|Positives: Really fun to drive for a three-row SUV, evolutionary premium styling, high-end feature set, cabin materials rival the Germans, easy and attractive infotainment system.|
|Negatives: Bulbous back end, third row not much bigger than before, dizzying trim levels, slow paddle shifters.|
|Bottom Line: The CX-90 is the rightful heir to the CX-9 but it's that much better in terms of luxury, features, and comfort. Mazda can easily compete with the likes of BMW and Mercedes, but its infotainment system probably needs dressing up.|
Mazda continues to deliver an excellent driving experience that can't be matched by any non-premium brands. From its affordable CX-30 crossover all the way up to its largest models, the driving dynamics are virtually unparalleled. The CX-90 continues that trend but adds a bank-vault solidity to the equation that's reminiscent of BMW and Mercedes. The new platform with all-wheel drive and a new rear-drive bias provides even better handling than the CX-9, and the potent engine choices are impressive. The fact that Mazda is using a longitudinally-mounted inline-six engine has premium written all over it.
Ride Quality: The CX-90 feels incredibly solid but also dampens very well without feeling disconnected from the road. It manages gaps and bumps very well.
Acceleration: This is a quick three-row SUV that launches to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds. The in-house developed wet-clutch transmission shifts smoothly and quickly. It's too bad the paddle shifters are slow to respond, and the engine sounds unrefined when pushed.
Braking: The brakes are responsive and progressive. We were able to bring the CX-90 to a stop very well despite its almost 5,000-lb curb weight.
Steering: The steering has nice effort, great precision, and a decent overall feel. It stays on-center at high speeds and works well in tight spaces.
Handling: The CX-90 is impressively agile in turns, and it manages its weight like a champ. Handling is predictable, and it's actually a very fun SUV to drive.
There's nothing really wrong with Mazda's current infotainment system. It's simple, easy to use, and definitely better than the previous generation from a few years ago. The problem lies with its aesthetics for what they tout as a premium vehicle. In the base model, it might be fine. For $60k, not so much. The gauge cluster is just about perfect, but it's the graphics and lack of full touchscreen capability that's hard to justify.
Infotainment System: We like the size of the 12.3" screen, but it's not up to snuff when compared to the looks of BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus systems. The fact that you can only use the touchscreen when using Apple CarPlay is frustrating. Previous Mazdas only let you use the rotary controller between the seats, so this choice is stupefying.
Controls: We like Mazda's physical controls, especially the infotainment and audio controls. The protruding thermostat controls are confusing, though because they seem like toggle switches rather than buttons. The shifter is also confusing with its pattern, and it will take some getting used to. We prefer our CX-9's more traditional shifter.
Mazda's evolving design language isn't significantly better than the old one, but it does look more upscale. The CX-90 keeps with tradition by using iconic Mazda styling cues that have been updated to reflect its upmarket aspirations, and this is the case both inside and out. The one aspect that bugs us, however, is the bulbous upper half of the rear fascia. On the flip side, the interior is one of the best in the business.
Front: The front fascia is more upright than the CX-9's. The more refined black mesh pattern looks great, and the chrome frame is a premium touch. The only aspect we don't like is the odd vertical vents on the lower fascia.
Rear: It looks really odd from the back thanks to the high beltline and the bulbous upper half. The taillights are very BMW-esque, and the bottom half of the tail section seems too tall.
Profile: The profile looks great, overall, especially with the short overhangs, the slope of the roofline, and the nice fender badges.
Cabin: The interior is just gorgeous with two-tone hues, suede everywhere, and matte faux wood that looks great. Aluminum and stitched suede and leather notch up the luxe quotient. In top trim, it's easily one of the best interiors in the business, and it can surely compete with the Germans.
Mazda knows that materials and ergonomics matter, and the CX-90 is a prime example of that mindset. We have loved Mazda interiors of late, and the CX-90 takes it up a couple of notches. At this trim level, the Nappa leather upholstery in the first two rows is standard. The huge, soft swaths of suede on the dash are like nothing we've seen at this price. It even encircles the engine stop/start button.
Front Seats: The front bucket seats are soft and supple. Cushioning is just right, but we'd like to see some extendable thigh bolsters. The side bolstering could be better for an SUV that's performance-minded.
Rear Seats: The 2nd-row captain's chairs are almost as good as the front seats. They're pretty close. The console in between has been slimmed down compared to the one in the CX-9 Signature, and it helps keep the cabin more airy. The third-row seats are a tad better than the CX-9's in terms of legroom, but it's not much. At least the very back seats are very nicely done, and you'd never guess they were vinyl.
NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The cabin is very quiet, more so than the CX-9's, but the engine sounds a bit harsh when the CX-90 is pushed. It's a bit weird for a vehicle of this caliber.
Visibility: Aside from the thick and angled D-pillars, overall visibility is good. The driving position and the sloped hood provide good sightlines out the front.
Climate: The airflow is good, and the heated/ventilated front seats are responsive. No issues here.
The CX-90 is one of the safest three-row SUVs on the market, and Mazda can continue to claim that its entire lineup attains the IIHS Top Safety Pick or better, which is a moniker any carmaker would love to have. They're the only brand that can claim this, and that's a big deal, especially in light of increasingly stringent safety criteria.
IIHS Rating: The CX-90 positively crushes every category with "superior". It does get an "acceptable" in headlights, but only for some trim levels.
NHTSA Rating: Not tested.
Standard Tech: The CX-90 comes with Blind Spot Monitoring w/ Vehicle Exit Warning, Front Cross Traffic Alert/Braking, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Keep Assist, Emergency Lane Keeping, Secondary Collision Reduction, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Cruising and Traffic Support, Driver Attention Alert, and Driver Monitoring.
Optional Tech: None.
The CX-90 is good with storage and cargo but not at the front of the pack like the Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade, and the Honda Pilot. The storage options inside could use improvement, but there's enough for daily gear without too much trouble.
Storage Space: The front wireless charging tray is decently sized, as is the center armrest. The twin cupholders have a retractable door, and it's also good for small items to tuck away out of sight. The door pockets in both rows are also pretty good.
Cargo Room: Gas versions of the CX-90 have 15.9 ft cubic feet behind row three and 75.2 cubic feet with the 2nd and 3rd rows folded flat. That's a tad better than the CX-9's 14.4 and 71.2 cubes, respectively.
the difference between the CX-90 3.3-liter turbo six and the PHEV version is net zero because the PHEV does 1 mpg better in the city but 1 less on the highway. We were able to match the EPA estimates, which is pretty good for an SUV with this much power and substantial weight. M
Observed: 27.3 mpg in mostly highway driving conditions.
Distance Driven: 343 miles.
In 3.3 Turbo S Premium Plus guise, the CX-90 gets an excellent 12-speaker BOSE System that pumps out great sound, solid bass, and good clarity. It's worthy of the pricetag, and it's standard equipment. It was great for HD radio, streaming music, phone calls, and audiobooks with no distortion or transmission issues.