2024 Mazda CX-90 Unveiled – New Flagship in Town UPDATED

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

Mazda currently sells four crossovers, not including the California-only MX-30 EV. But it doesn’t have a premium-priced three-row. Yes, the three-row CX-9 is nice for the price, but it’s not quite the flagship the brand needs.

Enter the CX-90.

This new three-row from the small Japanese automaker known for its “zoom-zoom” reputation is going to face off against the Korean stablemates, as well as the other $50K-plus three-row crossovers that are plying the parking lots of America’s shopping malls.

Astute observers of the current market will note that the available mix of vehicles at that price point ranges from high-end crossovers sold by mainstream brands and entry-level-luxury models peddled by upmarket makes. This means any new entrant needs to be able to duke it out with upscale models in addition to high-volume nameplates. That, of course, means that at the very least, top-trim levels need to be pretty high-end.

At first glance, the CX-90 appears ready to be at least class-competitive, but much remains unanswered.

One question that did get answered – we were uncertain if the CX-90 would replace the CX-9 or be sold alongside it as a more premium/upscale choice. Mazda spokespeople tell me the CX-9 will be joining the junkyard in the sky after the 2023 model year, with the CX-90 being its replacement.

(Full disclosure: Mazda flew me to Santa Monica, California, and fed and housed me so that I could see the CX-90 up close at a very, very expensive home in Malibu.)

Mazda isn’t ready to reveal some specs yet – hopefully, the brand will have those details nailed down by the time media members drive it for the first time this spring – and other questions can only be answered from behind the wheel. That said, my initial reaction is generally positive, though reserved.

I admit personal preference is at play here – I like the CX-90’s blandly handsome styling, but I tend to gravitate toward styling that is conservative but sharply tailored over a flashier approach. If we’re talking clothes, I’m more likely to buy a suit that’s cut just right and looks good but not memorable over one that’s using bright, unusual colors to catch the eye.

The look is handsome but not perfect – body-colored fender cladding looks a bit chintzy, and the lower fascia opening is a bit reminiscent of a hooked fish. Air vents on the sides of the front look a bit crimped, too. Still, the overall package works – I even dig the fairly heavy use of available chrome up front.

I’d also note that the available Artisan Red paint color is intriguing – it looks almost black in the shade while giving off a nice burgundy vibe when hit by sunlight.

Inside, the upper-trim model we climbed around had nice materials that looked and felt upscale, and about on par with, and perhaps nicer than, what’s on offer in the Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy I’d tested just last week. Mazda will keep using the dial-adjustable infotainment system, but there is now touchscreen functionality for the 12.3-inch screen. Digital gauges are available.

The second row can be set up with captain’s chairs, and I slid one forward and crawled into the third row. I’m on the taller side but getting in was a breeze, and I had more legroom than I expected. The sloping rear pillar did make it a bit claustrophobic, and I suspect folks much taller than I will struggle, but I think most adults will be able to withstand the CX-90’s third row for short trips of under 20 minutes. Getting out, however, required some twisting, and I had to set down my camera to free up both hands so that I could get out with some dignity intact. I didn’t explore the third-row ingress/egress in the plug-in hybrid model that had a second-row bench seat.

Yep, one of the available powertrains is a plug-in hybrid. The other is a 3.3-liter turbocharged inline-six that makes 340 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. The six-cylinder gets what Mazda calls a mild-hybrid setup, in which an electric motor is positioned in between the engine and the torque-converter-free eight-speed automatic transmission.

Update: I goofed -- there's also a 3.3-liter turbocharged inline-six that makes 280 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque and serves as the base engine. This engine also has a mild-hybrid setup.

This electric motor can directly power the CX-90 at low speeds and is meant to help keep acceleration from a dead stop smooth.

Back to the PHEV. It combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine with an electric motor and a 17.8-kWh battery, and the total system power is 323 horsepower and 369 lb-ft when the driver uses premium fuel (which is recommended). The system can run electric-only in certain situations, but Mazda is mum, for now, on what those situations are and what the maximum EV-only range is. The PHEV uses the same eight-speed automatic transmission as the gas-engine model.

All-wheel drive is standard and the CX-90 has a front-engine, longitudinal layout that Mazda says is rear-wheel-drive biased. One feature to note is Kinetic Posture Control – a system that uses software to reduce body lift during cornering – which should both make for maximum grip and reduced body roll.

The CX-90 should be capable of very light off-roading with either powertrain. By “light” we mean getting to the campsite or the trailhead and not boulder-bashing on the Rubicon.

Other features to note include available 21-inch wheels, third-row USB-C charging ports, third-row air-conditioning vents, and advanced driving-assist systems like Smart Brake Support, blind-spot monitoring, and radar cruise control.

