX-90 signals a whole new direction for the brand
Throughout the past several years, we’ve heard and seen Mazda’s upmarket ambition. For me, though, this SUV trumpets that goal louder than its predecessor ever did. This isn’t a reskin of the old CX-9 — we’re looking at a new platform with two new powertrain options, on top of next-generation styling and an impressive list of features that put it on a completely different level. The 2024 Mazda CX-90 is a big deal, as it aims to punch above its weight in the fiercely competitive world of three-row family haulers.
To successfully navigate this segment, it better be good. Fortunately, the on-paper figures are encouraging. Headlining the new CX-90 lineup is a 3.3-liter turbocharged inline-six engine, while Mazda also offers a plug-in hybrid variant (based on the 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G) for the first time. Both options are among the brand’s most potent powertrains to date, while the CX-90 finally brings in a more up-to-date, in-house designed 8-speed automatic transmission. As with all of Mazda’s crossovers these days, you also get standard i-Activ all-wheel drive across the lineup.
There’s also quite a bit of choice across the 2024 Mazda CX-90 lineup, for better or worse. Like other recent models including the CX-50, this car brings in the “Select, Preferred, Premium, Premium Plus” naming scheme, split across three engine configurations. A total of 8 trim levels exist for the six-cylinder model: Five for the less powerful ‘Turbo’ and three for the top-output ‘Turbo S’ versions. The remaining three are for the PHEV model, but you also have to choose from Preferred, Premium or Premium Plus.
All those options may overwhelm some folks, but it basically boils down to which engine you’d prefer, then how many features you want. The more words and letters tacked onto the name, the more expensive your CX-90 is going to be. Once you parse out the names, at least that’s all there is to it. The 2024 Mazda CX-90 won’t nickel and dime you with packages and standalone options, apart from the seating layout and OEM accessories.
Depending on which trim you buy, the new CX-90 is available in one of three seating configurations. The higher-end models offer six seats in a 2-2-2 configuration with more space for the third-row passengers. By and large, less expensive variants offer eight-passenger seating (2-3-3 with a second-row bench seat), while a seven-seater (2-2-3) configuration with captain’s chairs is a no-cost option on most trims.
What’s the CX-90 actually like to drive?
On waterlogged highways and back roads north of San Francisco, we tested both the 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV Premium Plus and the Turbo S Premium Plus. While the base models start off around $40,970 ($39,595 plus destination), these two top out right around $60,000. The top-of-the-line PHEV comes out to $58,325, while the Turbo S commands a price point of $61,325. At its core, you either get the 3.3-liter turbocharged inline-six or the 2.5-liter, 189 horsepower SkyActiv-G engine mated to a 17.8-kWh (gross capacity) battery pack offering an EPA estimated electric driving range around the mid-20-mile ballpark.
The CX-90 represents a fundamental shift from its forebear in terms of its platform and design, as well as its engines. This car rides on the brand’s new, rear-wheel drive-based large architecture. The 8-speed automatic transmission eschews a traditional torque converter for a wet multi-plate clutch setup, though it feels every bit as smooth in normal driving as I’d hoped. Mazda’s engineers designed the car this way, including a double-wishbone suspension setup, to improve the car’s dynamics. Rather than using a front-drive transaxle setup where the front wheels do most of the work with power delivery and steering, this approach offers up a pleasing feel through corners — it held on as hard as Kase and I dared push it on the soaked roads — whether you’re in the PHEV or the Turbo.
Against the old CX-9, this SUV packs a 7.5-inch longer wheelbase. It has a shorter front overhang than its predecessor, but a longer rear overhang. That puts the usable space right where it’s needed and where the CX-9 sorely lacked it: passenger and cargo space. Overall, the CX-90 is 1.4 inches longer, 0.6 inches taller and an inch wider than the car it replaces.
The six-pot comes in one of two outputs
If you do head over to Mazda’s retail site in researching the 2024 CX-90, you’ll see two power figures for the inline-six engine. The lower ‘Turbo’ models put out 280 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. Opt for the higher-end ‘Turbo S’, and you’ll get a boost in total output to 340 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. That makes this the automaker’s most powerful vehicle ever, though you will have to spend some money to get there.
Now, here’s the kicker: There’s no physical difference in the engine between the two models. You get the same displacement and engineers assured us that the entire 60 horsepower and 37 lb-ft of torque difference is entirely in software. That has me wondering if you could, in theory, reflash the ECU to get better power on the base models, though that’s obviously not something Mazda itself would sanction. Whichever output you get, the CX-90 Turbo/Turbo S’ EPA estimated fuel economy stands at 23 City / 28 Highway / 25 Combined mpg. That’s not bad for a non-hybrid, considering this is a three-row SUV.
