Mazda has recently sent shockwaves among onlookers and those who have inquiring minds to uncover what the brand has been doing lately. Most of the moves from Mazda as of late have been ones that have shocked most in discovering near-luxury vehicles that have a sporty edge in the way they look and drive, which is a good thing to stand out in a crowded landscape full of mainstream SUVs that often get lost in translation.
One of the vehicles to help such a shocking movement for Mazda is the new CX-90, a 3-row seat crossover that replaces the CX-9 with a completely new platform that’s now rear-wheel-drive bias and overall elevates the standing for the brand as the flagship vehicle. The new CX-90 almost looks the part of a luxury SUV with its short front overhangs, long wheelbase, uniquely sculpted side body panels, and enlarged brand-signifying front facia and rear LED lighting. The Mazda CX-90 looks to be a force to reckon with in the highly competitive segment that it challenges.
Mazda has long been known for having a sportier attitude than its competition, and the new CX-90 is no different. However, with that sporty attitude, from its poised all-new powertrain to the weighted steering feeling, the CX-90 has a unique character that is all well, in my opinion, after spending a week with the large Mazda crossover.
The new CX-90 in its base version gets a 280-horsepower 3.3-liter turbocharged inline-6-cylinder with all trims having standard all-wheel-drive with a rear-wheel-drive bias from its longitudinal engine. My test vehicle, powered by a differently tuned turbocharged 3.3-liter inline-6-cylinder engine and a 48-volt mild hybrid system, the CX-90 in its top Turbo S Premium Plus trim, is a respectable performer with an 8-speed automatic transmission that feels very direct and hardly ever unnecessarily hunts for gears. With 340 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, the CX-90 moves well out on the road hitting 60 mph from a standstill in 6.3 seconds. Mazda does offer a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) model that gets 26 miles of all-electric range and touts 323 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. While the CX-90 PHEV is an enticing choice, the 3.3 Turbo S Premium Plus has just the right amount of punch for the size of this SUV.
Overall, the driving dynamics are excellent, with a welcomed stability feeling and weightiness of the steering, even though the steering feedback is mostly numb but offers up a bit more feedback than competitors in the same class. The turn-in and assured handling of the CX-90 all give you, as the driver, confidence at any legal speed. The only fault I find in the drivetrain is its slight harshness of the all-wheel-drive system combined with the unrefined roar of the engine at higher RPMs. Such sounds and a somewhat gear-grinding sensation under heavy acceleration take away from what is otherwise a serene and luxury-like driving sensation.
The braking feel is good, as is the ride quality, which does an excellent job in balancing the initial sporty flavor of the CX-90 and its plush side that soaks up most road imperfections, especially for a setup that uses fixed-rate dampers.
The use of the i-stop system, where the engine shuts off momentarily at a standstill to save fuel, seems to limit the air conditioner flow from getting stale or warm quickly as there’s a mild hybrid system to prolong those stops. Otherwise, out on the road, you’ll mostly match the EPA estimates of 23 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined. While premium fuel is recommended to fill the 19.6-gallon tank, use of regular fuel is possible, but you may have a decrease in power output. Mazda has not given specifics on how much of a power decrease you may have with use of regular grade unleaded fuel.
The interior of the new Mazda CX-90 is an inviting space, as there are many characteristics that make it feel like a legitimate luxury vehicle. There’s generous use of contrasting colors in my top-trim test vehicle utilizing different materials, such as quilted nappa leather seats with heating and ventilation for the front and second row and large swaths of suede interior trim throughout that may be prone to become visually dirty over time, but it sure looks good new. Mazda’s reach into the luxury segment is evident throughout the cabin, with up to 7-passenger seating if you opt for a second-row bench, or up to 8-passenger seating in the lower trims configurations. In my test vehicle’s trim configuration, you have two captain’s chairs with a center cup holder and armrest storage console, which all look the luxurious part with the accenting stitching.
Mazda went the distance to place the CX-90 on an upscale pedestal even though there are instances that the vehicle still reminds you of its mainstream position. The premium attributes communicate well into other aspects of the vehicle, including the digital gauge cluster and the use of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto integration connected wirelessly. The infotainment unit seems to still be a weaker point for the brand as the CX-90 in the upper trim level uses a 12.3-inch screen that isn’t a touchscreen unless you connect to your phone using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. I find it odd that Mazda continues with such a trick where you can use the unit as a touchscreen only for the phone integrations but not any of the vehicle features and functions, which leaves you to use the large control knob and function buttons located behind the shifter. After spending a while using the system, you later become familiar with the functions, but you must go through a slight learning curve, and then the system becomes somewhat simplistic. Otherwise, I wish Mazda would make the system a full touchscreen and have the redundancy of the physical controls. I do applaud Mazda for the angle placement of the wireless phone charging pad so your device doesn’t go flying to the floor upon hard acceleration.
Seating areas are generous, and the seats are comfy. With the premium and near-luxury theme, I would have liked to see thigh extenders on the front seats and maybe a massage function. However, the lack of those options are more reminders of where the CX-90 resides instead of fully encroaching into the luxury territory and having a higher price level. Still, you do get other items like manual sunshades for the second-row windows, a power tilt/telescoping heated steering wheel, and a 3-zone automatic climate control system.
The cargo area is a little on the smaller side, with 14.9 cubic feet behind the third row, but fold down the manual-folding seatbacks of the second and third rows, and you can open it up just over 74 cubic feet of cargo space, all accessed by a power liftgate.
Mazda bundles up all the typical active safety features across the board for all trim levels. However, there are some advanced features that are added to the 3.3 Turbo Premium trim and higher, which include emergency lane keeping with blind spot asset, road keep assist, head-on traffic avoidance assist, vehicle exit warning, front/rear parking sensors, and the ability of the radar cruise control to automatically set the speed based on reading speed limit signs. The 360-degree camera system is one safety item that only comes on the Premium Plus trim levels. I do like the option of bringing up the 360-degree camera system at any time, even when the vehicle is moving at speed.
The pricing for the new Mazda CX-90 is a good bargain starting at $39,595. Moving through the several trim levels, the pricing increases considerably, but the value is in the bundled features that each trim has instead of offering stand-alone options. Moving all the way up the chain to my top-trim CX90 3.3 Turbo Premium Plus test vehicle, you will look to spend $61,920, which includes a $1,375 delivery, processing and handling fee. Such a price nearly places the CX-90 into the luxury category, but you also get a near-luxury 3-row crossover that, in my opinion, drives better than any other vehicle in its mainstream segment.