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Mazda CX-90 2024 review

The new CX-90 is a very different beast to the CX-9 that Mazda says is not its direct predecessor.

The all-new Mazda CX-90 has massive shoes to fill.

Not only does it replace the sleek CX-9 – which remains widely regarded as one of the best seven-seater SUV on the market regardless of price, even after seven long years – it must serve as the brand's flagship, as it moves upmarket.

A lot like the old Mazda 929 used to. 

In other words, along with all the obvious mainstream rivals like the Toyota Kluger, Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe, the imposing CX-90 is stepping up against the luxury establishment like the Audi Q7, BMW X7, Genesis GV80, Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Mercedes-Benz GLS and Volvo XC90.

No pressure THERE then! Let's dive right in!

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Price and features – Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Kicking off from $73,800 (all prices are before on-road costs), the cheapest CX-90 is a whopping $25,000 more expensive than the entry-level CX-9 Sport FWD...

Now, you're likely thinking: has Mazda gone mad with pricing?

But hear us out here, because the CX-90 is part of the brand's new and expanded SUV strategy.

Next year it will be joined by a slightly smaller and narrower model badged CX-80, and that's set to be the outgoing CX-9's proper replacement, since it's bigger and wider than the current CX-8 it usurps.

So, let's all just calm down and instead assess the CX-90 for what it is - Mazda's flagship tilt at luxury SUVs.

Now, in this context, the base Touring from $73,800 neatly straddles the aforementioned mainstream and premium alternatives.

It features a 12.3-inch display screen. It features a 12.3-inch display screen.

Two powertrains are available. Both are 3.3-litre, inline turbocharged six-cylinder engines with mild-hybrid electrification to help boost fuel economy. An eight-speed automatic drives all four wheels for all-wheel drive (AWD) across the range.

The petrol version is known as the G50e (G for gasoline) and the diesel is the D50e. More on those later.

The Touring is the entry-level grade from $73,900 (G50e petrol) and $75,800 (D50e diesel). Externally, the easiest way to spot it is by the 19-inch alloy wheels, which are two inches smaller than the rest.

It also includes LED headlights with auto high beams, leather upholstery, three-zone climate control with separate rear controls, electric and heated front seats with driver's side memory, keyless entry/push-button start, a head-up display, a 7.0-inch digital instrument display, 10.25-inch multimedia display screen, 360-degree surround-view camera, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, wireless smartphone charging, eight-speaker audio with DAB+ digital radio, sat-nav, USB-C ports, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, power-folding/heated exterior mirrors, and a hands-free powered tailgate.

Stepping up to the mid-grade GT from $84,555 (G50e) and $84,800 (D50e – the smaller difference is due to Luxury Car Tax (LCT) vagaries surrounding fuel consumption) ushers in adaptive LED headlights, panoramic sunroof, a 12.3-inch digital instrument display, powered steering column, a heated steering wheel, second-row heated outboard seats, a 12.3-inch display screen, premium Bose audio upgrade and 21-inch alloy wheels.

Starting from $92,540 (D50e) and $93,655 (G50e – petrol costs more here due to LCT thresholds), the $100K-plus on-road Azami strives for “Japanese Premium” by adding woven textile fabrics, cooled/vented front seats, ambient lighting, Nappa leather seats, a frameless interior mirror, upgraded camera views and a novel Driver Personalisation Function that figures out and remembers the operator's driving/seating position and automatically ‘optimises' it according to posture, eye position and other factors. Intriguing.

The GT features 21-inch alloy wheels. The GT features 21-inch alloy wheels.

All CX-90 grades include a full suite of driver-assist safety. More details are outlined in the safety section below.

The Azumi also offers two option bundle choices at $5000 apiece.

The Takumi pack includes pure white Nappa leather trim, a cloth dashboard panel with ‘Kakenui' stitching, maple wood console and door trim inserts, and second-row captain's seats (reducing the CX-90's seat count to six) with ventilation and dividing console.

The last three items also come with the SP pack, along with tan Nappa, a suede dash finish and two-tone steering wheel.

So, does the newcomer represent good value for money then? Mazda says that equivalently-specified premium German SUV rivals start upwards of $25K more (when matched for power and specification), though the gap is smaller compared to the rest.

