Saturday, May 25, 2024
Reviews2024 Mazda CX-90 : one step closer

2024 Mazda CX-90 : one step closer

  • The CX-90 is the brand’s most powerful model in the brand’s history.

  • The drivetrains are more refined in this new model.

  • The most expensive trims are flirting with some luxury 3-rwo crossovers.


 

San Francisco, CA – The three-row crossover category has been quietly evolving over the past few seasons. Consumers who see these alternatives to the traditional minivan as a sportier option are snapping them up, despite the inflation that has plagued the auto industry these past few months.

There’s even a new trend with the appearance of purely electric vehicles, but also models with increased dimensions – the new Toyota Grand Highlander, for example – while others prefer to use the fun-to-drive route, like the CX-9 from Mazda for instance.

2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV GT | Photo: Vincent Aubé

But for the past few seasons, the Japanese manufacturer has been looking to raise its status, a philosophy that started off with the CX-9 and its Signature trim, which stood out with its real wood trim in the cabin. The brand’s largest vehicle will be replaced by the CX-90, a model that, according to Mazda, promises to deliver a little more to the driver.

Freshly unveiled just a few weeks ago in California, Mazda invited the automotive press to this first contact with Mazda’s most imposing vehicle. Here’s what we learned from our drive in the San Francisco area.

The Mazda CX-90, a prestige SUV?

To achieve their goals, the Hiroshima strategists were inspired by what already exists in Germany for example. Indeed, with this RWD “Large Platform” architecture, driving pleasure is clearly the priority, a bit like what is currently offered at BMW.

The CX-90, with its longitudinally mounted powertrain, is aimed at a clientele that places a certain importance on this aspect, but what about the status of this big three-row Mazda? Can a vehicle from a mainstream brand like Mazda really play in the same segment as brands like Mercedes-Benz or Audi, to name a few?

 

 

2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV GT | Photo: Vincent Aubé

It’s true that on the surface, the CX-90 does a bit more than the popular CX-5. The chromed panels at the base of the doors with the letters M-A-Z-D-A are a good example of this and fit in quite well with this clean design. The side windows are those of a large wagon, and they don’t resemble any other utility vehicle from Mazda. The front grille, made of glossy black plastic, is also slanted forward.

The headlight clusters are narrower than what we’ve come to expect from the company over the years. At the back, the two stretched taillights reveal a more mature design. With 21-inch wheels (Mazda also offers 18- and 19-inch wheels in less expensive models), the crossover looks ready to take on the world like a large sports wagon. The “rugged” look isn’t really its thing.

2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV GT | Photo: Vincent Aubé

I must admit that the build quality and the more mature design convinced me. In fact, it would be interesting to do a blind test with this new Mazda crossover. Would consumers be seduced by this same vehicle if it had a more prestigious badge?

So, yes, if you take away the badge in the center of the grille, the CX-90 does look like a luxury crossover. But consumers can’t be fooled; the Mazda brand is not there yet… and may never reach such a status!

A more serious interior

At the introduction of the CX-9 in 2016, we already felt this desire to enhance the brand’s image, but with this new chapter – Mazda has high hopes for this Large platform for the upcoming CX-90 and CX-70, as well as models for other markets (CX-60 and CX-80) -, we can feel that the overall quality has gone up a notch.

The dashboard, for example, already features a larger central screen (12.3 inches vs. 10.25 inches on the outgoing model), while the information screen behind the steering wheel is also fully digital on the Signature model we tested in the morning or on this GT PHEV model. Note, however, that the more affordable models receive smaller screens, respectively 7 inches behind the steering wheel and 10.25 inches in the middle.

 

2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV GT | Photo: Vincent Aubé

Contrary to the current trend of implementing a large panel with two screens, Mazda is taking a more traditional approach, with this central screen installed higher up on the dash and accessible via this knob on the center console.

On that note, I find it more difficult to navigate through the menus with this wheel than simply touching a screen with your fingers to choose an option. Around that big circular button, there are other shortcut buttons, but let’s just say it’s not the most user-friendly infotainment system. I also struggled with the built-in navigation system, which I found too slow to respond at times. I even missed two highway exits in the morning alone.

