Mazda CX-90 First Drive: More Power, More Luxury 3 Row SUV – Plus, a Plug-in Hybrid!

Mazda delivers even more luxury, design and performance in the new CX-90 3 row SUV; there's even a plug-in hybrid option for all electric driving.

Scotty Reiss And Mazda Cx-90
Scotty Reiss and Mazda CX-90. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The real luxury is the feeling of effortless power.

Slide into the front seat of the Mazda CX-90 and you feel it: lovely leather, a modern, elegant interior, a cabin that feels more open and spacious without feeling larger than the CX-9 that it replaces. 

There are features that are new to Mazda’s largest SUV, which is a new model for 2024: a panoramic sun roof, a 12” multimedia display, a digital driver’s information screen and center row captains chairs (which are new-ish; they were introduced in the CX-9 in 2020). 

Then, start the CX-90, put it in gear and feel more power than ever. The new flagship SUV from Mazda generates up to 340 horsepower and buyers can choose from silent electric driving or a mildly-throaty 6 cylinder turbo. 

The CX-90, priced from about $39K to $59K, marks Mazda’s entrée into three new areas: a higher level of luxury, more passenger space and more power, including a first ever plug-in electric hybrid powertrain.

The Front Seat In The Mazda Cx-90

The front seat in the Mazda CX-90. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Zoom Meets Zen 

These two ideas—more interior luxury and power under the hood—are the pillars of Mazda’s continued growth into a premium luxury brand: the elegant feeling of being swept along the highway in a powerful, beautiful machine.

The interior continues to bring zen to its passengers with a calming edit of features. Mazda introduced a number of new materials in its interior design, including a fabric dashboard cover with hanging stitches, or long stitches that connect two fabric panels and reveal the soft, dark surface of the dashboard underneath. It’s one of the most elegant interiors I’ve ever seen. But there are also options with leather covering every surface, or microsuede front and center, which was in one of the models we test drove. 

Passenger seating is also leather-swathed (leatherette in the base Turbo model, Nappa leather in the top of the line Turbo S Premium Plus and PHEV Premium Plus models), and in the top of the line model, rear seat passengers have heated and vented seats. 

Sitting In The Third Row Mazda Cx-90

Sitting in the third row Mazda CX-90. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Seating to Accommodate All Your Passengers

Buyers can choose the number of seats they would like: 6, 7 or 8, an unusual configuration for 3 row SUVs, which usually offer either 6 or 7, or 7 or 8 seats. Mazda lets you choose the number that best suits your needs (though all are not available at all trim levels). 

This means that in some models, there is a center row bench that seats 3 and a rear bench that seats 3; in some models there are center row captains chairs and a third row that seats 3 and in the higher trim levels, a third row that seats two. 

In the top of the line models, there is a console between the center row captains chairs, tough in the mid-level trim levels there is a pass-through instead, which may be preferable to families who plan to use the third row regularly. 

E-Skyactive Is A New Moniker For All Mazda Engines

e-Skyactive is a new moniker for all Mazda engines. Photo: Scotty Reiss

An Upgrade in Power – And a Choice of How You’d Like to Use It

We have been waiting to drive this larger, roomier more luxurious 3 row SUV since it was revealed earlier this year. Mazda offers three CX-90 engine types and within those, several levels of luxury to choose from, which in general is Base, Premium and Premium Plus. All models have some form of electrification; even the turbo models have a mild hybrid system that operates accessories and climate control via a battery electric system to save gas. This new system is designated by the e-Skyactive badge on the rear of all Mazda CX-90 models.

All models, even the base model Turbo, deliver quite an increase in power from the CX-9’s 227 HP/320 torque, with 280 HP/332 torque. And they all are expected to get about 25 MPG. The Turbo S model generates up to 340 HP/369 torque—when using premium fuel—but runs at a standard 319 HP when using regular gas. And the PHEV model—short for plug-in electric hybrid vehicle—comes in at 319 HP/369 torque and an all electric driving range of 26 miles. 

The added power is effortless and lovely. On my test drive I started out in the city in the PHEV model and was able to drive in all electric. This mode is great for those days when all your errands are short drives; you can mostly avoid using gas. 

On the highway, however, the gas engine is capable and powerful. It was easy to merge into heavy traffic, to maintain a comfortable speed, and on rural two-and roads with higher speed limits, the Mazda CX-90 is confident and capable. 

The Leather Covered Dashboard And 12 Multimedia Screen In The 2024 Mazda Cx-90

The leather covered dashboard and 12 multimedia screen in the 2024 Mazda CX-90. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Drive Electric When You’d Like, And Not When You Don’t 

The PHEV’s EV mode allows you to drive on all electric power; the CX-90 has a range of about 26 miles of electric driving. That’s enough for basic daily driving— school drop-off, grocery runs, a stop at Starbucks. But when you need to head across town for a playdate of your own with a friend from college, or to the mall with the better Nordstrom, the gas engine kicks in. 

In fact, the gas engine will take over from the electric motor when the battery range is at 20% or lower, or when you floor the accelerator, such as to merge onto the highway or pass a truck, so you have all the power you need. Ease off the accelerator and the system reverts to all electric driving if it’s warranted.

In normal mode the system uses electric power to assist the gas engine. I switched between modes to try them out and they worked nicely; the system switched modes as demands changed and even so, it was not easy to tell by sound or feel when we were operating in gas or electric mode. I could tell by looking at the driver’s information screen, though.

And then, there’s the “Charge” button: push this while driving in Normal and it charges the battery while you drive. You can shorten the time it will take to replenish the battery’s charge by charging while you drive.