Mazda is staying quiet, at least for now, on pricing, fuel economy, and towing. On that last point, a Mazda spokesperson told me that the CX-90 will be able to tow more than the CX-9, which has a max capacity of 3,500 pounds. Pricing is likely to start somewhere between $40K and $50K (we’re betting it will base around $45,000) and top out just shy of $60K.

Contrast this with the CX-9 – the base price is about $38,000 and the top trims for that model are under $50K.

We expect fuel economy to be announced closer to the on-sale date, which itself is tentatively planned for spring. Mazda was also mum on the exterior and interior dimensions, but I was told that they’d be increased over the CX-9.

I inquired about diesel and battery-electric powertrain setups and I was told that since Mazda sells diesels globally, it’s possible we’d see one here – but the tone and body language of the rep suggested that “possible” is very far from “likely.” Given the sad state of oil burners in this country, especially in the years since the Volkswagen emissions scandal, I’m thinking we won’t see a diesel CX-90 on our shores, even if one is sold elsewhere.

As for an EV setup, I was told Mazda is merely “looking into” it. Remember, Mazda has said it will have a new EV platform for 2025.

The 2024 Mazda CX-90 looks, on paper and in person, like a strong entry into the part of the three-row crossover class where the upper end of the mainstream and the low end of luxury overlap. But on paper doesn’t mean much. Even kicking tires, touching sheetmetal, and sitting in the cabin can only tell us a very little bit. Full judgment is on hold until we drive it.

If the CX-90 is class-competitive in terms of dimensions, capacities, utility, fuel economy, and interior materials, that will obviously make for a strong start. This author thinks the styling is attractive enough, inside and out, to turn heads, though I also think that the rugged-looking Telluride sells so well in part because of those macho duds – and the more urbane CX-90 might compare more favorably to the Palisade.

The key here is if the CX-90 will be fun to drive. Yes, fun behind the wheel ranks very low on the list of priorities for 99 percent of three-row buyers. But Mazda has staked its reputation on not limiting behind-the-wheel fun to the Miata. The selling point of its crossovers, including the outgoing CX-9, has been that they’re fun to drive, as opposed to the boring tall wagons sold by the competition.

If Mazda nails that, the CX-90 has an instant selling point that few of its competitors have. If it doesn’t, it will be just another brand selling a stylish but otherwise unremarkable crossover.

[Images © 2023 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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3 of 36 comments
  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Feb 02, 2023

    Here's a gripe: Fuel fillers located on the right rear quarter of a vehicle.

    For gas, it makes it more challenging to position at the fuel pump.

    For PHEVs, that out-of-sight distance will discourage people from plugging in because you have to walk all the way around the vehicle. This becomes trickier if you have a tight garage, and you favor leaving more space on the driver's side for ingress/egress.

    Why bother if the gas engine will still get me there? It undermines the point of a PHEV.

    • Johnds Johnds on Feb 06, 2023

      I don’t know if you ever use Costco gas, but it looks like 99% of Costco shoppers have left side gas doors. I see less of a wait for right side gas pumps.

  • Jimf Jimf on Feb 09, 2023

    I really want to like the car...but on Mazda's website, interior volume is Santa Fe sized like the CX9, not Telluride sized...if I wanted Santa Fe sized, I would buy a Santa Fe...

  • Lou_BC Ironic, the Honda Ridgeline, a truck that every truck guy loves to hate is in 6th place.
  • 28-Cars-Later I keep forgetting I own it, but the space look on the ext cab reminds me of my 'Yota pickup of the same model year. I'm pretty sure there is some vintage of Hilux which features the same looking ext cab window (maybe '88?) its a shame these things are mostly gone and when available are $1,000,000,000 [INSERT CURRENT CURRENCY].
  • Sayahh Imagine if Ford had Toyota design and build a Mustang engine. It will last over 300k miles! (Skip turbo and make it naturally aspirated.) Maybe Yamaha will help tune it...
  • Sobhuza Trooper Isuzu's crime was to build some damn good trucks.Shame on them.
  • El scotto Listen, unless you were Lord Headly-Stempmoor or such when you got off the off the boat, boot in Canada, you got the short end of the stick. People got on the boat, these days a plane, to escape famine, becoming cannon fodder in yet another stupid war, or the government thought it was A-OK to let soldiers kill you. Juneteenth is just a way to right one of the more bad ideas in the American experiment. Instead we have commenters who were buying tater chips and diet soda at Wal-Mart and got all butt-hurt because they heard someone who wasn't speaking English. I'm going to go fix a couple of frankfurters with salsa and guacamole and wash them down with a lager or three