2023 Mazda CX-90: If It Only Had a Honda Badge

May 8th, 2023 at 3:39pm

2024 Mazda CX-90 - 01 - Original

For me, Mazda is a mystery. Its cars are some of the most handsomely designed. They drive like a dream. And their build quality is superb. Yet sales-wise, Mazda trails well behind Honda and Subaru. I think that if Mazda dealers surreptitiously put some Honda or Subaru badges on their cars, they would fly off the lot.

I can’t explain why Mazdas don’t sell better. Maybe it’s something to do with its dealers being in the wrong locations. Who knows? But the problem certainly isn’t with its cars, especially the all-new 3-row CX-90.

This big crossover replaces the CX-9 and it looks more substantial, more imposing and more luxurious than the outgoing model. There are three powertrain choices, a turbo inline 6, an “S” version of that, and a PHEV variant, with the latter two designed to run on premium gasoline for maximum power. The turbos also get a 48v mild hybrid system for a bit more boost and for stop/start. All versions come standard with all wheel drive.

2024 Mazda CX-90 - 18 - Original

The base 3.3 L inline 6 develops a decent 280 horsepower and 332 lb-ft. The “S” bumps that up to an impressive 340 horsepower and 369 lb-ft, while the PHEV version gets 323 hp and 369 lb-ft. The EPA rates the turbos as 25 mpg, while the PHEV delivers 56 mpge, as long as owners religiously plug it in.

I spent a week with the base version of the powertrain and found it smooth and powerful. No surprise there. Inline 6s are known for their superb balance. In light throttle situations you barely notice the engine, but if you put your foot into it you get a pleasing growl as the CX-90 rushes forward.

But I found the stop/start feature to be a bit bumpy on re-start, and the 8-speed automatic can seem to hunt for a gear in light, on/off pedal moves at low speeds. Maybe some more calibration can make that go away.

Inside, the CX-90 is beautifully turned out. The model I drove had a tasteful black-and-tan interior with suede inserts on the dashboard, the door panels and on the seats. That suede really makes the interior look welcoming and I found myself idly running my hand over it at stop lights. It feels that good.

2024 Mazda CX-90 - 14

But the good feeling vanishes the instant you start the engine. For some reason Mazda triggers an annoying seat belt minder as soon as you push the Start button. Other automakers wait at least until you engage Reverse or Drive to trigger the seat belt minder, which is still annoying but at least makes sense. The only way to avoid Mazda’s loud ding-ding-dinging is to belt up as soon as you get in the CX-90 and then push the Start button.

But that’s not what I do when I get in a car. I always start the engine first, and then put on the seat belt. That gives the oil a moment to fully circulate in the engine before getting underway. As a creature of habit I found myself cursing the CX-90 every time I started it.

At least Mazda improved the UX controls, especially for the radio. It still takes about 4 pushes and twists of the rotary controller just to change the station, but it’s more intuitive than before.

The CX-90 has plenty of leg and headroom for the first and second row passengers. The front seats provide excellent thigh and lumbar support, while the second row seats have decent thigh support and very good egress and ingress, especially at the footwell area.

2024 Mazda CX-90 - 22

But getting into the 3rd row seat is only for the spry and nimble. For adults, it’s a twist, turn, pull and slide affair to get back there. And then you’ll find your chin on your knees. There is very little knee room or thigh support. This seat is really for pre-teeners.

Behind the third row there isn’t much luggage space, at least when the seats are up. But fold the seats down and there’s plenty of room for most occasions, like trips to the grocery store.

I liked my test drive of the CX-90. It starts just under $40,000 and walks up to almost $60,000 for a top line model, which is competitive. It’s a good looking vehicle with a tasteful interior, plenty of power, and lots of room for hauling people around at least in the first two rows.

Now, if Mazda can just figure out a way to get Honda and Subaru owners to put it on their shopping list, it could sell very well.

–John McElroy

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3 Comments to “2023 Mazda CX-90: If It Only Had a Honda Badge”

  1. rick Says:

    how long do us buyers have to wait for these very efficient internal combustion engines we’ve been lead to beleive exist from none other than mazda??

  2. rick Says:

    im sure a call to the autoline office from a mazda official. they could be given matthew t. riley from nautilus hcci or achates power telephone number. help a brother out.

  3. Dave S Says:

    Mazda, as a company, has it’s own and mostly unique ‘play book’. Heavily influenced by the Japan continent priorities (hybrid or gas, not EV) that seem to link to their natural resource availabilities.
    But Mazda-priorities center up on driving enjoyment and efficiency more than raw acceleration and ‘green’.
    They’ve resisted the US BIG BIGGER BIGGEST trend for about forever, preferring athletic lighter vehicles that keep the driver in touch with the vehicle dynamics.
    CX-90 is the BIGGEST they’ve gone in any category theyve sold into, and that tendency to NOT give into BIG BIGGER …. has probably kept them out of the average US buyers attention span to some extent.
    I’ve owned an MX-5, a 3 hatchback, and earlier, a Tribute (Mazda updated/trim of then Escape SUV). All have been agile and connected drives, reliable, efficient for category, and great drives.
    Hope US buyers connect better with CX-90, and maybe start looking at the other smaller offerings too!!