The Mazda Cx-90

The Mazda CX-90. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Larger, But Not Heftier

Even though this is Mazda’s largest 3 row SUV ever, you don’t “feel” the 3rd row as you drive. As is Mazda’s mission, the drive experience is driver focused and in control, so while you have space for 6, 7 to 8 passengers, you don’t feel that full extension of the car behind you. 

You also don’t feel it as you drive and park in crowded city settings. I detoured from our test drive route to find coffee; it was a cold, rainy day ‘atmospheric river’ day in Northern California and I needed to stop for espresso. Apple CarPlay directed me to the exit for Berkley to the Starbucks in this charming but busy village section of town. Parking is tight and my route took me through an area with a lot of street parking, traffic circles and speed bumps. A larger SUV might present a bumpy ride or make me nervous about parking in such tight circumstances.  But the Mazda CX-90 was great, even handling quite well a couple of u-turns to find parking. I was able to ease into a tight parking spot and I never felt like my doors would ding the car next to me. This can be an accomplishment for a 3 row SUV.

The Center Row In The Mazda Cx-90

The center row in the Mazda CX-90. Photo: Scotty Reiss

So What’s It Like as a Passenger? 

Lovely in the center row and not awful in the 3rd row, though it’s tight for taller passengers.

Center row seats are theater-style, positioned a bit higher than the front seats and offer a nice view of the road and light from the panoramic sunroof. Seats in our test model were heated and ventilated leather, and there are climate controls and USB-C ports on the back of the front seat center console. A center console between the captains chairs has an arm rest storage cubby, a pull out storage drawer and cup holders — though you can out not to have the console in favor of a pass-through to the 3rd row, which may be better for daily use of the 3rd row.

To reach the 3rd row it’s necessary to pull a tab on shoulder of one of the center row seats to slide and tilt forward; this should work with a forward facing child passenger seat installed, though the access space may be quite small. 

Once the seat is pushed forward, there is enough space for an average size person to climb in, but it’s not an overly large space. I was able to climb in easily and turn to sit in the third row. Pulling the center seat back into place, it positions itself to give third row passengers more leg room, which I found comfortable. 3rd row passengers have USB ports, cup holders and air vents embedded in the panel under the cup holders.

Head Up Display In The Mazda Cx-90

Head up display in the Mazda CX-90. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Luxury of Leading Technology 

Mazda rolled out a new camera system that they call “See through” cameras, essentially a surround view system that allows you to see the front, side and rear of the car, or all around it. 

I loved that on my detour, as I was parking, the front camera came on automatically to help guide me into the parking spot. Front facing cameras are likely going to become law soon because of the added safety that this visibility offers, especially when pets or small children are nearby as you’re parking or pulling into a driveway.

There’s also a driver monitor camera built into the 12” multimedia screen; you can see the small circle in the upper left corner of the screen.This not only works to monitor your awareness for safety— suggesting you might pull over to rest if it senses you’re getting sleepy— but it will also prompt you to focus your eyes on the road if it senses you’re not paying attention.

It also will help you to set and resume your driver preferences. Mazda CX-90 drivers can set up a profile that automatically adjusts your seat based on your height and weight; select your height and it adjusts your seat height and distance from the pedals, positions the steering wheel and adjusts the mirrors. This was pretty incredible. 

Then, the system will prompt you to look at each side mirror (so it can capture recognition of your face) and save your settings. When you get into the car the next time it will recognize you and restore your settings. You can even set the cabin temperature, radio station and other personalized settings.

Then, there is a a larger head up display that also displays driving directions and motion graphics to show you where other cars are around you; you can set the size of graphics on the multimedia system, and you can connect wirelessly to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Center Console In The Mazda Cx-90

The center console in the Mazda CX-90. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What the Mazda CX-90 Costs 

This is probably the most shocking fact: Not a lot more, to start. The base model CX-90 is only $845 more than the base model CX-9, and simply considering the larger engine, added power and new design, that’s a bargain. 

Each trim level adds more luxury features, though many can be added as upgrades to the lower trim models. Here’s how pricing breaks down: 

Mazda CX-90 Turbo:

  •  Base Model with 280 HP, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, leatherette seats and 7 or 8 passenger seating, $39,595
  • Preferred trim: $43,335
  • Preferred Plus trim: 45,900
  • Premium: $48,900
  • Premium Plus: $52,950

Mazda CX-90 PHEV:

  • Preferred model with a 319 HP motor and 26 miles of all electric range: $47,445
  • Premium: $52,900
  • Premium Plus: $56,950

Mazda CX-90 Turbo S with 340 HP (using premium fuel) 

  • Base model: $51,750
  • Premium: $56,450
  • Premium Plus: $59,950

I think the most stunning fact is that the base model price is so close to the base model price of the CX-9, and in the Turbo Premium Plus or base model Turbo S you get a lot more than the top of the line CX-9, which has a starting price of just under $49K. 

The Newest Color In The Mazda Family Artisan Red

The newest color in the Mazda family Artisan Red. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Effortless Luxury, Delivered

Mazda went all out to assure that families and 3-row SUV owners can have what they want in both luxury and performance in the CX-90, and delivered it nicely. It wound’t be a far stretch to see buyers who don’t really ever need a third row opting for the CX-90 simply for the center row luxuries and the more powerful drive experience. 

And that there’s a plug-in option that allows you to rarely get gas but have it when you need it is a nice luxury too. All of it adds up to real luxury: a beautiful space that whisks you away on your journey with effortless power. 

Disclosure: I was a guest of Mazda for this test drive; travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss