All-New 2024 Mazda CX-90 Aims Up—and Makes a Direct Hit

Intriguing powertrains, fine handling, and a top-shelf cabin separate the Mazda from more mainstream three-row midsized SUVs

2024 Mazda CX-90

By Mike Monticello

The 2024 CX-90 is an all-new three-row midsized SUV from Mazda. “All new” means exactly that: It uses a brand-new platform, it has Mazda’s first-ever inline six-cylinder engine, and there’s a new in-house designed and built eight-speed automatic transmission. And there’s a plug-in hybrid model. 

Using a rear-wheel-drive-based platform—a configuration preferred by sports luxury makers such as BMW, Genesis, and Mercedes-Benz—was important for Mazda’s upward aim. Being able to place the engine longitudinally rather than transverse, as is often dictated by a front-wheel-drive design, meant that Mazda’s engineers could use an inline-six rather than a V6. Together, the result is one of the finest-handling three-row SUVs that also happens to be endowed with one of the sweeter engines. Besides the impressive driving dynamics of the two CX-90s we rented from Mazda for this evaluation, a step inside the finely crafted cabin points to the fact that this is Mazda’s boldest attempt yet to move the brand upscale.

There are three powertrains for buyers to choose from. The base CX-90 Turbo has a 280-horsepower, turbocharged 3.3-liter inline six-cylinder engine with a 48-volt mild-hybrid setup. The PHEV (plug-in hybrid) model combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, an electric motor, and a 17.8-kilowatt-hour battery, for a total system output of 323 hp. The most powerful version is the Turbo S, which uses the same basic engine as the Turbo but bumped up to 340 hp, giving it the most horsepower and torque of any production engine from Mazda. The standard Turbo’s performance numbers are based on 87 octane fuel, and the Turbo S and PHEV powertrain numbers are based on recommended 91 octane fuel. All three versions put the power to the road through an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive

Pricing begins at $39,595 for the CX-90 3.3 Turbo Select. PHEV models start at $47,445 for the Preferred trim, while the 3.3 Turbo S starts at $51,750 and tops out at $59,950 for the 3.3 Turbo S Premium Plus. Mazda charges a $1,375 destination fee on all CX-90s. The three-row SUV can be configured to carry six, seven, or eight occupants.

If you’re a Consumer Reports member, the details of our initial expert assessment of the 2024 CX-90 PHEV and Turbo S models we rented from Mazda are available to you below. We plan to purchase a midlevel 3.3 Turbo Preferred Plus version for our test program soon. After it arrives at our track we’ll log 2,000 initial break-in miles, as we do with every vehicle we evaluate, before sending it through more than 50 tests at the CR Auto Test Center, including those that focus on acceleration, braking, handling, fuel economy, car seat fit, and controls. CR members will get access to the full road-test results as soon as they’re available. 

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What we rented: 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV Premium Plus AWD
Powertrain: 323-hp, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder hybrid engine; 8-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
MSRP: $56,950
Options: Rhodium White paint, $595.
Destination fee: $1,375
Total cost: $58,920

What we rented: 2024 Mazda CX-90 Turbo S Premium Plus AWD
Powertrain: 340-hp, 3.3-liter turbocharged 6-cylinder engine; 8-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
MSRP: $59,950
Options: Artisan Red paint, $595.
Destination fee: $1,375
Total cost: $61,920

The all-new 2024 Mazda CX-90 impresses with its turbocharged and plug-in hybrid powertrains, honed handling, and finely finished cabin.

Photo: John Powers/Consumer Reports

CR's Take

We love that this is a new-from-the-ground-up model, not merely a nominal freshening of the outgoing CX-9. After our time spent with the two CX-90s we rented from Mazda, we came away impressed by this new SUV’s smooth powertrain, responsive handling, and upscale interior. Mazda has elevated its three-row midsized SUV beyond most mainstream models; it more than just tipped its toes into the water of luxury models. 

Based on our initial impressions, we think it drives better than other three-row midsized SUVs, such as the Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Subaru Ascent, and Toyota Highlander. And it might jump right past some premium models, such as the Acura MDX and Volvo XC90.