Now, given the standard mild-hybrid and AWD tech, the price difference between the CX-90 and CX-9 shrinks to about $15K when viewed spec-for-spec against the latter's $59,200 Touring AWD equivalent.

The Takumi pack includes pure white Nappa leather trim. The Takumi pack includes pure white Nappa leather trim.

Mazda's unrelenting upmarket push continues.

However, while that's still a hefty price hike, the CX-90 does offer 40 per cent more petrol power (and even the diesel pumps out 9.5% more than CX-9), 17% (G50e) and 27% (D50e) more torque respectively, and 10% better petrol economy (jumping to 40% with D50e) – though it also demands premium unleaded and the old timer did not.

Still, the CX-90 also boasts improved safety, more cabin space, extra third-row amenities like face-level air vents, a larger boot, 500kg greater towing capacity (petrol only, strangely enough) and more equipment overall to help offset the higher purchase price in Touring guise.

Design – Is there anything interesting about its design?

Mazda admitted that the CX-90's primary market is the USA. Overwhelmingly so.

That's probably why it's been butched up with that blunt, aggressive nose treatment. And, inevitably, this is larger in all directions bar height (where it's 2mm lower).

Length, width, height and wheelbase measurements are 5100/1994/1745/3120mm (versus CX-9's 5075/1969/1747/2930mm), while ground clearance ranges from 203mm to 206mm depending on wheel/tyre package. Don't go off-roading in this.

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But numbers only tell part of the story.

The CX-90 has a pronounced cab-backward silhouette, assisted by that whopping 190mm wheelbase stretch. There are shorter front overhangs, an increased ‘dash-to-axle' ratio (wheel arch to front door) and a longer rear overhang.

It is a striking vehicle, as well as a good-looking one. And the larger, more bulbous back section does pay welcome dividends inside.

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Practicality – How practical is its space and tech inside?

The CX-90 can really present a strong case for itself inside. But some grades are more convincing than others.

The base Touring's finish and ambience is about on a par with its predecessor's equivalent grade, which is to say quality mainstream, rather than premium. Pleasant, modern, conservative. A lot like an overgrown CX-30's fascia, in fact.

Slide into the classy GT or opulent Azami, however, and those luxury brand aspirations start making sense, with that larger centre display screen and more-digitised instrumentation adding a higher-tech vibe, while contrasted by palpably more-expensive looking fabrics and textures. Much of which seems to stem from traditional Japanese artistry. It's all very nice.

Aiding these further are beautifully sumptuous front seats, ahead of a dashboard that is elegantly presented and thoughtfully laid out.

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Touches we condone fully include an excellent driving position, supported by the helpfully-sited and concise head-up display, as well as the extremely welcome inclusion of physical switchgear for the (excellent) climate control system, and the BMW iDrive-style controller for the multimedia set-up. These negate the need for touchscreen nonsense. Eyes on the road and hands on the wheel seems to be Mazda's mantra.

The basics are all pretty-well sorted. There is no shortage of cabin space up front, with ample room to move and stretch. This is also an obviously wider vehicle than the brand's previous SUVs.

Storage is adequate, with doors, glovebox and centre bin options, though the latter is much shallower than expected; that's because the rear air-con gubbins lurk just underneath.

The second row has semi-reclining and sliding seats that are also nicely shaped and supportive for adults to enjoy, within a roomy environment that's enhanced by independent climate-control switches, face-level air vents, twin USB ports, map pockets and the obligatory centre armrest/cupholders.

Our only complaints are that the side windows don't wind all the way down and that the smaller portion of the 70:30 split/fold middle bench is on the road rather than the footpath side, betraying this Mazda's North American-market left-hand-drive bias. It means two people (rather than just one person) need to clamber out to allow for third-row access. Toyota goes to the trouble of changing it for Australia...

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Speaking of which... the third-row seats are fine for your 178cm tester, with the super-wide rear doors helpfully swinging to nearly 90 degrees to allow for less-encumbered entry/egress.

Once sat, headroom is sufficient, width is good but knee room can be a tad tight unless the middle occupants are feeling generous. Comfort is OK as a result, while USB outlets, cupholder and – at last – face-level air vents make a debut, addressing one of the CX-9's few packaging issues.

Note, however, that straps rather than the previous release latches are used to fold those third-row backrests down flat, which is a surprising cost-cutting measure considering where the company wants to be. We blame the Americans.

