Slide into the driver's seat of the new Mazda CX-90 Turbo S in top-spec Premium Plus trim, and it takes about 20 seconds of soaking in the rich environs to understand where this brand is headed: upmarket, to the sunny skies inhabited by the makers of premium vehicles. There's soft nappa leather on the seats, blond Japanese maplewood on the center console and doors, and handsome cloth sewn onto the instrument panel. It's all very Volvo XC90 or Genesis GV80. Mazda has been infusing its cars and SUVs with more style and richer interior appointments recently to go along with the engaging road manners that remain an integral part of the brand's DNA. Now comes the CX-90, the biggest, most powerful, and by far most luxurious Mazda ever. It feels like the company's master's thesis on creating upscale products. After a first drive, we give it high marks.

New From the Ground Up

Mazda says that the CX-90 will serve as its flagship, and the company clearly has taken that mission seriously. This is no remake of an existing product. The CX-90 is built on an all-new architecture, is powered by two all-new engines—one of them a plug-in hybrid—and sends its power through an all-new transmission to a new all-wheel-drive system.

2024 mazda cx90 rearView Photos
Jessica Lynn Walker|Car and Driver

The CX-90 sits on what Mazda calls its Large platform. By any other name, it's a rear-drive architecture that situates the engine longitudinally rather than transversely as it is in the CX-9 and all other Mazda products, save for the Miata. All CX-90s come with all-wheel drive standard.

The new underpinnings have another purpose: They enable the CX-90 to look the part of the premium SUV it's trying to be. That's thanks to a longer dash-to-axle ratio—the distance from the front wheels to the dashboard—something not achievable with a transverse-engine, front-drive layout. The result is a longer hood and a cabin that sits farther back. It's a more elegant proportion, one employed on luxury vehicles from BMWs to Benzes.

Carefully tailored sheetmetal with handsome detailing dresses that premium profile. The CX-90 looks substantial, but it's actually only slightly bigger on the outside than the CX-9 that it will replace at the end of 2023—1.4 inches longer, 0.6 inch taller, and 1.0 inch wider. Its 200.8-inch overall length and long 122.8-inch wheelbase put its exterior size at the larger end of the broad mid-size-SUV segment, which encompasses everything from the Kia Telluride to the Toyota 4Runner. The CX-90's one big size difference compared with the outgoing CX-9 is its wheelbase, which is 7.5 inches longer.

2024 mazda cx90
Jessica Lynn Walker|Car and Driver
2024 mazda cx90View Photos
Jessica Lynn Walker|Car and Driver

Three CX-90 Models

CX-90s come in three models: Turbo, Turbo S, and PHEV (plug-in hybrid). The first two are powered by an engine that helps the CX-90 feel like the real deal: a 3.3-liter turbocharged inline-six with a 48-volt, 17-hp hybrid-assist system. A 280-hp version of the engine with 332-pound feet of torque powers the Turbo; this version runs on regular fuel. A 340-hp version of the six making 369 pound-feet of torque on premium fuel motivates the Turbo S. Both engines' internals are identical; Mazda turns up the boost on the more powerful variant by roughly 5 psi to about 19 psi and adjusts other engine parameters to take advantage of higher-octane fuel. The plug-in hybrid mates a 189-hp 2.5-liter turbo four with a 173-hp electric motor for a combined 323 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, also on premium fuel.

Both the 48-volt hybrid-assist motor and the plug-in's more powerful electric motor are sandwiched between the engine and the eight-speed automatic. Mazda's first automatic with more than six forward speeds, it was developed entirely in-house. Mazda chose to use a wet clutch pack in place of a conventional torque converter; this arrangement is more compact, which slims the transmission's size and opens up additional foot room for front-seat passengers by reducing the width of the transmission tunnel.

