2024 Mazda CX-90 Review

2024 Mazda CX-90 - Mazda plugs into new CX-90


Mazda continues tinkering with fuel-extending vehicles adorning the Zoom-Zoom spirit. Our tester this week focuses in upon the Japanese automaker’s largest crossover, a three-row, mid-size CX-90. Not only is this vehicle all-new for the 2024 model year, but it adds a version spotting a bit of electrification in the form of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).

Within Mazda’s marketing mantra, a CX prefix represents a five-door crossover.  Mazda’s been tweaking this popular segment of late repurposing and updating several models. The recently retired CX-3 subcompact got replaced in the model lineup with a newer-structured (and higher-numbered suffix) CX-30. 

The same fate awaits the three-row CX-9, which debuted in 2006.  After two model year evolutions, its exiting stage left at the end of the 2023 model year in favor of this week’s ride, a newer named, 2024 CX-90 designed specifically for North America. It offers two distinct four-cylinder turbo charged internal combustion engines and the fuel-extending PHEV variant. Expect an all-new CX-70 in the not-so-distant future built upon this same all-new CX-90 platform but with two seating rows standard.

Historically, Mazda mainstream crossovers enjoy a solid, fun-to-drive reputation with added performance and handling characteristics; thus, the Zoom-Zoom reputation.  The flagship CX-90 carries this forward offering considerably more room thanks to a wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) growing 7.5 inches when compared with the outgoing CX-9. Despite the longer wheelbase, CX-90’s turning radius tightens thanks in part to additional wheel well wiggle room contributing to an enhanced steering angle.  

Americans migrate towards roomy transports, so CX-90 dutifully grows in length by 8.2 inches and two inches in width compared to the outgoing CX-9, creating a larger cocoon in the process with more-than-ample head room in all three rows.

This platform builds upon Mazda’s new rear-wheel drive biased global architecture also spicing up driving dynamics.  A majority of uni-bodied, car-based crossovers (of which CX-90 is a member) instead incorporate front wheel drive as its default.

Keep in mind since the 2022 model year, all Mazda crossovers come standard with advanced all-wheel drive marketed as i-ACTIV. It’s not full-time all-wheel drive (powering all four wheels whenever the engine hums) but ‘active,’ all-wheel drive, sending power to the rear tires (its default setting) during dry, sunny situations and summoning the front wheels to join in the charge when sensing slippage.    

The four-cylinder engine’s longitudinal layout rather than a transverse design improves vehicle balance leading to enhanced handling characteristics especially when combined with rear-wheel biased architecture.

The CX-90 represents the first Mazda sold in America with a PHEV option, a practical portal for those wishing to drive greener, but not quite comfortable diving headfirst into all-electric all the time.  The CX-90’s PHEV structure continues with an internal combustion engine under hood, but also includes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack welcoming 26 miles of pure electric driving before the IC engine takes control. Like just about every-other tested PHEV tested, the CX-90’s hand off from the EV phase to the gas-engine takeover remains seamless and almost imperceptible.

The 26-mile EV range is typical for PHEV circa 2024.  By contrast a majority of pure electric vehicles deliver between 220 and 330 EV mile range by utilizing larger lithium-ion battery packs. These ranges largely underestimate actual miles travels due to regenerative braking technology. 

This range extending wizardry recycles kinetic energy created during the braking process and returns it back into the battery pack for later reuse.  Since braking occurs more often during stop-and-go situations, city driving provides an excellent opportunity to experience the benefits of regenerative brakes compared to highway excursions. 

Even when the deep-set digital instrument panel’s EV range lists zero miles remaining, the lithium-ion battery pack continues recovering kinetic energy.  These battery systems usually keep a 20 percent electric capacity in the bank, allowing CX-90 to operate as fuel-extending gas-electric hybrid after the EV range expires.

The PHEV technology helps sooth ‘range anxiety,’ a term coined early in the EV revolution when many entry-type vehicles offered less than 100 miles of range before a sorely needed boost of charged electrons.  With some EV ranges now topping 300 miles, “RA” concerns have softened, but still remain back-of-mind for newer clients. 

Under hood of the CX-90 PHEV is Mazda’s returning and well-regarded/tested naturally aspirated, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine working in tandem with a 68-kilowatt electric/traction motor and 17.8-kwh battery pack.  If utilizing recommended premium unleaded fuel, combined horsepower checks in at a more-than respectable 323; regular 87-octane fuel may substitute, but the horses won’t be as peppy, down four to 319.

The CX-90 PHEV comes with three available trim level selections: Preferred, Premium and Premium Plus with a starting price point for Preferred checking in at $47,445 (about $8,000 more than the entry, non-PHEV CX-90). Both Premium and Premium Plus offer seven passenger seating standard while Preferred trims includes seating for eight standard.

