Mazda has come a long way from the days when it billed itself as the “Zoom, Zoom” brand. It has, for one thing, largely shifted from sporty passenger cars to more utilitarian SUVs — though it still puts a little more emphasis on the “sport” in its sport-utility vehicles than many of its competitors.
Those who follow the Hiroshima, Japan-based automaker might notice it has been inflating its model numbers lately, the old CX-5 crossover recently replaced with the CX-50. And, for 2024, Mazda’s old CX-9 flagship is transforming into the new CX-90.
There’s reason for this transformation, as this isn’t just the usual model update. “We’ve been on a journey, the last few years, to completely change the face of Mazda,” Jeff Guyton, the new Mazda global chief finance officer, told TheDetroitBureau.com when the new model debuted a month ago. The 2024 Mazda CX-90 is bigger, roomier, more powerful and more lavishly equipped than the outgoing crossover.
The new CX-90 is still positioned as a mainstream model, going up against the like of the Honda Pilot and Kia Telluride. But, as we discovered during a long first drive from San Francisco up to Sonoma County wine country, the 2024 crossover offers many of the features you’d expect from a three-row crossover sold by more upscale brands like Volvo or Lexus.
Starting with the all-new Large Vehicle Platform it rides on, pretty much everything about the 2024 Mazda CX-90 is new.
That starts with the handsome new exterior design, as well as the more lavishly appointed interior that can be configured for up to eight passengers. And the third row is no longer the sort of penalty box seating adults stuck in the back of the old CX-9 had to suffer through.
There’s a heavily updated infotainment system, a range of new safety and convenience technologies. The new interior is both roomier and more luxurious than before. And Mazda has introduced two new powertrains, including its first-ever plug-in hybrid.
The CX-90 Turbo and Turbo S models punch out anywhere from 280 to 340 horsepower and a sportier ride than many of Mazda’s competitors. The CX-90 plug-in hybrid can be operated in all-electric mode, providing 30 miles of emissions-free motoring — enough to meet the typical American motorist’s daily commute. But, with a tap of the Driver Mode toggle, it can deliver a ride nearly as sporty as the Turbo S.
During a late January preview, Mazda made a point of showing off the 2024 CX-90 in its new signature hue, Artisan Red. It’s notably darker than the Soul Red Mazda has long preferred. It’s something of a chameleon color, changing its shade depending upon the light and your viewing angle. It can go from a rich, metallic red to near black. And it helps highlight the curvaceous angles of the new SUV, design director Takanori Tsubaki was quick to point out.
The CX-90 doesn’t entirely abandon the familiar Mazda Kodo Design language, with a bit of a coke bottle shape to the doors and fenders. But it adopts a more ruggedly upright grille, similar to what the automaker has shown off in Europe with the CX-60, one of the four models that will be based on Mazda’s large vehicle platform.
The three-row crossover’s long hood and “rear-focused cabin” give it a sense of muscularity and, in the words of design chief Tsubaki, “a sense of motion.” Distinctive chrome garnishes on the rockers, along with the black garnishes on the 21-inch diamond-cut wheels add to the sense of luxury.
The new CX-90 stands taller, wider and longer than the outgoing CX-9, finally providing the sort of room buyers have been seeking in this segment. That’s immediately apparent to anyone relegated to the back row. With the old crossover, someone with my 6’2” frame would have been cramped and completely uncomfortable. With CX-90, you have reasonable space to stretch out and relax on a long journey.
The decision to move the new model upmarket is most obvious in the cabin. Here, the product development team borrowed from classic Japanese design to create distinctive fabrics and accent materials. There are a variety of subtle details that enhance the feeling of luxury, including the vertical striping on the ventilated seats of high-line trims, like the Turbo S Premium Plus.
Other than the base trim — with its simulated leather — other models get real leather, and top-line packages have more elegant nappa leather seating.
The broad, horizontal layout of the instrument panel enhances the interior’s feeling of roominess. A new twin-screen display helps add a high-tech touch. But, as with other models in the Mazda line-up, the automaker opts for knobs, buttons and other physical controls, rather than turning everything over to a touchscreen for the infotainment system.
There are three distinct powertrain options with the CX-90, including the brand’s first plug-in hybrid. It pairs a 2.5-liter inline-4 gas engine with a 68-kilowatt electric motor. The combined package pushes 323 hp to all four wheels.
With its 17.8 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery fully charged, the CX-90 PHEV can deliver as much as 30 miles when switched to all-electric mode. It also provides a reasonable impressive 26 mpg in the EPA combined cycle — though that drops slightly, to 25 mpg if the battery runs down.
You can control when to operate in all-electric mode, simply by tapping a toggle switch on the center console. Alternatively, you can opt for Normal, Eco or Sporty modes, the latter instantly providing some extra grunt from the electric side of the drivetrain.
In conversations with Mazda officials, they see two distinct buyers for the new CX-90. While Jay Chen, the manager of powertrain performance, insists the plug-in is a “no-compromise” option, he sees buyers falling into two very distinct categories. “The PHEV fits some lifestyles better than others,” he suggested during a lunch break on my drive through Sonoma, pointing to those who want the benefits of an electric vehicle around town without having to worry about charging up on longer trips.
Charging can be handled with either a conventional 120-volt outlet or, for those customers willing to spend the money, with a 240-volt charger. That should cut recharge times down to just a few hours.
