Well, this isn’t an MX-5 Miata, although the all-new 2024 Mazda CX-90 looms large enough to seem as if it could carry one.
Welcome the replacement for the 2023 Mazda CX-9, a rather large SUV meant to do battle with a thicket of three-row competition from the Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Kia Telluride, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander and Volkswagen Atlas.
Like the Kia Telluride, the CX-90 is a vehicle with upscale aspirations. For Kia, this is a new affectation; for Mazda it is not. The Hiroshima-based automaker has long produced vehicles that punched above their weight, possessing a certain something that endows their cars with upmarket aura. Certainly, this is no accident, as the new CX-90 has standard rear-wheel-biased all-wheel drive and an inline six-cylinder engine. If this sounds vaguely German, well, at least you understand what Mazda aims to undercut.
But the Mazda stakes its own claim stylistically, with designers choosing refinement over ruggedness. There’s no mock allusion to off-roading, as most SUVs go no farther off-road than the driveway where they’re parked. The CX-90’s sleek urbanity honestly represents what it is: a three-row, eight-passenger all-weather conveyance. Its cabin is lined with sophisticated finishes, such as the suede finish across the instrument panel and ambient interior lighting.
But this cabin is vast, with more room than you’d ever expect from Mazda. The top-of-the-line test model features second-row captain's chairs that prove comfortable with more than enough legroom. By contrast, the front row seems claustrophobic for such a massive Mazda, as the center console is inconveniently wide. But its sides are padded where your legs rest, which is a much-appreciated touch. I did not have a chance, or the inclination, to try the third row. But the 14.9-cubic-foot cargo hold is impressive, and expands to more than 74 cubic feet with both rows folded.
If there’s any place that the 2024 Mazda CX-90 proves disappointing, it is the corporate infotainment system, long a Mazda Achilles Heel. Operated by a dial on the center console, its software requires multiple clicks on different parts of the screen to actuate something simple. It’s extraordinarily distracting and is overdue to be redesigned. Thankfully, the CX-90 comes with a wireless smartphone charger, USB-C port as well as wireless CarPlay and Android Auto.
Mazda offers the CX-90 with one of three powertrains. The standard CX-90 Turbo, base price $39,595, sports a 48-volt mild hybrid system with a 3.3-liter inline six-cylinder engine that generates 280 horsepower. The CX-90 plug-in hybrid, base price $47,445, comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, an electric motor, and a 17.8-kilowatt-hour battery to produce 323 horsepower. Next comes the Turbo S, base price $51,750, and Turbo S Premium Plus, base price $59,950, which have the same engine as the Turbo, but tuned to 340 horsepower, the most output of any Mazda engine. Keep in mind that the Turbo runs on 87 octane fuel, while other models require 91 octane petrol. Regardless of model, an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive are standard. Towing is rated at 5,000 pounds with the Towing Package, 3,500 pounds without it.
Given that it's a Mazda, you’d expect a fun driving experience, and considering this is a family bus, the CX-90 delivers.
For such a substantial SUV, it proves adeptly athletic, although there’s no hiding its avoirdupois while cornering. Nevertheless, body motions are well-controlled, and the weighty steering returns some indication of what’s going on underneath the vehicle — always helpful. Yet its power is deceptive, for although it’s reassuringly quick with the drive mode set to Sport, it never feels quick. And the automatic stop/start system, which shuts off the engine when idling for long periods of time, restarts with an unrefined shudder. But the inline six-cylinder powerplant is a paragon of smoothness.
The CX-90’s immensity, expedience and elegance prove irresistible, making for a far more impressive package than the vehicle it replaces. While this Mazda isn’t on every family’s three-row SUV shopping list, it should be.
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