All three trims calculate three riders cohabitating in the way back third row, which for most folks above the tween category resides somewhere between a pipe dream and tight fit. With limited row-three leg room, figure two adults at most.

Third-row seatbacks manually fold down and back up.  Looped straps built into backs assist with the pullups when adjusting from an opened hatch back.  Both second-row captain’s chairs manually slid forward via a floor track once tilting the back rest forward and providing a forceful push, creating a small opening to row three.  Another option for smaller folks, enter the second row and follow the natural floor aisle between second-row chairs to row three. 

Our fully-loaded CX-90 Premium Plus PHEV included a $56,950 starting price with unique Nappa leather-trimmed seating and ventilated front seats not found in the two lower trims.  The only factory option, a $595 premium burgundy red paint bringing the bottom line to $58,920 with $1,375 destination charge.

The 8.1 inches of ground clearance allows for easy entry/exit without having to jump up and in. Headlight housing still wraps around to the side fenders, just in abbreviated fashion for 2024.  A huge black-filled U-shaped front grill design includes Mazda’s winged M logo front and center Premium plus versions include chrome outlining.  

The roof apex occurs at the B-pillar top rather than the front A-pillar’s, allowing for a gentler roof tilt towards the narrow rear D-pillar and upper hatch hinge. Side character lines have been upped and raised, creating a more grounded appeal. In fact, a cul-de-sac neighbor initially mistook this new Mazda for a German-inspired BMW.  Side doors open via strap-like body-colored operators. 

Ahead of the stubby eight-speed automatic transmission shifter, a long, narrow ‘Mi-Drive’ bar/tab summoning one of for drive modes: sport, normal, EV and off-road.  The colorful all-digital, deep-set instrument panel switches up colors dependent on the upon the selected mode. In the lower right-hand corner, a digital countdown of remaining all-electric miles and remaining gas-engine miles.  The electronic push-button start/stop resides on the dash in a fashion where the steering column does not interfere.

The infotainment screen nestles atop the dashboard extending up in flat-back fashion.  Our premium Plus trim included the largest 12.3-inch size while lower trims include a 10.3-inch size.  Returning with a non-touch design, drivers interact through a click dial located between the front buckets.  Push down on the dial to select options highlighted via an in-screen curser. Expect a small learning curve especially those adept at screen swiping and pinching.  Both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay return standard, welcoming app downloads interacting with the screen through click dial commands. 

Two regenerative range levels (normal, high) are selectable vial the infotainment screen and accompanying click dial under the settings selection.  Choose high, and the vehicle slows at a faster pace once the right foot lifts off the pedal, sending a higher rate of kinetic energy back to the battery.

Charging up a PHEV takes up considerably less time than conventional all electric EVs.  All CX-90 PHEVs include a long power cord connecting up with standard 120-volt household AC (alternating current) sockets. In EV lingo, a conventional 120-volt outlet is also known as a Level 1 charger.  It’s probably all one needs as the 26-miles of electric range takes about 11 hours, attainable with an overnight plug-in. 

Folks deciding upon all-electric vehicles with larger on-board chargers usually invest in a wall-mounted 240-volt AC garage unit (known as Level 2), greatly reducing juice-up time in CX-90’s case to about two hours depending upon the amp rating of the level 2 charger.  

The CX-90 PHEV’s plug port doesn’t accept DC (direct current) fast charging delivery, popular with EV shoppers on long extended trips away from home chargers.  Direct Current fast chargers, found along interstates and bustling shopping centers, bypass an EV’s on-board charger, delivering DC current unincumbered into the DC battery pack.  Most EVs power up to 80 percent capacity in less than an hour (depending largely upon the number of kilowatts delivered by a specific DC charger; the larger the kilowatts, the quicker the charged-electron fill up). 

For Mazda enthusiasts pondering the next level of electrified travel, the compact MX-30 EV crossover (Mazda’s first all-electric entry) is slowly ramping up production and arriving at California-based dealers before eventually fanning out nationwide.  Joining crossovers at dealers now, the compact Mazda3 sedan and hatchback along with the low-cost, high-fun-factor two-door MX-5 Miata roadster; the original Zoom-Zoom car.

Price as tested: $58,920
Engine: 2.5-liter inline 4
Traction motor: 68 kilowatts
Combined Horsepower:  323
Battery Pack: 17.8 kwh
Wheelbase:  122.8 inches
Overall Length:  201.6 inches
Overall Width:  84.9 inches
Overall Height:  68.2 inches
All-electric range: 26 miles
Total range:  490 miles
Battery warranty:  8-years/100,000 miles  
Assembly:  Japan

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.