For those who want top-level performance or simply have no interest in going electric, there are the two Turbo models. The base package makes a reasonably sporty 280 hp and 332 pound-feet of torque. But for those who’re willing to swallow the price premium, the Turbo S bumps that up to 340 ponies and 369 lb-ft. That makes it the most powerful engine Mazda has ever put on public roads.
The new gas engine isn’t entirely low-tech, incidentally. It makes use of a 48-volt electrical assist system. It drives the crossover’s Stop/Start feature, but also kicks in a bit more torque when needed.
All versions of the CX-90 feature all-wheel-drive with torque biased to the rear under normal conditions.
Safety and Technology
All versions of the CX-90 feature an assortment of Mazda’s advanced driver assistance systems, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, as well as cross-traffic alert and blind-spot detection.
Base versions feature a 7-inch digital gauge cluster and a 10.3-inch infotainment screen. You can opt up to twin 12.3-inch screens — standard on top-line packages. Curiously, Mazda has shifted away from the touchscreen displays that virtually all competitors now use, instead favoring a more classic approach that relies on a “Commander” control knob on the center console, along with several shortcut buttons.
There’s an asterisk here, however. Because of the way they operate, the infotainment screen can be operated by touch — but only when operating either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. (Both can be used wirelessly.)
That approach may seem odd but the Commander knob is quite easy to use without having to take your eyes off the road. That’s particularly useful for functions like zooming in and out while trying to read a navi map.
The 2024 Mazda CX-90 comes with a base eight-speaker audio system. A premium, 12-speaker Bose package is optional on some trims, standard on top-line packages.
It’s too bad Mazda has long since abandoned the “Zoom, Zoom” ad campaign. The CX-90, whether using the new PHEV or Turbo engines, really lives up to that old mantra.
I spent the first half of the day in the plug-in and checked out a few of its different driver modes along a circuitous route through San Francisco and Oakland, then up through the winding hill country leading to Sonoma. EV mode is just fine for every day, around town driving. It’s not a particularly exciting mode, but you do get a bit of instant torque off the line and it will get you up to speed on a highway.
But once I got off U.S. Highway 101 I switched into Sport and felt the powertrain come up to its full potential. It had plenty of kick, making it easy to launch out of corners, and the all-wheel-drive system’s rear bias was confidence building as I maneuvered around tight corners.
There was, as you’d anticipate, a bit of heft to the PHEV as a result of the 17.8-kWh battery pack. The Turbo S I drove back to Fog City felt notably more nimble on back roads, effortlessly scribing its way around tight corners. And the upgraded S powertrain really delivered on what its numbers promised.
All in all, both packages lived up to expectations.
2024 Mazda CX-90 Specifications
|L: 200.8 inches/W: 78.5 inches/H: 68.2 inches/Wheelbase: 122.8 inches
|2.5-liter 4 cylinder w/mild hybrid; 8-speed automatic and all-wheel drive
|24 mpg city/28 mpg highway/25 mpg combined
|323 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque
|Base price: $48,820; As tested: n/a
And that raises the question: which one would I buy? As someone who personally drives a battery-electric vehicle, I tend to favor electrified products. And there’s a lot to like about the 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV. It’s great for driving around town in all-electric mode and yet having the ability to simple fuel up along the way should you be taking an extended trip. There is a roughly $4,000 premium to consider, however, and performance-oriented drivers likely will feel the added mass.
For them, the Turbo S would clearly be the package to pick — or the base Turbo models for those either on a budget or not requiring maximum performance. The new gas engine, with its “mild” hybrid assist technology, is one of the most impressive drivetrain developments Mazda has brought to market in some years.
In terms of pricing, you can get into the 2024 Mazda CX-90 Turbo for as little as $40,970. A heavily loaded Turbo S Premium Plus will take you up to $61,325. And the CX-90 PHEV starts at $48,820 — all these numbers include delivery fees.
Buyers are likely to compare the 2024 Mazda CX-90 to competitors such as the Hyundai Palisade, the Kia Telluride or the Honda Pilot. But as well equipped as the new Mazda crossover is, I expect some shoppers also will compare it to some premium and even luxury options from the likes of Lexus or Volvo.
The CX-90 is a solid package and a vast improvement over the old Mazda CX-9.
2024 Mazda CX-90 — Frequently Asked Questions
What does the Mazda CX-90 compete with?
The Mazda CX-90 goes up against some tough competition, starting with an updated version of the Kia Telluride, the 2020 North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, as well as the Hyundai Palisade and the newly redesigned Honda Pilot.
How much will the 2024 Mazda CX-90 cost?
The base version of the new Mazda CX-90, the Turbo Select package, starts at $39,595. The top-line Turbo S Premium Plus goes for $59,950. Those are for gas-powered models. The plug-in hybrid PHEV Preferred starts at $47,445. Add $1,375 to these numbers for delivery.
How much horsepower does the 2024 Mazda CX-90 make?
That depends on which version of the three-row SUV you choose — as well as what gas you use. Models with the new 3.3-liter turbocharged inline-6 make anywhere up to 340 horsepower. Best performance comes from 91 octane fuel, but you can run on 87 octane and sacrifice a bit of power. The PHEV version of the CX-90 delivers up to 323 hp with premium fuel.