The 2024 Mazda CX-90 was a step towards the premium auto market for the Japanese brand. It is a comfortable, spacious, well-appointed, and good to drive family 3-row SUV. Now, Mazda is introducing the CX-90 as a plug-in hybrid vehicle with up to 42 km (26 miles) of range. But the demo vehicle I’m reviewing here is not a top-spec trim. So does the CX-90 still feel premium as a mid-level trim and is the PHEV just as good as the inline-6?
Engine – Unlike the inline-6 engine, the 2.5L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder that’s under the hood of this CX-90 PHEV is one that we’re all familiar with. It’s been used in many other Mazda vehicles such as the CX-5 and CX-30. And just like many other Mazda vehicles, this engine has two power outputs depending on what grade of fuel you put in the tank. This will also dictate what the total system output will be when combined with the 173 hp & 199 lb-ft (129 kW & 270 Nm) electric motor. Below are all of the power figures.
2.5L engine w/ 93 octane fuel: 189 hp & 192 lb-ft of torque (141 kW & 260 Nm)
2.5L engine w/ 87 octane fuel: 185 hp & 184 lb-ft of torque (138 kW & 249 Nm)
Total system output w/ 93 octane fuel: 323 hp & 369 lb-ft of torque (241 kW & 500 Nm)
Total system output w/ 87 octane fuel: 319 hp & 369 lb-ft of torque (238 kW & 500 Nm)
Though this plug-in hybrid version of the CX-90 is heavier and doesn’t have quite the same power figures of the inline-6, it can still manage a 0-100 km/h in just under 6.5 seconds. More than enough Oomph for 3-row SUV owners. With the engine not being turbocharged, the CX-90 PHEV is a fast responding SUV when the mood takes you.
But when you’re driving through city traffic, the car doesn’t feel as refined as one would expect from a premium product. When maneuvering at parking lot speeds, the electric motor is loud. Of all the PHEVs or EVs, or even Hybrids, I’ve never heard such a loud electric motor. Additionally, the transition from electric to gasoline is generally smooth. But in the odd time or two, the car will have a strong kick when the gas engine takes over. It’s as though someone is kicking the back of your seat in an airplane. At higher speeds though, this car is smooth and responsive. Additionally, the CX-90 PHEV can tow up to 3,500 lbs whereas the high-output versions of the inline-6 can tow up to 5,000 lbs.
Battery & Charging – For the PHEV portion of this vehicle, the electric motor has more than enough power to move this heavy SUV. Whether it’s in rush hour traffic or at highway speeds, it never felt as though it was struggling. Should you need more power, the engine will turn on to provide the extra kick.
Providing the energy is a 17.8 kWh battery pack. Mazda estimates the all-electric range is 42 km (26 miles). During my time with the car, I noticed the engine turning on after about 36 to 39 km (22 – 24 miles) of electric-only driving. This was with climate control running at all times and I do live in a part of the world where we have large hills & mountains so more energy will be used to go uphill than recuperate when going back down. I managed an energy efficiency rating of 31 kWh/100km (2.00 miles/kWh).
Recharging the battery can be done through a level 2 charger which will take approximately 2.5 hours from 0% to 100%. From a home wall outlet, it will take around 11 hours. The battery can also be recharged by the engine though this type of charging will consume a bit more fuel. Under the Mi-Drive mode selector, you’ll find a button that will enable the engine to recharge the battery and provide motion for the car. You’ll be prompted on the infotainment system if you’d like to charge the maximum battery charge state and to what percentage. These will range from 20% to 100% in 10% intervals. This is also the only way to maintain a battery charge for later use.
If the charge target you selected is below the current state of battery charge, the car will continue to run in EV mode until the battery is depleted to your set parameter. After which, the engine will turn on and the car will drive like a self-charging hybrid vehicle. If the current battery charge is below the set maximum target that you set, the engine will turn on and continue to provide a bit of energy to the battery and to move the CX-90. But again, this will use more fuel so it’s best to set the max recharge setting to below the current state of battery charge.
Fuel Economy – If you decide to drive the 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV like a self-charging hybrid, then it’ll return 9.9 L/100km (23.7 MPG) in a city and 8.7 L/100km (27 MPG) on a highway. Depending on how often you plug in the CX-90 and how long your commutes are, the real-world fuel economy can drastically differ. During my time with the car, I averaged 4.1 L/100km (57.4 MPG).
