2024 Mazda CX-90 3.3 Turbo S Premium Plus Package AWD – Review by David Colman +VIDEO
Indecisive in multiple aspects
Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
This all new full-size, 3-row SUV marks a big step up for Mazda into the premium family transport market. The model we drove for a week sits at the top end of the price range, with an MSRP of $59,950, and an as delivered tab of $61,920. If you buy one right away, you'll be saving the normal new model depreciation for more than a year since Mazda is calling the CX-90 a 2024 model. Theoretical savings aside, is the latest endeavor from Mazda really worth the asking price? In some respects, definitely yes. In others, no.
Let's start with a peek under the hood, where a splendid all-new straight six cylinder gasoline engine resides. This turbocharged and intercooled, DOHC, 24-valve, 3.3 liter marvel of engineering produces 340hp and 369lb.-ft. of torque. I couldn't wait to see what it looked like, since it represents the most powerful engine Mazda has ever produced for street use. But when I thrust the double hydraulic strutted hood up, I was crestfallen to discover that the entire engine bay was shrouded with a black plastic modesty shield which completely blocked view of the new prime mover. What a letdown!
However, that unseen powerplant redeemed itself when asked to move this 4,750lb. bruiser with alacrity, cracking off the 0-60mph sprint in 6 seconds flat, running the quarter mile in 14.4 seconds, and posting a top speed of 130mph. Mazda uses a mild hybrid 48 volt system to boost output of the 3.3 liter six by adding 16hp and 113 lb.-ft. of torque. The straight 6 issues a delightfully British soundtrack when you lay into the throttle, something you don't expect when driving such a heavily insulated SUV. The gas-powered, large displacement 6 is just one of several tempting engine choices available in the CX-90. Also on offer is a less powerful straight 6 producing 280hp. Or you can opt for Mazda's first ever PHEV combo, which uses a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder hybrid to make 323hp. This plug-in hybrid makes the same 369 lb.-ft. of torque as the straight 6, but requires 4000rpm to produce it, whereas the 6 hits peak torque at just 2000rpm. The CX-90 is tow rated at 5000 lbs., and all-wheel drive is standard on all versions.
Mazda has designed their own new 8-speed automatic gearbox, which is equipped with steering wheel mounted paddles for manual management. The stubby shift knob which protrudes from the center console proved recalcitrant. In order to engage Drive, you need to slide the stick to the right to disengage Park, then tug it back towards you to access Reverse, Neutral or Drive. Several times the unit refused to budge out of Park. The only way to get going was to turn the CX-90 off, restart the engine, then shift into Drive. Performance of this gearbox when underway also proved problematical. At low speeds it hesitated as if indecisive about which gear to select. This uncertainty produced a jerking oscillation. More alarmingly, when we floored the throttle at very low speed to merge into a gap in an adjacent traffic lane the CX-90 refused to accelerate. Another time we were driving away from a stop sign when the accelerator pedal went completely dead, and a small digital "Stop" icon appeared briefly on the face of the speedometer.
The essence of the Mazda brand has always been the sporting feedback you enjoy when driving one of their products. Thankfully, the company has managed to infuse their newest offering with the DNA that makes this brand a favorite of those who enjoy the art of driving. To that end, you need look no further than the wheelwells of the CX-90, where you discover a set of enormous 21-inch alloys fitted with equally sizeable Falken Ziex CT60 all season rubber (275/45R21) with an improbably sticky treadwear rating of TW300. These extravagant rollers adhere well when you tackle twisty backroads, but their minuscule sidewalls produce nasty kickback over bad pavement. We developed a nice rhythm with the CX-90 coping with the many turns of sinuous coastal Route 1. Do not doubt that this SUV has inherited the athletic gene coding of the Mazda model line.
What really distinguishes this SUV from the competition is the lavishness of its interior appointments. We particularly admired the artistry of the stitching on the seats and door panels, as well as the suede-like material used on the face of the dashboard. Although we found the seats to be hard and unyielding, the artistry of their appearance somewhat compensated for their lack of comfort. Our test CX was fitted with a pair of matching captain's chairs in the second row, plus a nook-like third row bench for the kiddies. If you need passenger space aplenty, this configuration will suit you well. But we would have preferred a second row split bench in order to provide a seamless flat load floor good for 55 cubic feet of storage. Collapsing the captain's chairs does not leave you with a comparably flat floor.
2024 MAZDA CX-90 3.3 TURBO S PREMIUM PLUS PACKAGE AWD
• ENGINE: 3.3 Liter Inline-6, DOHC 24-valve, Turbocharged and Intercooled, plus 48-volt mild hybrid
• HORSEPOWER: 340hp (Combined)
• TORQUE: 369Lb.-Ft.
• FUEL CONSUMPTION: 24MPG City/28 MPG Highway
• PRICE AS TESTED: $61,920
HYPES: Spacious and Lovely Interior
GRIPES: Confused, Non Responsive Transmission
STAR RATING: 7.5 Stars out of 10
©2023 David E Colman