2024 mazda cx90 interiorView Photos
Jessica Lynn Walker|Car and Driver

Multiple Trim Levels and Seats for Six, Seven, or Eight

One glitch in Mazda's master's thesis is the CX-90's dizzying array of trims and seating configurations. CX-90 Turbos offer five available trims (Select, Preferred, Preferred Plus, Premium, and Premium Plus) that layer on more features and better interior materials as you go up each step of the ladder. Turbo S and PHEV models offer only the top few trims, with subtle differences between them. Once settled on a trim, you then have to figure out your preferred seating configuration, which could well change the trim you ultimately end up with.

Depending on the model and trim, CX-90s offer six-, seven-, or eight-passenger configurations. The various layouts mix three-across bench seats for the second and third rows with available second-row captain's chairs and a two-across third-row bench. Sort that Rubik's Cube of possibilities out, and you're home. We won't even attempt to do that here except to tell you that Turbos start at $40,970, PHEVs at $48,820, and Turbo Ss at $53,125. No matter which setup you ultimately choose, there's plenty of room in the first two rows, but the third row is too tight on legroom to be adult-friendly, and only the kiddies will be able to sit three across in the last row.

We drove both a top-spec Turbo S Premium Plus ($61,325) and a PHEV Premium Plus ($58,325) on rain-lashed highways and two-lanes between San Francisco and Sonoma. The Turbo S was posh personified, with a long list of standard equipment encompassing the aforementioned nappa leather upholstery and handsome wood inlays plus heated-and-ventilated front seats and second-row captain's chairs, a second-row center console, three-zone climate control, a head-up display, 12-speaker Bose audio, a power sunroof, and much more. Turbo S models get a 12.3-inch digital instrument display and 12.3-inch central infotainment screen, up from 7.0 inches and 10.3 inches, respectively, in the lesser trims. There's some hard plastic in the interior, but it's well disguised. All CX-90s come with a full suite of driver-assist safety tech.

Better still, the controls have a refreshingly straightforward simplicity about them. Yes, there are plenty of functions embedded in the central screen—navigation and vehicle-system setup and personalization options, among others—but we applaud Mazda's decision to use hard buttons and knobs for the climate controls, audio system, and several other features. Shutting off lane-keeping assist or the stop-start function is but a single push of a button away. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.

2024 mazda cx90View Photos
Jessica Lynn Walker|Car and Driver

Drives Like a Mazda

That straightforwardness translates into the way the CX-90 drives. This is a subtly engaging automobile—enjoyable and refined but never overbearing. The CX-90 lineup eschews the air springs and adjustable dampers often found on premium SUVs, but they're not missed. The ride on the 21-inch all-season tires—lower trims have 19s standard—is taut without being harsh. You feel the road but in a good way. The handling is rock steady on the interstates and surefooted on the many miles of drenched two-lanes we traversed. The helm has heft, the steering is progressive and sure. The CX-90 feels reassuringly planted in corners, and it didn't flinch when we leaned on it in some of the less wet sections. There was very little difference dynamically between the Turbo S and PHEV; they're both satisfyingly refined and competent. So, yes, the CX-90 drives like a Mazda.

The new turbocharged inline-six in the Turbo S is well matched to the CX-90's classy persona. At 340 ponies from 3.3 liters, it's no screamer—the automatic upshifts at 6000 rpm. But it's as smooth as Häagen-Dazs and pulls well from just about any speed with virtually no discernible turbo lag. According to Mazda, some of the engine's willing low-speed responsiveness is due to its sky-high 12.0-to-1 compression ratio, plus the torque provided by the 48-volt hybrid assist system at lower engine revs. The turbo six voices a pleasant snarl at higher rpm that disappears to a whisper at highway speeds. Mazda digitally enhances the engine note "slightly."

The six plays well with the new eight-speed automatic in everyday driving. The gearbox shifts smoothly enough and holds gears longer in Sport mode, but there's no dedicated manual-transmission mode, and downshifts using the steering-wheel-mounted paddles are laggy. We didn't drive the base Turbo powertrain, but both versions of the six deliver 25 mpg combined, a reasonably competitive number in this segment.

