Mazda Does Three Row SUVs Differently With The New CX-90 SUV

Discover the Mazda CX-90's journey against the current norms, as we delve into its striking design built around a unique 3.3-litre turbocharged inline-6 engine. Bucking trends, Mazda's commitment to excellence shines through, delivering a three-row SUV experience that challenges expectations

HOME POPULAR Mazda Does Three Row SUVs Differently With The New CX-90 SUV

Adam Allen Writer -

Words By: Adam Allen

Swimming against the current is hard.

Just ask a Sockeye salmon what that’s like after they complete their exhaustive journey to their spawning grounds. If they could speak, they would probably confirm that their trip was fraught with all kinds of setbacks and hardships, mainly the untold number of kilometers they had to fight to get upstream fighting an unrelenting current. Mazda is a car company and most assuredly not a fish, but their corporate philosophy is similar to that of the humble Sockeye in that they see a goal that needs achieving and do not take the easy path to arrive at said goal.

That stubborn approach is especially notable when you consider that Mazda is not as large a company as  some of the players it goes up against in various segments, and that means that it must do more with less from a resources standpoint. They could be forgiven if they took as many shortcuts as possible when nurturing the development of a new model like the CX-90 you see here, but like always, they turn their noses up at convention and do things differently.

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Take the CX-90’s design. It is not only a very handsome one, but you will note the elongated hood and the pleasing proportions that follow as a result. That’s because the CX-90 is designed around a completely new engine, namely a 3.3 litre turbocharged inline-6. Where so many competitors in this segment covet the saturated ubiquitousness of a 2.0 litre turbo four banger, Mazda zigs where they zag. We couldn’t be happier they did so- not only is the inline-6 a more pleasing centerpiece of an increasingly uncommon drivetrain, but inline sixes are beloved for their inherent smoothness- they are perfectly balanced- and have been the engine architecture of choice ranging from Jaguar to BMW and so many in between over decades past.

Like Mazda’s other turbocharged engines, the diet you feed the straight six will yield different power ratings. Give it good ol’ regular go-go juice and it makes 319 horsepower. Upgrade to the good stuff and power jumps to 340. No matter the fuel, torque remains unaffected at a robust 369 pounds feet. More is always better, but for the added cost we’d stick to 87 octane- besides, it’s the torque that gets you up and moving around anyhow. Not only that, but the straight six is augmented with a 48-volt mild hybrid system that works as beautifully and seamlessly as the ones found in upper crust BMW and Mercedes Benz products. Our tester was equipped with the highest output version because we can’t stop jonesing for more horsepower- for those who don’t need the full fat version, know that there’s a less powerful version available as well as a PHEV variant which we can’t wait to have a go in later on.

While we’re waiting, the CX-90 gives us a lot to enjoy in the interim. Turning that lovely inline six north/south instead of a transverse setup helps with weight distribution which in turn makes for better handling, which will keep most drivers engaged and entertained. Mazda products have never felt weak in that department- each model offers a precision and engaging drive that most others they compete with can’t match. This three-row family bus isn’t going to threaten the MX-5 you have parked alongside it in the garage for achieving driving nirvana, but it does dance a jig quite nicely for such a big brute. The cliché of ‘despite the size, it shrinks around you when pushed’ seems fittingly applied to the CX-90. Robust brakes help scrub off kinetic energy and the transmission shifts admirably- just don’t expect a snappy response from the plasticky paddle shifters peeking out from behind the steering wheel.

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Whereas Mazda products reliably deliver on a high fun-to-drive quotient, so too does the way the cockpits are turned out. Resplendent in a luxurious amalgam of high-quality plastics and materials, the CX-90 does not stray from the tradition of gifting owners with a plush experience that belies the price tag that came attached to it. Our tester had a sumptuous cabin finished in a rich looking tan hue, and the exclamation point tying everything together is a swath of suede trim that runs the length of the entire dash. It’s ritzy stuff, and it’s not just the touchpoints that impress- the newly digital rendered instrument panel looks pretty slick, and the Bose stereo is likely the best sound system we have ever laid ears on in a Mazda, ever. There are captain’s chairs in the middle row anchored by a functional console, and there’s plenty of room in the third row as long as the kiddies aren’t too tall.

Some of us on the Carpages Garage are tall while others   are short, but vertical height matters not when the critical sizes up our current ride. We did find some things that rankled us. It’s worth noting that despite the gripes that will follow none of them are egregious enough for us to hesitate recommending the CX-90 to family and friends. We’ll start with the shifter, whose design falls flat- why the weird ‘J-Gate’ vibe from late-90’s Jaguar interiors when shifting from Drive to Park? We would have been happy with a lever that simply moved forwards and back with a button for Park- perhaps a little later in the CX-90’s product life cycle? And as much as we praise Mazda for building products that cater to the enthusiast on some level, we noticed a surprising lack of chassis rigidity and could feel the structure flexing over big bumps and when performing quick directional changes. Most CX-90 drivers will likely never notice this, but it stood out to us. Lastly, Mazda’s corporate infotainment system is starting to show its age. The unit in the CX-90 appears to have been the recipient of a little extra polish and now functions as a touchscreen as well, but the menu structure feels stodgy and it can sometimes get flummoxed by simple commands, even freezing up from time to time. Owners will no doubt become comfortable with the proceedings, but we wonder what it would be like if it received a rethink.

It's a forgone conclusion that there aren’t many things with the CX-90 that need a rethink. This is a great effort from Mazda and should solidify its place in the conversation of the best three row SUVs on sale today. With brilliant styling inside and out and a lovely new powertrain tying it all together, don’t sleep on the CX-90. Mazda might choose to do things differently than the rest of the heard, but you won’t mind one bit.

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2024 Mazda CX-90 Signature - Specifications

  • Price as tested: $65,745
  • Body Type: 5-door, 7 passenger SUV
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Engine:  3.3-litre turbocharged inline-6, DOHC, 24 valves
  • Horsepower:  340 @ 5,000 rpm
  • Torque (lbs-ft.): 369 @ 5,500 rpm
  • Curb weight: 2,224 kg (4,903 lbs)
  • Observed Fuel Consumption: 13.8 L/100km (17 mpg)