People who know their performance brands understand just how much Mazda flies under the radar in America. If you own a Mazda, you know what I mean and, unless you are asked, you sort of keep the secret to yourself.
Mazda had a huge breakthrough with their CX-5, which racked up huge sales by looking like nothing else in a very crowded copycat market. Many first-time Mazda owners who bought their CX-5, especially with the optional 2.5-liter turbo, had a whole new world revealed to them.
Today, the big reveal for the Japanese automaker is the launch of the 2024 CX-90, the biggest, most expensive, and most luxurious SUV they have ever offered. This is a huge SUV with style, performance and hybrid tech, a combo on the edge with Mazda. The price of my tester started at $56,950.
The CX-90 replaces the CX-9, which was the bar for Mazda luxury. This is the flagship for a brand that is definitely pushing the boundaries to get to a more premium level of vehicle (and price). I tested the CX-90 PHEV with the Premium Plus Package.
On the outside, the CX-90 is a handsome and refined 7-passenger SUV. Being big is often the kiss of death for SUV exterior styling, but Mazda manages to elevate its signature look by delivering huge cues upfront with its grille, headlight assembly, and the long nose that makes it look fast.
The 21-inch alloy wheels and P275/45 R21 all-season rubber are proportionate to the rest of the body and deliver a sure-footed grip, while the chrome accents on the intakes and rocker panels are subtle and elegant.
The CX-90′s plug-in hybrid powertrain delivers a punch with 323 horsepower from its inline four-cylinder engine. Paired with an electric motor and a 17.8-kWh battery pack, the CX-90 is mated to a quick-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission.
The CX-90 offers standard all-wheel drive and a reasonable fuel economy with the hybrid numbers factored in. The PHEVs can run in fully electric mode and provide up to 26 miles of range. For many families, 26 miles is all you need to get errands done around town and get the kids off to practice and school. No gas stops required.
Mazda claims 25 mpg combined, which is pretty good given the girth of this large SUV. If you’re looking for more sales points for the hybrid tech, they create less emissions than a turbocharged gas engine. If there’s some shortcomings in performance, maybe just offer some consideration to Mother Earth.
The CX-90′s interior immediately convinces you the $50K-plus price tag may have been worth it. Look for lots of soft-touch materials across the dash, premium leather, brushed aluminum, and thoughtful detail from cupholder positions and charger ports to the appreciated operating switches and buttons.
My tester featured gorgeous maple wood accents and an upscale stitch pattern on the dash. Black Nappa leather was everywhere in the cabin, and it was a great combo for the well-supported front and second-row seats.
At the center of the driver’s world is the 12.3-inch infotainment landscape screen emphasizing overall functionality over whiz-bang impressions. A 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster is perfectly inset before the driver.
The center console has a pad charger, several storage options, a knob and dial for audio and climate, and this crazy gear shifter. For some reason, Mazda got cute with its design and made the Park position up and to the left – and Reverse is the top gear when you move it over. Even a week into driving it I was revving it in neutral twice a day.
While CX-90s are all three-row formats, there are four different configurations: eight-seater (2/3/3); seven-seater (2/2/3); seven-seater (2/3/2); and six-seater (2/2/2). My tester featured the 2/2/3 variant with front and second-row captain’s chairs that were heated and cooled. The third-row seat is, well, a third row (read: a little tight).
Having owned a Mazda, I really appreciate their opinion that an infotainment system without touch controls is less distracting and safer. I agree completely. Mazda does allow the screen to become touch-compatible when you turn on wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The 2023 Mazda CX-90 is a premium, large SUV that exudes a contemporary style, is extremely comfortable, and in my opinion worthy of its north-of-$50K price tag. While interior space may not be as large as some, it makes great use of every inch and pampers passengers with quality materials. My tester had a final price of $58,920 with delivery fees.
• John Stein is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. He has more than 25 years of experience driving, testing and writing about the automotive industry, its latest innovations and vehicles.