And while there are still a few hints of Mazda’s modest past – some of the buttons feel cheap – the on-board experience is clearly plusher, if only by the feel of the material covering the dashboard, Mazda offering that faux-suede fabric, or even this other embroidered fabric. There are also chrome components and even maple wood, while the Nappa leather that covers the seats is beautifully crafted. In fact, I even found the front row seats to be very comfortable.

2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV GT | Photo: Vincent Aubé

The CX-90 is available with six, seven or eight seats, depending on the version. In the six-seat version, a central armrest gives passengers the opportunity to relax a little more, while the option to heat your passengers’ behinds is another plus. All the way to the back, however, the CX-90 still offers an extra bench seat for young children at best. I was able to squeeze in, but space is tight. Mind you, this is the case with other three-row crossovers too.

Mild hybrid or plug-in hybrid?

So far, the new CX-90 doesn’t stand out much from the competition, but with three power levels available under the hood, the crossover may have more arguments to convince those who are sensitive to driving pleasure.

It should be noted, however, that the base turbocharged 6-cylinder engine was not available during our visit to California. However, we were able to try the version equipped with the same engine, but more powerful, the one nicknamed “High output” with its 340 horsepower and 369 ft-lb of torque.

2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV GT | Photo: Vincent Aubé

The 3.3-liter block gives the CX-90 the title of the most powerful vehicle in the brand’s history, the engine that can also run on regular gasoline, although the more economical fuel lowers the SUV’s power level to 319 hp, which is already way more than what its predecessor offered (250 hp or 227 hp on regular gasoline). The new 6-cylinder also teams up with a 48-volt mild hybrid system that brings in a small electric motor to help at lower rpms where ICE engines aren’t very fuel efficient.

The other option for the consumer who wants a more electrified vehicle is the plug-in hybrid CX-90, which uses the same powertrain as the CX-60 we drove last year in Europe. Under the hood, there’s a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine coupled with a more powerful electric motor and a battery capable of supporting the latter (17.8 kWh) over a slightly longer distance, 42 km (or 26 miles) in this case.

This range in electric mode is not very impressive. And you must be careful not to press the energy conservation/electric mode button, right next to the driving mode lever. I learned this the hard way, as the vehicle ran in EV mode for a few miles before I realized how much energy had been wasted.

Power output from this powertrain is 323 horsepower and 369 ft-lb of torque, while the plug-in model weighs a bit more than the 6-cylinder model.

Regardless of which version you choose, the CX-90 is, like other vehicles in its class, a heavy crossover. In the sharp turns of the San Francisco area, the CX-90 did well, but not without some difficulty. Let’s just say that the weight of the CX-90 should not be forgotten.

On the other hand, acceleration is very linear, especially in the 6-cylinder engine version, the mill delivering a nice tone as a bonus. The performance of the eight-speed automatic transmission is also very good, with gear changes being quite efficient… in sporty driving. In the city, the automatic unit was more hesitant in the heavy traffic of the Californian city.

By comparison, the plug-in hybrid model doesn’t offer as much fun, with the 4-cylinder engine feeling rougher when the right foot is planted into the floor.  And the fuel economy argument isn’t sharp enough either, with Mazda estimating an average of 9.4 L/100 km for its new PHEV model when only the combustion engine is running. The combined average is 4.2 Le/100 km, but with a range of only 42 km, the CX-90 doesn’t offer as much distance as some compact crossovers and plug-in hybrids. The two power levels of the straight-six model averages 9.3 L and 9.5 L for the High Output version. Note that in Sport mode, these fuel consumption ratings will be higher.

Conclusion

One thing is clear: Mazda is aiming higher with this new CX-90. The mechanicals are more refined and less energy consuming. The handling is also richer, although there’s still room for improvement. The weight affects the vehicle’s agility, a detail that plagues all these large family-oriented crossovers. Then again, with the help of the engineers, the CX-90 has just established itself as the sportiest of its group.

As for the question of its status as a luxury SUV, we’ll have to wait and see how the consumers react to this new CX vehicle. There will certainly be a clientele interested int those more expensive trims, but some families might look at the less expensive options, and that’s good news for households that don’t want to spend more than $60,000 on a roomy SUV.

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