Transmission – This version of the CX-90 receives the same 8-speed automatic transmission that is paired with the new inline-6 engine in the non-PHEV versions of the 2024 CX-90. At higher speeds, this is a smooth shifting transmission. It’s decently responsive should you want to take over the controls with the paddle shifters. But there’s a noticeable delay if you take the rpms right up to the redline. Shift up a bit sooner and it’ll respond a bit more quickly.
Where this transmission isn’t quite as smooth is at slow speeds. When setting off from a stop, you can feel the change from 1st to 2nd and 2nd to 3rd. After that, it’s seamless. But for those first few changes, it’s noticeable. Not so much that it spoils the drive but enough to notice.
Braking – The CX-90 PHEV recuperates some energy back into the battery through regenerative braking. It has Low and High high regen braking modes. It’s not a huge difference between the two and regardless of which mode you choose, the physical brakes are still required to slow down the big SUV. The physical brakes are strong and they provide a good pedal feel.
Handling – Dynamics wise, the 2024 Mazda CX-90 has taken a turn more towards the comfort & luxury side of things rather than outright sporty driving. The rear-drive biased AWD system gives the big & heavy SUV a planted feeling around corners. Mid-corner bumps hardly do anything to unsettle the car. But you will still feel the heft of this SUV through twisties. It is not as much fun to drive as something like a BMW X5 but it is more enjoyable than something like a Hyundai Palisade or Honda Pilot. In a way, the sure-footed feeling will be to more driver’s preference than one that is twitchy and like on a knife’s edge. It also has a pretty good turning circle for such a large SUV.
Ride Comfort – Like many other Mazda models, the 2024 CX-90’s ride is a tad on the stiff side when compared to some other brands but it’s by no means uncomfortable. Sharp city bumps or deep potholes can feel a bit jarry but on the whole, the ride is no worse than most of its competitors. The ride of this SUV really shines while driving on highways. It is rock steady and at times, feeling like a German car down the autobahn.
Interior Space – The 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV is available as an 8-passenger or 7-passenger 3-row SUV. However, you have to opt for the base GS trim (preferred in USA) if you want the 8-seat capacity. The GS-L and GT trims (Premium & Premium Plus in USA respectively) are only available with 2nd row captain’s chairs.
As per usual, front occupants have the most amount of space with plenty of leg and headroom and a pretty tall driving position. The 2nd row captain’s chairs in this GS-L trim provide a generous amount of space even for taller adults. At 6’4”, I had just enough space behind my tall driving position. Headroom is a bit tighter but the chairs can recline to create more headroom. As well, they do slide. In between the seats is a passthrough and you can lift up a panel with a couple of cup holders.
Getting into the 3rd row is easy thanks to a pull of a lever on the 2nd row seat which tilts & slides it forward. The ingress & egress area is a bit tighter compared to some other 3-row SUVs. Space in the 3rd row is limited for someone of my height but it is a bit more than the CX-9. But space for your feet is very tight due to the rails on which the 2nd row seat slides on.
The plug-in hybrid version of the Mazda CX-90 doesn’t lose too much cargo capacity compared to the inline-6 version. This PHEV has 423 L (14.9 cu-ft) of cargo space with all rows of seats up. Fold down the 3rd row and that number increases to 1,133 L (40 cu-ft). With the 2nd row folded, the maximum cargo capacity is 2,101 L (74.1 cu-ft). Under the floor you’ll find one or two small storage bins along with the spare tire underneath the cover.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – The one noise that I’ll never be able to forget is that of the electric motor. As I mentioned earlier, it is incredibly loud. The noise does get drowned out by tire noise at higher speeds but when setting off from a stop or when the car is stopped on an incline, you will always hear the electric motor. It’s not a great sound for something that is aiming to be a premium product.
Otherwise, there is some road noise on highways but it’s not too bad. Additionally, the 4-cylinder engine makes good noises when revved hard. I personally find it nicer sounding than the inline-6 but that’s just me.
Odds and Ends
Pricing – The 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV has a higher starting price than the inline-6 variant of the CX-90. The PHEV starts at $54,900 CAD ($47,445 USD, Preferred) for the GS trim. This GS-L starts at $59,950 CAD ($52,900 USD, Premium) and the GT is $64,350 CAD ($56,950 USD, Premium Plus).
