Any car can be a driver’s car. Size, weight, number of doors, or even seats do not limit a manufacturer from building a satisfying thing to drive. Look no further than the 2024 Mazda CX-90 for evidence.
Here we have a 17-foot long family CUV with seating for up to 8 that nevertheless engages the driver, delivers positive responses to inputs, and maintains a good balance between the front and rear axle. The new Mazda CX-90 is a driver’s car – well, a driver’s crossover, technically, but you get it.
|2024 Mazda CX-90 3.3 Turbo S Premium Plus
|Turbocharged, 3.3-liter I6
|340 Horsepower / 369 Pound-Feet
|23 City / 28 Highway / 25 Combined MPG
|15.9 / 40.1 / 75.2 Cubic Feet
|$39,595 + $1,375 Destination
Gallery: 2024 Mazda CX-90
Making The CX-9 Look Smallish
How? Look at the fundamentals. Mazda started with a large, new-for-North America, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive–based platform. From there, the Japanese brand mounted the powertrain longitudinally, or front to back, under the hood to better balance the weight between the front and rear axle, as opposed to putting upwards of 60 percent of the weight in front.
All the engines offered have an inline layout, which makes them narrower. That allows for more space on either side of it to install a double-wishbone front suspension, which is a superior arrangement for handling. But it’s a big departure from the outgoing Mazda CX-9, which the CX-90 replaces. The CX-9, just like most of its mainstream competitors, used a transversely mounted, front-wheel-drive–based setup, which has the aforementioned front axle weight problem, among other things.
The CX-90 also eclipses the CX-9 in every dimension. It stretches an additional 1.4 inches nose to tail, now 200.8, and stands a bit taller and wider. But the biggest difference comes from a 7.5-inch-longer wheelbase, now 122.8 inches. That’s longer than a Chevrolet Tahoe, let alone the CX-9 or the new Honda Pilot.
Three Ways to Go
More good comes from what’s under the hood. Mazda built three new powertrains to accompany the new platform. Or two new powertrains with three outputs between them, anyway. A turbocharged 3.3-liter inline-six comprises both the base and top engine of the CX-90. Using the same hardware, the base engine receives a different tune to run on regular fuel, peaking at 280 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 323 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm. It’s called 3.3 Turbo.
Add an S to the name and Mazda adds 60 horsepower too. The top 3.3 Turbo S makes 340 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque at the same engine speeds, but only if you also add premium fuel to the tank. The Turbo S will run fine on regular fuel, but peak horsepower drops to 319.
Both inline-six engines get help from a 44.4-volt electric motor setup, making them mild-hybrids. Instead of adding to the peak output, the electric motor provides 17 horsepower and 113 lb-ft of torque at very low engine speeds to widen the range of pull and help squeeze a bit more fuel economy as well. The base Turbo 3.3 manages 24 miles per gallon in the city, 28 on the highway, 25 combined, while the Turbo S nearly matches that with 23 mpg in the city.
But if you want to maximize fuel economy, Mazda's very first plug-in-hybrid system (PHEV) sits between the base 3.3 Turbo and the 3.3 Turbo S. Engineers tied an electric motor to a naturally -aspirated 2.5-liter inline-four, which makes 189 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 192 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm on its own.
Working together, they generate 323 horsepower and, just like the 3.3 Turbo S, 369 lb-ft of torque. Underneath the floor lies a 17.8-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, which provides 26 miles of driving range without a whiff of exhaust from the tailpipe. All in all, you get 56 mpge combined when you start with a full battery and 25 mpg combined once the battery drains.
Regardless of the engine under the hood, the transmission mounted behind it is an eight-speed automatic that foregoes a torque converter, using a wet-clutch pack instead. Mazda built this gearbox in house, intentionally making it long and slender to give plenty of space for the pedal box by the driver. Also regardless of engine, it sends power to all four wheels. Every CX-90 is AWD.
CX-90s can also lug up to 5,000 pounds with the Towing pack and six-cylinder engine, which is competitive in the class. Without it, that figure sits at 3,500 pounds. The PHEV maxes out at 3,500 pounds.
Check Out These Moves
On the open highways traveling out of San Francisco toward Sonoma wine country, Mazda offered up its two top powertrains for me to try. And, while the way the PHEV and 3.3 Turbo S deliver performance differs widely, the amount of it doesn’t. Mazda’s very first plug-in hybrid falls just 17 horsepower short of that top dog Turbo S. It’s genuinely quick.
From a standstill, stab the accelerator and all that electric torque immediately presses your back into the seat as all four wheels drive the CX-90 forward. Despite wet conditions from an atmospheric river, the CX-90 bolted off with nary any wheel slip. From there, it shifts quickly through its gears and charges you up to interstate speeds in no time. You even get a respectable snarl from the 2.5-liter engine.
Pull the same move in a 3.3 Turbo S and, thanks to the mild hybrid setup, it launches just like the PHEV; good pull right off the line, unrelenting until you lift off the throttle. And, ultimately, it’s quicker too. After all, it does edge out the PHEV on horsepower and it doesn’t lug around that big battery either, making it some 350 pounds lighter. But the biggest difference when you bury the throttle is the smooth hum of six cylinders working in naturally balanced harmony.
Fortunately, heading into Sonoma included quite a few curved roads winding through the countryside. And here the CX-90 separates itself from the mainstream competition. Even in wet driving conditions, feel comes through the steering wheel better than most cars, let alone three-row crossover SUVs. The balanced chassis keeps both body roll and understeer to a minimum.