Folding those ups capacity from 257 litres to 608L, rising to 1163L to the height of the seat backs, and 2025L to the ceiling with the middle-row backrests folded (that is, in two-seater mode).

Please note that using the VDA standard means in seven-seater mode, cargo capacity drops to just 207L. The extra 50L is achieved by exposing the limited space under the floor. An 18-inch space-saver spare wheel is also located there.

As with the rest of the CX-90's interior, the fit and finish in the boot is first class. Another big tick for Mazda's biggest-ever SUV.

Under the bonnet – What are the key stats for its engine and transmission?

The silky and spirited old 2.5-litre four-pot turbo petrol unit from the CX-9 is sadly gone.

For now, the CX-90 is available with a pair of 3.3-litre in-line six-cylinder turbocharged engines - one petrol and one diesel, and both with a 48-volt mild hybrid system. They produce slightly more power than the ones found in the closely-related CX-60.

The G50e, which is expected to be the better seller in Australia, produces 254kW of power at a heady 5000-6000rpm and 500Nm of torque between 2000-4500rpm, while the diesel delivers 187kW at 3750rpm and 550Nm between 1500-2400rpm.

The G50e, which is expected to be the better seller in Australia, produces 254kW of power at a heady 5000-6000rpm. The G50e, which is expected to be the better seller in Australia, produces 254kW of power at a heady 5000-6000rpm.

Both are paired with an eight-speed, non-torque-converter automatic transmission, and though rear-biased, it's to an all-wheel drive system.

Four modes are offered: Normal, Sport, Off-Road and Towing. Strangely, US-market requirements mean Mazda prioritised a 2500kg braked towing capacity for the petrol-powered G50e, while leaving the D50e down to 2000kg (braked). Unbraked towing capacities are 750kg.

The CX-90 adopts double wishbone front suspension and a multi-link arrangement out back. Despite offering only 19-inch (Touring only) and 21-inch wheels, there is no adaptive damper or air suspension technology, which seems to be an ambitious oversight. Mazda says drivetrain tuning was carried out in Hiroshima and the United States.

Efficiency – What is its fuel consumption? What is its driving range?

Officially, the Euro 5-rated CX-90 G50e (from 2190kg) averages 8.2 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle, and emits 189 grams per kilometre of CO2. Fitted with a 74L petrol tank, expect an average range of around 900km.

Note it requires a minimum 95 RON premium unleaded petrol.

The also Euro 5-rated D50e (from 2211kg), on the other hand, delivers an impressive 5.4L/100km, for a CO2 figure of 143g/km. Its diesel fuel range average is about 1370km.

On our rural-only launch drive, we managed 9.3L/100km indicated in the petrol G50e, and 7.8L/100km in the diesel D50e.

Driving – What's it like to drive?

There's so much riding on the CX-90 when it comes to the way it drives.

For starters, its CX-9 predecessor set a dynamic and refinement standard that – in our opinion – still remains largely unchallenged, even though every significant alternative is newer.

Secondly, just look at the tech specs – longitudinal in-line six-cylinder turbo engines, rear-biased all-wheel drive, double wishbone and multi-link suspension systems... these read like they are from a BMW.

Which is the whole point of the CX-90. Rocketing the aspiring brand upmarket, against one of the world's best.

Let's begin with the G50e then, as it's the likely better seller.

There's so much riding on the CX-90 when it comes to the way it drives. There's so much riding on the CX-90 when it comes to the way it drives.

Push the button, and the turbo-petrol six fires into life with an intriguing baritone that promises lots of action. And as soon as you select drive, it delivers. Off-the-line acceleration is immediate and urgent, building up speed quickly as the revs rise. Accompanied by an augmented exhaust note, there's plenty of muscle when you need it.

Even better though is the way that the G50e's chassis comes alive the harder you drive it.

A bit muted at lower speeds, the steering and handling gel together beautifully through faster corners, backed up by excellent grip and roadholding. You can drive this CX-90 far more quickly than its size and proportions suggest, thanks to how planted and confident it feels. The further along we went, the more enjoyable the experience became.

BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi should be alarmed.

The same is largely true for the diesel version as well, as the fundamentals underneath are much the same. The D50e is also deceptively rapid, drawing upon a seamless well of torque to carry it along without barely bothering the throttle. It sounds a little more guttural than the petrol model, but is equally strong overall.

