Effectively replacing the lame-duck CX-9 in Mazda's lineup, the CX-90 is an all-new, three-row crossover that's named in line with existing CX-30 and CX-50 models. Compared to the outgoing CX-9, the CX-90 is 2 inches longer, 1 inch wider and rides a wheelbase that is 6 inches longer. In addition to fresh styling, the CX-90 gets a new engine, a plug-in hybrid version and additional safety and technology features. Maximum passenger capacity is eight, but there is also an option for second-row captain's chars that reduces seating capacity to seven. Competitors include the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, and Volkswagen Atlas.
Trim levels include Select, Preferred, Preferred Plus, Premium and Premium Plus. Three different engines are offered as well. All trims come with a new turbocharged 3.3-liter inline six-cylinder engine that makes 280 horsepower. Optional on all trims is a high-output version of that engine that makes 340 horsepower. Available on the Preferred, Premium and Premium Plus is a plug-in hybrid powertrain that pairs a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with an electric motor to produce a combined output of 323 horsepower. To power the electric motor, the plug-in hybrid has a 17.8-kWh battery that has an estimated EPA all-electric range of 26 miles. All powertrains utilize an 8-speed automatic and come standard with all-wheel drive. Towing capacity is 5,000 pounds with the 6-cylinder and not recommended with the hybrid powertrain.
Prices range from $41,000 to $62,000. Standard safety features include forward-collision warning with brake intervention, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, driver attention monitor, safe-exit assist and rear-seat minder. Standard on all models are LED headlights, power liftgate, 3-zone climate control, 10.25-inch infotainment screen with wireless support for Android Auto and Apple Car Play.
Mazda's new inline six-cylinder is a gem of an engine. Of course it is significantly more powerful than Mazda's turbo four that had been used in the CX-9. More importantly, it's smooth. Gone is the four-cylinder rasp and growl, replaced by seamless and smooth acceleration. The more powerful version can push the CX-90 from 0 to 60 MPH in about 6.5 seconds - certainly class competitive. The 8-speed automatic upshifts shifts smoothly, but can be reluctant to downshift at times.
The plug-in hybrid powertrain is an interesting option. Not only does it offer best-in-class fuel economy, but it's also reasonably quick and doesn't feel overwhelmed by the CX-90's 5,000-pound curb weight. There are, however, some quirks in power delivery that show up in odd clunks or shudders. When the battery is fully charged, EV range is about 30 miles in fair weather. As the electric motor itself isn't all that powerful, stomp on the gas and the gas engine kicks in immediately to provide additional acceleration. Charging the battery can be accomplished by plugging the CX-90 into a standard outlet overnight. It's important to note that you don't have to plug in the CX-90 if you don't care to, when the battery is discharged, it operates like a standard hybrid.
The CX-90's all-wheel drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for severe off-road use.
Gas-only models are EPA rated at 24/28 MPG and 23/28 MPG, with the high-output engine requiring premium-grade gasoline. There are no ratings for the plug-in hybrid yet. In routine driving, expect to average about 20-22 MPG with the gas models. That's reasonably competitive given the level of power. Plug-in models will easily exceed 35 MPG and can average more than 40 MPG if you plug in each night.
From behind the wheel, the CX-90 feels larger and heavier than the outgoing CX-9, but it's still one of the more nimble and athletic large crossovers. The suspension is firm riding without harshness, but it doesn't coddle passengers. Overall, the ride/handling blend feels very European, much like an Audi or BMW.
The steering has a nice heft and a reasonable amount of road feedback. Brakes have solid stopping power and an easy to modulate pedal. Body lean is minimal, even in quick changes of directions. The suspension soaks up the worst of the bumps, but can occasionally let an expansion joint or pothole thunder through.
Interior noise levels are among the lowest in the class. There's very little wind or tire noise. The inline-6 purrs like a kitten, but the raspy hybrid powertrain seems unrefined at this price point.
The CX-90 completes Mazda's move upscale. The interior is awash in high-quality materials and sports excellent fit-and-finish. The control layout is modern without being too tech-focused and the digital instrument cluster, head-up display and infotainment screen are crisp, bright and easy to read.
Offering seating configurations for six to eight passengers, CX-90 lags behind the class leaders with regard to overall passenger and cargo space. The front seats offer excellent long-haul comfort and support, but the second-row captain's chairs are just mediocre overall. The third row is much more spacious than in the CX-9 but lags behind class leaders like the Kia Telluride and Volkswagen Atlas. Getting in and out is easy and outward visibility is good.
From a technology standpoint, Mazda mostly matches class norms. One curiosity is the infotainment screen that only responds to touch with Android Auto or Apple Car play. Otherwise you have to use the jog dial on the center console. Safety features work as expected.
One area where the CX-90 is clearly a bit behind class leaders is in cargo space. With just 16 cubic feet behind the rear seats, you can barely fit a couple of grocery bags. Fold the third row and space grows to 40 cubes. Overall capacity is just 75 cubic feet. Interior storage is modest. One nice touch is the butterfly opening center console cover.
Bottom Line -- The CX-90 is substantially better in every way compared to the outgoing CX-9. It's not the roomiest large crossover, but for most families it will more than do the job. Driving dynamics are excellent and the level of refinement is a step about the mainstream. Prices are reasonable and the plug-in hybrid is a very appealing offering in the class.