The PHEV drivetrain is also happy in its work. The gas engine has a sporty exhaust note, and the hybrid system has more than enough torque to pull the CX-90 along with little effort. The PHEV houses its roughly 14.8-kWh battery under the floor just above the rear axle. We had to estimate that usable-capacity figure, as Mazda won't say what it is—it also wouldn't reveal either the CX-90's drag coefficient or its front-rear weight distribution. Odd. Nevertheless, it's a well-integrated system that brings in the gas engine seamlessly when the juice runs out or when you call for more acceleration than the electric motor can provide.

The EPA estimates all-electric driving range at 26 miles; the PHEV earns ratings of 56 MPGe and 25 mpg combined. On our return leg from Sonoma to San Francisco, we drove the first 18 miles on electrons even though we left the parking lot without a full charge, easily accelerating to 65 mph on the straighter two-lanes and holding that for miles at a time. Mazda says that the battery will recharge from empty to full in 11 hours on a Level 1 (120-volt) outlet and in two hours, 20 minutes on a Level 2 (240-volt, 7.2-kW) charger.

This first rain-soaked drive of the CX-90 leaves us feeling very good about Mazda's latest push toward luxe. This SUV is handsome, plush, and value-priced relative to the premium vehicles it aspires to compete against. It drives with just the right balance of sportiness and refinement to be both engaging and appropriately cosseting. It looks sharp outside and is well appointed inside. But will the general public buy into the premise of Mazda's master's thesis—that a brand with a mainstream badge on the grille has the chops to compete with premium SUVs? With CX-90s hitting dealerships in the next few weeks, we'll know soon enough.

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2024 Mazda CX-90
Vehicle Type: front-engine or front-engine, front-motor; all-wheel-drive, 6- to 8-passenger, 4-door wagon

3.3 Turbo Select, $40,970; 3.3 Turbo Preferred, $44,820; 3.3 Turbo Preferred Plus, $47,275; PHEV Preferred, $48,820; 3.3 Turbo Premium, $50,275; 3.3 Turbo S, $53,125; PHEV Premium, $54,275; 3.3 Turbo Premium Plus, $54,325; 3.3 Turbo S Premium, $57,825; PHEV Premium Plus, $58,325; 3.3 Turbo S Premium Plus, $61,325

turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve 3.3-liter inline-6, 280 or 340 hp, 332 or 369 lb-ft; DOHC 16-valve 2.5-liter inline-4, 189 hp, 192 lb-ft + AC motor, 173 hp, 192 lb-ft (combined output: 323 hp, 369 lb-ft; 14.8-kWh (est) lithium-ion battery pack; 7.2-kW onboard charger)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 122.8 in
Length: 200.8 in
Width: 78.5 in
Height: 68.2 in
Passenger Volume, F/M/R: 56–57/51–52/33 ft3
Cargo Volume, Behind F/M/R: 74–75/40/15–16 ft3
Curb Weight (C/D est): 4750–5250 lb

60 mph: 6.0–6.8 sec
1/4-Mile: 14.4–15.2 sec
Top Speed: 118–130 mph

Combined/City/Highway: 25/23–24/28 mpg

Combined/City/Highway: 25/24/28 mpg
Combined Gasoline + Electricity: 56 MPGe
EV Range: 26 mi

Headshot of Rich Ceppos
Rich Ceppos
Director, Buyer's Guide

Rich Ceppos has evaluated automobiles and automotive technology during a career that has encompassed 10 years at General Motors, two stints at Car and Driver totaling 19 years, and thousands of miles logged in racing cars. He was in music school when he realized what he really wanted to do in life and, somehow, it's worked out. In between his two C/D postings he served as executive editor of Automobile Magazine; was an executive vice president at Campbell Marketing & Communications; worked in GM's product-development area; and became publisher of Autoweek. He has raced continuously since college, held SCCA and IMSA pro racing licenses, and has competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona. He currently ministers to a 1999 Miata and a 1965 Corvette convertible and appreciates that none of his younger colleagues have yet uttered "Okay, Boomer" when he tells one of his stories about the crazy old days at C/D.