The tale of two big Mazdas.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens. There are always more photos at the end of my reviews.
This will be a somewhat picture-rich review, as I’ll be trying to show both vehicles.
Mazda has sprung a new big SUV on the Canadian market – the CX-90. Combining big size and luxury with a rear-wheel-drive based drivetrain makes for a new experience. I’ve reviewed two of the models back to back – the plug-in hybrid version (which I’ll refer to as PHEV from now on) in the mid-range GS-L trim and the gas-powered Signature trim (which I will refer to as the Signature from hereon in).
It’s important to note that the PHEV reference includes the plug-in hybrid drivetrain in a middle of the road trim, where the Signature is the gas-only drivetrain in the highest trim level so you’ll need to consider the difference not only in drivetrains but also in trim levels. For the readers’ reference in pictures, since I’m including shots of both vehicles and since they both came in a version of red, the PHEV is the lighter, brighter red one and the Signature is the dark plum-like red/purple. In my opinion, both are incredible paint colours.
Pricing: 2024 Mazda CX-90
Base price (Plug-In Hybrid GS-L trim): $59,950
Options: $450 Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $62,495
Pricing: 2024 Mazda CX-90
Base price (Signature trim): $63,300
Options: $650 optional paint and interior
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $66,045
The overall styling is luxurious and the whole vehicle feels like it is carved out of one solid piece. It gets a lot of looks on the road.
One of the first things I noticed on the CX-90 was the bold front end. It looks (and is!) wide and brings with it a considerable presence when the vehicle is standing still or coming down the road toward you. Mazda’s split wing grille aesthetics look fantastic here.
I found the silhouette of the CX-90 to be very rear-heavy. The short front overhang emphasizes the amount of vehicle behind the rear axle even more and there’s a lot of it. I don’t mind this look – it appeals to me.
All exterior lighting is LED – headlights, driving lights and tail lights.
The PHEV drives on 19-inch rims with 265/55-sized tires. The Signature gets massive 21-inch rims with equally huge 275/45 tires.
I found the difference in wheel size and styling between the mid-level and upper trims to be one of the biggest visual upgrades – it seems to change the whole look.
The Signature just looks way more upscale. There’s a slick chrome rocker panel trim at bottom of doors with “Mazda” debossed into it that really draws in the eye.
If there was one styling miss for me it’s the cowl badging on the Signature that says “Inline 6”. To me, that looks cheesy and is completely unnecessary – the engine configuration isn’t really a feature that is going to blow people away. At least the PHEV indicates exactly that, although I’m not sure I’d put either of these things smack dab on the cowl there.
Materials are nice. There’s plenty of soft-touch plastics where they need to be, and in the PHEV, a nifty textured plastic trim running the expanse of the dash’s width and continuing on to the door panels. The effect is quite dark however. The Signature trim changes everything, replacing the dash and door trim with a stunning brown suede and gray striped panel combination.
I love that there is no gloss black trim in this vehicle. That is a trend that needs to die – it’s simply a dust, fingerprint and scratch magnet, and I’m glad Mazda didn’t include it in the CX-90. In the PHEV, there was a matte black finish on the console. In the Signature, this trim is that same striped grey stuff.
Of note, the grey trim pieces appear to be plastic, although they are very attractive. If you don’t opt for the tan leather interior in the Signature, those pieces are real maple wood and also look amazing.
The CX-90 has a fantastic heated steering wheel. In the Signature, it’s two-tone, combining brown and black leather. Behind it is a configurable 12.3-inch digital dash. In the PHEV, the right side splits into two energy gauges – one for your fuel and one for your plug-in battery. The left side is a power meter, starting with how much regenerative charge you are providing to your vehicle (during coasting or braking) and swinging the needle up into the powerband when you’re consuming electric and/or combustion energy.
The seats are excellent. We found them to be very comfortable and reasonably well bolstered for support. In the GS-L trim, they are heated and upholstered in leatherette which was fine.
The Signature steps up to a stunning perforated Nappa leather and adds seat ventilation. The seats have black accent striping and diamond quilting detail. They are are nice to look at as they are to sit in.