While the inline-six powertrain works wonderfully out on the road, we did note some low-speed hiccups. The suspension also doesn’t always handle rougher roads with aplomb. It will be interesting to see if the lower-power Turbo model that we buy deals with rolling stops any cleaner. We’ll also be looking to see if the smaller 19-inch tires that come on the midlevel Preferred Plus trim will smooth out the ride compared with the 21-inch tires fitted to the top Premium Plus versions we rented.

The soft suede on the CX-90 Premium Plus trim's dash and doors is typically reserved for vehicles costing over $100,000.

Photo: John Powers/Consumer Reports

What We Like So Far

Rear-wheel-drive platform: Even though it comes standard with all-wheel drive, the responsive and fluid way the CX-90 handles through corners proves that it was well worth the time, effort, and money to develop a rear-wheel-drive-based platform. We found it quite satisfying to drive both of the CX-90s through corners, thanks to sharp steering that delivers good feedback to the driver about tire grip and road texture. There was a bit more body roll than we expected when we pushed the pace on more challenging back roads. But the well-balanced chassis—which benefits from a nearly 50/50 front/rear weight distribution—proved to be very responsive to changes in throttle, making the vehicle feel driver-friendly. 

As a bonus, this type of layout leaves more room under the hood for the front wheels to steer, making for an impressively tight turning radius considering the CX-90’s size and wheelbase.  

Inline-six engine: The all-new 3.3-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine Mazda designed for the non-hybrid CX-90 models is what’s known as an “inline-six.” That’s because all six cylinders are positioned in a row rather than in a “V” shape with three cylinders on one side and three on the other. The inline-six configuration has long been known for producing super-smooth power. That’s why BMW, most notably, has stuck with this layout for decades. 

And, not surprisingly, this Mazda engine is a treat to experience. It has decent power down low in the revs but really comes alive around 4,000 rpm, delivering a strong flow of silky power along with a good-sounding, polished note. The all-new eight-speed automatic transmission also works sublimely well, with super-smooth upshifts along with mostly bump-free downshifts that arrive quickly when you need a bit more speed.  

As a testament to just how much the configuration of this engine means to Mazda (a spokesperson told us that “bragging rights” were part of the decision to go this route)—and more importantly, to its buyers—“Inline 6” is proudly emblazoned on the front fenders.

Pretty pleasant PHEV: The Turbo and Turbo S models might be the stars of the CX-90 show with their intriguing turbocharged inline-six engine, but there’s also quite a nice plug-in hybrid model. The CX-90 PHEV pairs a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a 173-hp electric motor, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. We found that all of the parts and pieces work together fairly well, at least when the 17.8-kWh battery has a charge.  

With a total system output of 323 hp and 369 lb.-ft. of torque (on premium fuel), there’s a good amount of grunt on hand. Plus, the electric motor is strong enough to power the CX-90 around on its own when driven in a normal fashion. Mazda says the PHEV has an EPA-rated 25 miles of electric driving range. If you set it to its EV mode, it will use just electric power unless you floor the accelerator pedal—at which point the gas engine comes on. We did notice that it doesn’t revert back to the EV mode after that burst of acceleration, though. You have to put it back into the EV setting, which is mildly annoying. 

In hybrid mode with its full electric might available, the PHEV works well, with pretty smooth transitions back and forth between electric motor and gas engine power. There’s ample steam to get around slower traffic in a passing zone on a two-lane road, and the transmission upshifts smoothly. As with some other recent Mazdas (with the six-speed automatic), occasionally it holds a gear for an uncomfortably long time before upshifting as though it’s in a Sport mode, but it isn’t. Being a four-cylinder, it’s noticeable when the gas engine turns on, thanks to the extra noise it creates inside the cabin, but the power is still strong.  

One oddity: Because Mazda uses an automatic transmission with the electric motor between it and the engine rather than a continuously variable transmission (CVT) as found in many hybrids, even in EV mode you’ll feel the shifts. If you’re used to an EV, which typically relies on a one-speed direct-drive transmission, it might feel and sound strange that the electric motor is up- and down-shifting. It works fine; it’s just different.  