Chuck it into a corner, and the front end reacts immediately with the rear end quickly following suit. And with rear-biased all-wheel drive, playing with the throttle to make micro adjustments as you approach the apex works dandy. The CX-90 willingly and dutifully transitions left to right as you wish and maintains remarkably good body control along the way, especially considering you don’t have adjustable shock absorbers to firm up in the sport drive mode.
Despite efforts to give the CX-90 some sporting intentions, it still handles life’s bumps and lumps just fine. Mind you, this is stiffer than some of its competition, but I personally found it plenty compliant over rough patches of pavement and surefooted throughout.
After all, the driver seat provides plenty of plushness, support, and adjustment to find a comfortable driving position. I personally appreciate the adjustable lumbar support to give my lower back a bit of extra support. If you happen to sit in the second row, the experience is much the same, at least that’s true in the captain’s chairs equipped in both of my test cars.
Furthermore, Mazda isolated the cabin well from outside road and wind noise. Your ear catches some low decibel buffeting here and there, but no whistles around the sideview mirrors or moonroof, everything sealed nicely. And the tires kept quiet, even at interstate speeds.
Classy, Almost Premium Looks
Moreover, the chassis hauls around a new, clean body that simultaneously looks consistent with the Mazda brand and befits a more premium level crossover. Unlike the CX-9, the CX-90 has its front wheels pushed out right to the front corners of the car, as a long, gently sloping hood makes its way to the windshield. From there, the full presence of the CX-90 reveals itself. Using as few lines as possible, the body flows rearward. In back, the curves all meet gracefully.
Inside, the CX-90 offers more space than its predecessor, but not by huge margins. You get a total of 141.6 cubic feet of passenger space instead of 135.0. But reality sets in when looking at the Honda Pilot, which offers at least 155 cubic feet of space and nearly 160 cubic feet in the base trim.
And with the second and third row folded, the Pilot offers more than 110 cubic feet of storage space, versus 75.2 in the CX-90. After all, front-drive–based crossovers do not drive as well, but they are much more space efficient. The difference in cargo space shrinks with the second row to 40.1 cubic feet, and with all three rows up, 15.9. Generally speaking and like the CX-9 that came before, Mazda still lags behind its mainstream competition.
That’s not to say it's cramped. The first two rows offer plenty of space for adults, even for long haul journeys. But while the third row is easy to access with the second row seat moved forward, the low seat bottom makes it more suitable for kids and merely adequate for adults.
All The Variants
Generally speaking, Mazda built a beautiful interior space with a nice feel and plenty of shoulder and hip room. All the switchgear is well laid out. And there are independent switches and dials for audio power and volume, climate control settings, and the rest. Thankfully, Mazda didn’t succumb to the pressure of making everything haptic touch on the touchscreen.
It’s also well-appointed. Base CX-90s get a 10.3-inch center touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as two benches in the second and third row to seat up to eight, with plenty of USB ports and cup holders scattered throughout. And for the safety conscious, you also get 10 standard airbags and the i-Activsense suite of driving aids. Mazda’s set of active safety and driver assistance includes includes adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, and driver attention alert.
That’s the $40,970 (including $1,375 destination) Mazda CX-90 3.3 Turbo Select. From there, amenities and price quickly increase as you move up to Preferred, Preferred Plus, Premium, and Premium Plus trims. By then you’re in a vehicle with a 12.3-inch touchscreen with wireless phone connectivity and charging, a nice big head-up display, heated and ventilated front chairs, and heated second row captain’s seats.
And there’s room to grow from there. There are a total of 11 variants of CX-90s after all. Switching to the PHEV powertrain costs at least $48,820 (including destination) and starts at the Preferred level; from there you get a Premium and Premium Plus. Or decide you want all 340 horsepower, get the 3.3 Turbo S, and spend at least $53,125. Or keep spending, there are two more luxurious versions.
With the top engine, going Premium Plus costs $61,325 (including destination) and transforms the CX-90 into a proper, premium SUV competitor. It seats seven has heated and ventilated first and second rows; and gets genuine wood trim, Nappa leather on the seats, and a suede-like tan material with stitching and piping. Fancy.
Sporty Driving Comes With A Price
Clearly Mazda knocked the CX-90 out of the park for the well-to-do driving enthusiast with a family. You get a high-quality powertrain, preferred chassis configuration, and a brilliantly tuned machine to have fun, even with several folks along for the ride.
The big question is, how many of those well-to-do driving enthusiasts with families are out there? Because you also get noticeably less room inside and a much higher monthly payment too. The base price for the new Honda Pilot, for example, is $37,295. Even the top-of-the-line Pilot Elite, with similar levels of niceties, costs $53,375.
I certainly hope the CX-90’s shape lures enough buyers to the dealer. And that the PHEV powertrain with 26 miles of EV range attracts more. Because the CX-90 is a driver’s car crossover. One that could even create a few new driving fans. Come join us, future potential enthusiasts, the more the merrier!
CX-90 Competitor Reviews:
- Buick Enclave: Not Rated
- Chevrolet Traverse: 7.7 / 10
- Ford Explorer: Not Rated
- GMC Acadia: Not Rated
- Honda Pilot: 8.7 / 10
- Hyundai Palisade: 9.3 / 10
- Jeep Grand Cherokee L: 9.3 /10
- Kia Telluride: Not Rated
- Nissan Pathfinder: 9.2 / 10
- Subaru Ascent: Not Rated
- Toyota Highlander: 8.2 / 10
- Volkswagen Atlas: 7.5 / 10
2024 Mazda CX-90 3.3 Turbo S Premium Plus