Centered on the dash is the 10.25″ screen controlled by the HMI rotary dial/button. The interface has improved, but it’s still among the more awkward and tedious systems on the market today, requiring the user to dig through layers to achieve simple tasks at times.
In the PHEV, you get wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a decent 8-speaker audio system. The Signature makes these connections wireless and steps up to an outstanding 12-aspeaker BOSE system.
Oddly, the screen only works as a touchscreen when using it with CarPlay or Android Auto. I find that really weird.
The CX-90 has a boatload of modern driver assistance technology to keep everyone safe. The GS-L trim includes a back-up camera and front and rear parking sensors, automatic high beam control, rear cross traffic alert, smart brake support, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, rear seat passenger alert, driver attention alert, pedestrian detection, lane keep assist and lane departure warning. The Signature adds emergency lane keeping, rear pedestrian detection and a set of 360-degree cameras.
The GS-L cabin is really nice, but the Signature interior is just something else – it almost feels like a completely different vehicle because of all the upgrades. It is truly a place of luxury.
Second and Third Row Seats
The GS-L trim (along with the higher GT) gets captains chairs in the second row, which makes this a 7-passenger SUV. The second row seats are very comfortable. I’m 5’10”, and sitting behind my own driving position, I had head room to spare and about 6-7 inches of knee room. The seats are heated, have adjustable armrests, recline and slide fore and aft. The Signature trim adds ventilated second row seating.
The rear of the centre console features two USB-C plugs, adjustable air vents and a separate climate control panel.
The left seat has a nifty flip-up tray that integrates two cupholders. Combine this with the huge panoramic sunroof overhead and the second row is a lovely place to be. Because there is space between the seats, you can put bags and other stuff there.
In the Signature, that space is gone, thanks to a very deluxe rear console that includes two cupholders, an armrest with a clamshell lid and a deep carpeted bin. At the front of the console, you’ll find a long carpeted slide-out storage compartment. As nice as this console is, the downside is that third-row passengers can’t walk through to third row.
Getting into the third row is reasonably easy, however once you’re there, the seats are obviously meant for smaller passengers. There is not a lot of legroom, although I guess the second row seats can be slid forward more (to the dismay of the second-row passengers), and there is no foot room under the second row seats. If someone is stuck in the middle seating position in the back, they could at least stretch their legs out between the two second row seats. Third row passengers get adjustable air vents, two cupholders and USB-C charging ports on either side.
If you are transporting children, there is a total of three sets of child seat anchors – one in the third row and one on each of the second row seats.
At the front of the centre console is a small rubberized wireless charging mat, oriented width-wise, as well as a 12V plug. You’ll find a shallow carpeted bin under the clamshell armrest lid where two USB plugs reside as well.
Popping the power liftgate reveals a small but useful 423L space exists behind the third row (451L in the Signature), with additional storage under the floor including a dedicated space for the charging cable if you’re travelling. A couple of bag hooks and a 12V accessory plug finish things off.
Folding the third row down (it splits 60/40) boosts cargo space to a much more generous 1133L (1155L Signature), and you can even flip the second row seats flat for a huge 2101L (2129L Signature) trunk space.
Under the Hood
Powering the PHEV is 2.5L inline-4 – combined with the electric motor, the system output is 323 horsepower and 369 lb.ft of torque.
Mazda rates the PHEV’s combined electric and gasoline fuel economy at 4.2 Le/100 km. As a gasoline hybrid only, the fuel economy is rated at 9.9/8.7 L/100 km (city/highway).
The Signature has another new powerplant from Mazda – a 3.3L turbocharged inline-6 with a mild hybrid system, rated at a similar 340 HP and 369 lb.ft of torque. Mazda says this engine should get 10.3/8.5 L/100 km (city/highway). We averaged 10.1 L/100 km – quite impressive for a vehicle this size, where we made no effort to drive economically and most of the driving was around town with only a few freeway sprints.
Both CX-90 powertrains are mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
Premium fuel is recommended for both but is not required. There’s a minor loss of power with regular fuel, but the engines run harm-free on it.