Gadgets – With this demo vehicle not being a top spec trim, it predictably does not have every gadget and gizmo in the Mazda catalog. But even so, it has just enough to satisfy the needs of a family. The 10.25” infotainment screen does not have a built-in navigation system but you can add it later on as an accessory. The system is compatible with Apple CarPlay & Android Auto but in this GS-L trim, they both have to be wired. In the GT trim and the Premium & Premium Plus in the US, these apps are wireless. A wireless phone charger is standard along with heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. But as with all Mazdas, the steering wheel heating is only at the 9 and 3 positions. The 3-zone automatic climate control is adjustable for the driver, passenger, and 2nd row occupants but the 3rd row occupants do have their own air vents. The leatherette upholstery on the seats is ok to the touch but the real leather on the steering wheel is nicer to the touch. On the outside, there is a power liftgate, panoramic sunroof, and standard LED headlights with automatic leveling.
Interior Design – When I stepped foot for the first time in the Mazda CX-90 Signature, I was blown away by how nice the interior looked and feeled. Because this demo vehicle is a mid-level trim, it did not blow my socks off. In fact, I’m a little disappointed by the materials of this CX-90. It has a lot of hard and scratchy plastics all over the dashboard, door panels, and center console. It doesn’t exude the same feeling of premium that the Signature trim does. It felt like I was sitting in a Mazda from 7 or so years ago.
But in terms of functionality, the CX-90 is typical Mazda. There are physical buttons and controls for different functions. The infotainment system is controlled by the rotary knob on the center console but the touch portion of the screen is activated when using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. One minor complaint is the use of the climate temperature controls. You have to push down on the blue, down arrow to lower the temperature but you push down as well for the red, up arrow to raise the temperature. Logic would dictate that you pull up on the button but it operates the same way as the lower temperature button. Not a big deal but it’s a bit counterintuitive.
Exterior Design – I wasn’t too keen on the design of the 2024 Mazda CX-90. It has an evolved design of previous Mazda models. When I drove the Signature trim, I never noticed other drivers gawking at it. Perhaps it was the new Artisan Red Metallic paint as it doesn’t have a “pop” amongst other SUVs on the roads. But this Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint does stand out a bit more. Even without the 21-inch wheels of the GT, this GS-L doesn’t look too bad. The PHEV variant has PHEV lettering on the side of the front fenders and the tail pipes are hidden behind the bumper cover. But otherwise, you can’t tell that this is a different version of the CX-90.
Safety – While the base GS trim of the 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV is equipped with the usual safety features & driver aids such as automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning, you have to move up in the trim levels to have a CX-90 that is equipped with every aid in the catalog. Some of these extra driver & safety aids include front cross traffic alert, surround view cameras, smart brake support rear crossing, and vehicle exit warning to name a few.
Warranty – Here in Canada, the 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV is covered by a 3 year / unlimited km basic warranty and a 5 year / unlimited powertrain warranty. In the United States, the warranty is 3 year / 36,000 mile basic & 5 year / 60,000 mile powertrain. For more info on Canadian warranty, click here. For more info on U.S.A. warranty, click here.
Conclusion – Back to the two questions at the start of the review. Is this PHEV the one to go for over the inline-6? I don’t think that it is. At least not right now. It doesn’t have the refinement of other PHEVs in this price category. The electric motor or electric noises are too loud at slow speeds, the transmission shifts are not smooth enough for the first few gears, and at times the transition from electric to the engine is rough. The inline-6 was not perfect but it did drive a bit better than this one does. This car just needs a bit more refinement, so give Mazda another year or two to work out all the little details.
Secondly, does this mid-level trim feel premium enough? No, it doesn’t. The Signature that I drove before had soft leather and really high quality materials throughout the cabin. This one has a lot of plastics and it feels like a Mazda from 7 or so years ago. Having said that, it’s not really a bad thing but when it costs $60,000 CAD, you expect more from something that’s aiming to be a premium product.
So overall, in good conscience, I cannot recommend this car … at least not right now. Like I said, give Mazda a year or two to work out some of the kinks and refine it a bit. In the meantime, if you want a 3-row plug-in hybrid, the Kia Sorento is a good option and I suppose you can go for the Mitsubishi Outlander but the 3rd row in that one is hilariously tiny. I don’t even know why they bothered to include it. But, if you like and want a CX-90, go for the inline-6 version.
Thank you to Mazda Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Mazda.ca