Of the two, we'd go for the petrol, however, because the engine thrives on revs, and so is more in keeping with the chassis' sporty tune. It is also closer to the 50:50 weight distribution than the D50e, making it seem more balanced, agile and – ultimately - alive.

There is much to admire and even love in the beguiling CX-90, and weirdly, it lives up to its premium promises against all of the luxury alternatives. There is much to admire and even love in the beguiling CX-90, and weirdly, it lives up to its premium promises against all of the luxury alternatives.

However, our admiration for what Mazda has managed to achieve with the CX-90 is sorely tempered by the lack of suspension comfort and compliance, especially on the 21-inch wheel package, but also evident on the Touring's 19-inch set-up. The ride is simply too hard and fidgety. And there's too much road noise coming through for an SUV with such premium aspirations.

Which raises the question. How and/or why has Mazda abandoned the CX-9's comfort finesse?

There is much to admire and even love in the beguiling CX-90, and weirdly, it lives up to its premium promises against all of the luxury alternatives, including the X7, XC90 and Q7, but we're left thinking that in some ways Mazda's largest SUV has regressed.

These assessments have been made on NSW rural roads, that were quite challenging and at times poorly maintained, and maybe a final verdict needs to be made in a different environment.

These assessments have been made on NSW rural roads, that were quite challenging and at times poorly maintained. These assessments have been made on NSW rural roads, that were quite challenging and at times poorly maintained.

But it is clear that the Teflon smoothness and suppleness of the CX-9 is not available in the otherwise fast, athletic, agile and sophisticated CX-90, and that is a profound disappointment.

We hope a fix is coming soon. Better tyres? Adaptive dampers? Air suspension? Australian or European road tuning? Whatever it takes, because Mazda is really close to achieving its desired objectives.

Safety – What safety equipment is fitted? What is its safety rating?

Unlike the closely-related CX-60, which scored a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating, Mazda has not provided such data for the CX-90.

The full suite of driver-assist safety includes AEB for cyclists, pedestrians and in backover situations, operating between about 10km/h and 80km/h, as well as AEB car-to-car that works between about 4km/h and 160km/h.

Likewise, the extensive lane-support systems work between about 55km/h and 195km/h - based on the CX-60's figures. These include lane-departure, lane-assist and emergency lane-keep tech.

Unlike the closely-related CX-60, which scored a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating, Mazda has not provided such data for the CX-90. Unlike the closely-related CX-60, which scored a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating, Mazda has not provided such data for the CX-90.

The CX-90 is fitted with adaptive cruise control tech with full stop/go functionality, as well as blind-spot monitoring, vehicle exit warning, driver attention alert, forward obstruction warning, front cross-traffic alert, rear cross-traffic alert, junction-collision alert/braking, adaptive LED headlights on GT grades up, auto high beams, front and rear parking sensors, surround-view cameras, tyre-pressure monitors and traffic sign recognition.

There are also 10 airbags, including one between the front-seat occupants and full third-row head and chest protection. And you'll also find electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, emergency brake assist, hill start assist, hill descent control and traction control systems.

Five child restraint points are fitted (in rows two and three), for ISOFIX latches as well as tether straps.

Ownership – What warranty is offered? What are its service intervals? What are its running costs?

Mazda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with five-years roadside assistance... that's pretty average nowadays.

Service intervals are at 12 months or every 15,000km.

A fixed-price service scheme is available, starting from $437 and stretching out to $1268.

Mazda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with five-years roadside assistance… that’s pretty average nowadays. Mazda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with five-years roadside assistance… that’s pretty average nowadays.


The Wrap

If you need proof that Mazda has arrived at the premium SUV party, then look no further than the CX-90.

It does so many things right. From the elegant exterior design and salubrious interior, to the cracking powertrain and chassis that comes alive if you're up for some fun, it is a worthy and welcome alternative to luxury SUVs, making it great value for money.

But, please Mazda, sort the ride issues out first, and then you can pop open the champagne bottles in celebration. So close...

Likes

Elegant design
Premium interior presentation
Superb powertrain and handling capabilities

Dislikes

Hard ride
Road noise intrusion
Big price jump over brilliant CX-9

Scores

Byron:

4.3

The Kids:

4.4

$73,800

Based on new car retail price


Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.