Upscale cabin: We came away impressed with the unique cabin design and the high-quality feel inside the two admittedly top trims we experienced. Mazda has been outfitting its vehicles with nicer interiors than most mainstream models for several years now, and it has upped the ante even more with the CX-90. The materials are so nice, in fact, that we think they outshine those in the Acura MDX and Lexus RX

The Turbo S Premium Plus model we rented, in particular, was simply gorgeous inside. The yards of soft suede on the doors and dashboard gave it an upscale feel akin to six-figure models. We also appreciated the complete lack of any shiny piano-black plastic trim. While glossy-black trim looks flashy, at least initially, we’ve found that it scratches easily and shows dirt and grime quickly. Instead, there’s some classy wood-look trim on the doors and center console in the Turbo S and metal-look trim on the center console for the PHEV. Just about everything feels solid and well made, and we liked that the sides of the center console are padded. 

Comfortable front seats: The CX-90’s front seats are firm and supportive, and most of our drivers found them to their liking. The seats in the Turbo S were aided by perforated suede center sections, which add to the comfort quotient, and their grip helps hold you in place through corners. Longer-legged drivers said thigh support was a bit lacking due to the rather short bottom cushion, and some felt the cushions overall were a bit too firm. We were surprised to find that even the top Premium Plus trims have only two-way rather than four-way adjustable lumbar support. Then again, that’s uncommon for this class, plus the seats already have a good amount of lower-back support built in.

The CX-90 PHEV (plug-in hybrid) drives well, with strong, smooth power when it operates as a hybrid, and gets up to 25 miles of electric-only driving range on a full battery charge.

Photo: John Powers/Consumer Reports

What We Don’t Like

Unintuitive gear selector: We don’t like what Mazda has done with its latest gear selector. The electronic shift-by-wire lever physically moves from gear to gear, for instance when shifting from Park to Drive, and then stays in that position, similar to a traditional gear selector. On the one hand, we like that because it’s more intuitive when the lever moves and stays in a position. (Many gear selectors these days are “monostable” designs that always return to the center.) But the upside-down L-shaped shift pattern of Mazda’s gear selector is unintuitive to use. 

You have to move the lever over to the right and then pull down toward you to shift from Park to Drive; some might get used to that. But it feels very unnatural to move the lever up from Drive to Reverse, and then over to the left in order to shift into Park. 

There’s more than just an odd shift pattern, though. For example, while we’re glad that Mazda’s setup automatically shifts the CX-90 into Park if the driver fails to move the selector there before turning the vehicle off, it’s quite strange that the system doesn’t physically move the lever to the Park position. Instead, the lever will stay in Drive (even though the actual transmission is in Park) and the vehicle won’t restart until the driver moves the lever over to Park.

Some annoying controls: For the most part, the CX-90’s controls are fairly straightforward and easy to use. In particular, we love that the climate controls are all within their own section and consist of physical buttons and toggle switches rather than a capacitive touch panel. But none of us got used to the truly odd way Mazda designed the temperature controls. Pushing down on the blue arrow to decrease the interior temp makes perfect sense, but our logic—flawed as it may be—would dictate that you would then pull up on the red arrow button next to it to increase the temperature. But you actually push the arrow down to make the temperature go up. 

The infotainment screen is designed to be used with the controller dial on the center console for Mazda’s built-in functions and not as a touchscreen. That is, unless you’re using Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Then, the display functions as a touchscreen if the driver chooses. While we liked that we could use it as a touchscreen, the display is quite a long reach for the driver. 

The PHEV without its full battery: We found that the CX-90 PHEV works fine as an EV or as a hybrid as long as it has the battery to work with. But its operation noticeably changes when the battery is drained. It’s just not as smooth an experience when the electric motor isn’t there as much to fill in power at low speeds. Accelerating out of a rolling stop can be a bit rough, and the transmission’s shifts don’t feel as smooth. And because the four-cylinder gas engine has to work harder, you notice it more, particularly that it can get loud when pushed. Two-lane passing power is still adequate, but it lacks some all-out oomph once the battery is depleted. 

Weird PHEV noises: We noticed a fair amount of extra noises going on with the PHEV model. Besides that, it has more electric motor whine than most other PHEVs we’ve driven. We could hear more mechanical pumps and whirring sounds when sitting idle at a stoplight. 