The new six-cylinder makes better power overall and low-speed grunt by way of a 12.0:1 compression ratio (that’s massive for a turbocharged gas engine, and above the old SkyActiv-G’s already high 10.5:1) and a 48-volt mild-hybrid assist system. Mazda’s new turbocharged engine is as smooth as silk in its acceleration with almost no turbo lag, and it delivers a nice little growl to boot.
Selecting the more potent six-cylinder unit will offer up 5,000 pounds of possible towing capacity. That said, the PHEV still manages 3,500 pounds, which is a pretty respectable figure in its own right. If you’re looking to haul, though, you may want to lean toward the purely gas option.
To give you some finer control over that 8-speed gearbox, the 2024 Mazda CX-90 features three ‘Mi-Drive’ modes (the PHEV gets one extra for EV driving). Apart from Normal, you also get Sport and Off-Road. Interestingly, you don’t get shift paddles to row through the gears, nor do you even get the opportunity to do it through the shift lever. You just get a simple P-R-N-D setup.
Your Sport mode experience depends a bit on which powertrain you select. The gearbox will hold lower gears longer, as you’d expect, though the PHEV’s four-pot doesn’t seem quite as happy to be revved out as the inline-six. The on-paper performance is still there — the PHEV’s total output is 323 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque — but it didn’t feel quite as fun to push to its limit.
Mazda designed the plug-in hybrid so that the battery never drops below 20% of its usable capacity. You won’t see that as an end user, as the instrument cluster gauge represents what you can actually use before the gas engine kicks in. In a mixed driving test out of San Franciso and on the highways over the Bay Bridge and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge toward Sonoma, we managed to get 26.7 miles before the car cancelled its EV mode. That’s right on the money with the EPA estimates and a respectable amount for your daily commute. If you do run out of juice, though, the gas engine will kick in seamlessly so you always have full power when you want it.
If you do want to commute on electrons alone, Mazda says the PHEV will recharge on a Level 2 (240V) outlet in about 2 hours and 20 minutes. Plug it into your standard home outlet, and it’ll be more like 11 hours to charge it back up. There is no DC fast-charging capability.
The interior is positively luxurious, especially on the Turbo S
You would expect the 2024 Mazda CX-90 to be pretty nice at the top end, but the automaker has seriously upped its game this time around. The Turbo S Premium Plus is nothing short of fantastic inside, especially with the two-tone black and tan arrangement we tested out. On the higher trims, you also get a 12.3-inch infotainment display and a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. Lesser models, for their part, get a 10.3-inch infotainment screen and a 7.0-inch gauge cluster complementing analog dials. All 2024 Mazda CX-90 models come loaded with driver assistance tech, as well as proper hard button climate controls.
A few folks questioned the recessed screen in our initial video, where photos make it look like it sits below the dashboard trim. For those curious about that, it only hides the lower part of the bezel. From the driver’s seat, it does not cut off the bottom edge of the screen. It looks a bit odd because of the camera angle, but it’s perfectly usable without feeling like Mazda just plonked a screen on top of the center stack. That’s a criticism I certainly leveled at last-gen Mazdas, including the CX-9.
Other creature comforts include heated and ventilated seats — you even get those on the second-row, in top-end trims — a heated steering wheel, 360-degree surround view camera system (that’s so much better than older Mazdas!), a head-up display, a 12-speaker Bose stereo system and Nappa leather upholstery.
Verdict: The CX-90 is handsome, great to drive and offers more choice. What’s not to like?
“Phenomenal” is a word Kase repeatedly used to describe the 2024 Mazda CX-90. I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment (and not just because I’m TFL’s resident Mazda fanboy). It’s a great step forward for the brand and its efforts to take on premium marques at a more value-minded price.
Of course, some of you may still view Mazda as a mainstream brand, making the prospect of a $60,000-plus three-row family hauler a tough sell. After all, the sales leader in the class the CX-90 ostensibly competes with, the Toyota Highlander, is available for nearly $10,000 less in its range-topping Platinum trims, whether you get the gas model or the hybrid. Still, we feel Mazda’s latest family hauler is a great car in its own right, though we’ll see whether people can look past the badge when sales figures begin rolling in.
As for which 2024 Mazda CX-90 to buy, if you’re interested: We’d both recommend going for the inline-six Turbo/Turbo S. Unless you can really leverage the EV driving capability all the time, it isn’t that much more efficient (EPA estimates put it around the same 24-25 mpg). While the PHEV can deliver the power just fine, it just doesn’t feel as smooth or refined as the fantastic 3.3-liter mill.
The 2024 Mazda CX-90 will hit dealerships in the next few weeks, and all powertrain options will be available from launch.
Check out more on Mazda’s latest SUV in our walkaround, driving review and interviews with the powertrain engineering team below: