The Mazda CX-90 is the largest crossover in the Mazda lineup, seating up to 8, and starting at $45,900. (KUNAL D’SOUZA)
The Mazda CX-9 was an early example of a three-row crossover that now finds itself surrounded by competition in a segment that’s booming. The Kia Telluride
have received a lot attention, recently. They’re well thought out, with roomy third rows, and are good value. Dealers can’t seem to keep them in stock. There’s also a new Honda Pilot, a refreshed VW Atlas, and even a three-row EV coming from Kia. The demand for these people movers is growing rapidly. While the CX-9 was great to drive, it lacked space, especially in that all-important third row.
Enter the CX-90, Mazda’s all-new three-row crossover that’s longer, wider, and taller than the CX-9 it replaces. This directly translates into a much more usable third row that can now accommodate adults comfortably. But there’s more to the CX-90 than its larger body. It represents Mazda’s shift upmarket and it debuts an all-new rear-wheel drive platform, and an all-new inline-6 engine, going against the grain of its major competitors, which are primarily front-wheel drive based vehicles.
The new large vehicle platform represents a philosophical shift in design and performance for Mazda. A rear-wheel-drive platform is conducive to better weight balance and better steering feel and provides for a shorter turning radius, which is important in a big vehicle. They also have a longer dash-axle ratio (the distance from the base of the windshield to the centre of the front axle), which means a better-looking vehicle.
Developing a straight-six is also not the norm today when everyone is scurrying about trying to come up with the next leap in battery and electric motor technology. Most automakers ditched the straight-six long ago in favour of the packaging and space gains provided by V6s and inline-4s. But straight-sixes are renowned for their perfect balance, smoothness, and torque. It might be an uncommon powertrain but it’s an excellent choice for a luxurious and sporty vehicle like the CX-90 claims to be. It’s why BMW still uses them.
So the new larger CX-90 is as focused on driving dynamics as it is on passenger space and it would seem that Mazda was able to carve out a lot of room in all three rows despite the long engine under the hood.
My tester, a range-topping GT-P Signature trim had the high-output turbocharged inline-6 augmented by a mild-hybrid system using a small electric motor sandwiched in between the engine and 8-speed automatic transmission. The electric motor provides for seamless auto start-stop as well as some mild fuel efficiency gains. The 3.3L engine makes 340 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque on premium gas. The base CX-90 gets a lower output version that makes 280 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, which are still very respectable numbers. There’s also a plug-in hybrid version that uses a 2.5L 4-cylinder and an electric motor providing up to 42 km of electric-only driving range.
Our focus here is the most powerful GT-P. We’ve covered much of the technical details of the CX-90 here
, so I won’t go through them again but I will focus on what it’s like to drive and live with on a daily basis.
If Mazda’s goal is to capture those that would typically buy an Acura, Lexus, or an Audi, it’s got its work cut out for it, but the cabin is one place that will impress even the most discerning customers. It has really comfortable seats, supple soft-touch materials on the dash, Nappa leather, matte wood trim, and a simple and elegant layout that will be familiar to anyone that’s driven a newer Mazda.
Each row gets USB ports to power devices and the second-row captain’s chairs are heated and ventilated. They can also be moved out of the way quickly to access the third row, which my six-foot frame had no problem plopping down in. One sore point is the infotainment system which lags behind the competition. It doesn’t have a touchscreen and you have to use a rotary controller to access it. It’s easy to use, but simple things like radio presets and Apple Car play integration need a complete rethink.
The CX-90 drives smaller than it is for the most part. The steering is crisp and precise but is slightly heavier than it needs to be. Enter a corner at speed and the girth of the big Mazda is perfectly controlled with minimal body roll. Quick left/right transitions, heavy braking, full-throttle acceleration, nothing seems to upset the chassis. You have to remind yourself that you’re in a heavy three-row SUV. It even rides really well, absorbing most bumps and handling the war-torn roads of Toronto with the utmost ease. It also feels uncannily Teutonic, probably owing to its development in Germany.
Power delivery is impeccably smooth and refined. Like all good straight-sixes, it doesn’t matter if the engine is spinning at 2000 rpm or 6000, there are virtually no vibrations that make it into the cabin.
The CX-90 is well-behaved with impeccable road manners and it seems to do everything well, but I still feel the smaller CX-5
is Mazda’s benchmark for a fun-to-drive crossover. As good as the CX-90 is, it comes off as a bit boring and a bit clinical. It’s better to drive than many of its competitors but it seems like Mazda went to great lengths to achieve incremental gains. The reality is, many shoppers looking for a three-row SUV like this couldn’t care less about “fun-to-drive”.
It’s a good thing then that the CX-90 is much more than just a dynamic driver. It’s a really well-packaged large family crossover that also happens to be excellent value starting at just $45,900. The plug-in version starts at $54,900 and is one of the largest PHEVs on sale today. The CX-90 isn’t perfect, but it should still cause some serious concern for its many competitors.
2024 Mazda CX-90 GT-P Signature
: 5-door, 6-8-passenger full-size crossover
: Front-engine/all-wheel drive
: 3.3-L turbocharged inline-6; Power: 340 hp @ 5000-6000 rpm; Torque: 369 lb-ft @ 2000-4500 rpm
: 8-speed automatic
: 423-2101 litres
: (Premium Gasoline in L/100 km) 9.6 city; 8.3 highway
: $63,300 + freight, taxes, and fees
: Mazda Canada