The PHEV feels powerful off the line, and is incredibly smooth in EV mode. I never needed for more power while driving in full EV mode. In addition, when you step on it and it combines EV and fuel power, the PHEV feels very quick – I suspect it probably feels quicker than it actually is. That said, it lurched on occasion and sometimes felt laggy when switching between power modes.
The Signature is very powerful in every driving situation – no need for more power here. The mild hybrid will occasionally allow the vehicle to coast on electric power.
Drivers can choose between different drive modes: normal, sport, off-road and EV in the PHEV.
The 8-speed transmission is new from Mazda – while it shifted very smoothly, I found it to be hunting for the right gear on occasion.
The PHEV ride is very good but when it came to the Signature, I didn’t love the ride. I suppose it’s a combination of the suspension and the low-profile tires, but there was definitely some harshness and vibration over a lot of road imperfections, and it seemed unbecoming of a vehicle this luxurious. Both feel like very heavy, substantial vehicles.
Handling is fine for a beast of this size, but you can feel its size and mass in the corners along with plenty of body roll. That said, it feels nicely planted and is highly competent when it comes to traction and grip. I usually don’t give a shout-out to the turning circle, but for the size of this vehicle, the CX-90’s is incredibly tight and makes for easy parking and maneuvering.
The PHEV obviously gets regenerative braking and I have to say, I wasn’t impressed with them. They are initially very grabby and feel mushy at the same time. Other manufacturers have come a long way with hybrid/EV regenerative braking feeling almost completely normal in some vehicles – not so in the CX-90 PHEV. The Signature’s brakes, on the other hand, are very powerful and while a bit grabby, I found them much easier to drive with.
We found the CX-90 to be very quiet in almost all driving situations, especially the PHEV. Visibility out of the vehicle is mostly good with the exception of the view out of the back if the third row is in use and the headrests are up.
If you need to be towing, the PHEV can handle 3,500 pounds, whereas the Signature is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds.
The plug-in is hidden behind a flap identical to the fuel door, but located on the right rear quarter. There is storage space under the trunk floor for the charging cable. The battery is 17.8 kWh and it takes about 6-1/2 hours to charge it from 20% to 80% on a household plug. Of course, leaving it plugged in overnight ensures a full charge. If you have a level 2 charger installed, charging time drops to 1.3 hours. Mazda indicates a range of 42 km, however the vehicle would invariably start the day with an indicated EV range of 48 km and we would almost always achieve somewhere between the two.
You can choose your target charge level while you’re driving, which means if your battery drops below the target level, it will use your gas engine to charge the battery while you’re driving to bump it up to the desired level. Perhaps you want to max out your battery level for city driving so you can do that while on the highway. It’s a great idea.
Once you’ve exhausted the PHEV’s electric-only range, the vehicle reverts to normal hybrid operation which means there is no range anxiety to be had here. With a full battery and fuel tank, the PHEV’s range is 789 km.
There was an incessant rattle coming from the cross-brace plastic piece separating the two parts of the panoramic roof. Every time a door was closed or the vehicle hit a big bump, it would rattle.
Even in the top of the line Signature, there is no power-folding third row – a bit surprising at this price level.
Vents at the outside edges of the dash stick out quite far when the doors are open, and I smashed my knee on them several times – taller people beware!
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was middling. She really loved the styling and said both looked fantastic, especially the Signature and especially its interior. She didn’t love how big they felt on the road and she also noticed the rougher-than-expected ride in the Signature.
I really, really, really wanted to love the CX-90. If you’re a regular reader or you know me in real life, you know I am a big Mazda fan. The CX-5 is one of my most-recommended vehicles, and frankly I haven’t seen a miss from Mazda in years.
I do love much about the CX-90 but it feels a bit unfinished, as if some of the details weren’t quite full baked. I’m not sure if I got early production samples, but some of the lurching, the rattles and the ride harshness just shouldn’t show up in a vehicle like this.
I do like a lot about each of these vehicles – I think I would choose the PHEV as I could get through almost every day on battery power alone. And I do love the Signature trim in terms of the wonderful interior and exterior upgrades. I’m hoping the CX-90 gets its day in the sun as it has the makings of a fantastic luxury SUV.
Disclosure: Vehicles were provided by Mazda Canada.
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