Heated steering wheel … or lack thereof: It’s fairly ridiculous that a heated steering wheel is available only on the top Premium Plus trim. It’s not even optional on the lower trims, which is a huge oversight for buyers who don’t live in climates that are warm year-round—unlike many Southern California Mazda employees.   

Compromised small-item storage: For such a big SUV, the center console has a surprisingly small amount of storage space. The bin underneath the twin center armrests is very shallow. It’s also weird that you have to press two separate buttons in order to flip the armrests up. In most situations, you’re going to want both armrests open so you can reach inside to find whatever you’re looking for.

Materials and tones used in the CX-90's cabin are meant to evoke the vehicle's Japanese pedigree.

Photo: John Powers/Consumer Reports

What We’ll Keep Our Eyes On

Low-speed hiccups: Although we love most aspects of Mazda’s all-new inline-six engine, we did notice some mildly annoying low-speed stutters. From a full stop, there’s a bit of turbo lag after the vehicle starts moving off the line, followed usually by two quick upshifts (thanks to the CX-90’s short gearing), which make for a somewhat bumpy initial takeoff. During rolling stops, the transmission sometimes got confused when we stepped back on the throttle, as if it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be in first or second (or maybe third?) gear. This often caused a clunk or two, plus a fairly long hesitation. 

Firm ride: On most roads, we found both the Turbo S and the PHEV models to be comfortable cruisers in spite of the suspension’s underlying firmness. But likely in part due to the large 21-inch tires fitted to upper trims, rougher roads brought out some harder hits. Sharp-edged bumps and potholes came through with a pretty big impact, especially from the rear tires, and roads with lots of smaller imperfections in a row exhibited some jiggliness. 

Turbo vs. Turbo S: Because we’ll be buying the Turbo model with 280 hp for the CR auto test program rather than the Turbo S with 340 hp we drove for this evaluation, we’ll be keen to see the performance differences between the two. The Turbo S felt reasonably powerful, but to be honest, we were expecting it to knock our socks off a bit more. With that, we’re semi-prepared to be slightly underwhelmed by the regular Turbo model. But, of course, no judgments until we drive the real thing.   

Mazda Driver Personalization System: This is intended to suggest an ideal driving position for you by using a facial-recognition camera. First, you input your height, then the system scans your face, and then it moves the seat, steering wheel, and side mirrors into what it determines is the best driving position for you. One of our drivers tried it, and he said it was almost hilarious how far off it was, positioning him far away from the steering wheel and pedals. We need to have more drivers fiddle with the system, but for now, at least, it appears to be more of a gimmick than a useful feature. 

Fuel economy: Mazda is estimating that both the CX-90 Turbo and Turbo S models will achieve a 25-mpg combined rating from the EPA. That would make it more fuel-efficient than the CX-9, at 23 mpg combined, which is smaller and uses a less powerful turbocharged four-cylinder. The CX-9 we tested got 22 mpg overall. We will of course do our own fuel-economy testing once we buy our own CX-90, as we do with every vehicle that goes through the CR auto test program. 

Fit and finish in lower trims: We were very impressed with the high-quality cabins of the two CX-90s we rented. But they were both the top Premium Plus trims. We’re interested to see if the lower Preferred Plus trim we’ll be buying, which Mazda estimates will be the most popular version, feels similar to what we drove or feels like a noticeable step down in terms of material quality.  

Third-row space: The CX-90 has one of the roomier third-row seats among midsized SUVs, with an ample amount of headroom. Even with that, it’s still much better suited to kids than adults, because the low bottom cushion causes a significant and uncomfortable knee bend and foot space is tight. The soft cushions are fairly comfy, but the plastic outer armrest isn’t kind to your elbow.

The 2024 Mazda CX-90's rear-wheel-drive-based platform is a big part of why it handles better than most three-row midsized SUVs.

Photo: John Powers/Consumer Reports

Active Safety and Driver Assistance 

The CX-90 comes standard with a host of active safety and driver assistance features, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking that operates at highway speeds, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assistance, and adaptive cruise control.

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