DriveSouth Road Test: Mazda CX-90

Mazda CX-90
Mazda CX-90
Mazda CX-90
Mazda CX-90
Mazda CX-90
Mazda CX-90
Mazda CX-90
Mazda CX-90
Mazda CX-90
Mazda CX-90
Mazda CX-90
Mazda CX-90


What’s new?

It’s not something a brand tends to shout about in these climate-conscious times, but a success story for Mazda in recent years has been the popularity of its large SUVs, most notably the CX-9.

Introduced in 2010, with a second-generation version following in 2016, the CX-9 has sold well to those after a spacious seven-seat, on-road focused SUV.

Powered by a turbocharged version of the 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that is a mainstay across multiple Mazda models, the CX-9 has also delivered solid performance and — on top-range variants — a luxury touch.

Downsizing and moving away from petrol is what you might have expected as a next move from Mazda.

Instead, the CX-9’s successor is bigger still and powered by that most old-school of fossil-fuel engines, an inline-six.

The engine is turbocharged and likes a diet of 95-Octane fuel, but operates with mild hybrid electric assist.

As a result, a 9% economy gain is achieved compared to the CX-9, while peak power is boosted by 49%, and maximum torque by 19%. Indeed, with peak outputs of 254kW and 500Nm, the new CX-90 is Mazda’s most powerful production car ever.

Selling in parallel to the CX-9 until stocks are gone, but replacing it thereafter, the CX-90 sits on a brand-new underlying platform that is shared with Mazda’s other’s recent arrival, the CX-60.

Somewhat smaller, the CX-60 is available with the same powertrain as the CX-90 (though in less potent 209kW/450Nm form), but also in a much more fuel-efficient 241kW/500Nm plug-in hybrid guise.

The PHEV variant is already available for the CX-90 in the US and confirmed for Australia later next year, so the hope must be that New Zealand will see it too in time.

For now, though, Mazda is keeping the CX-90 choice super-simple. One powertrain, Takami specification only, and a $92,990 tag to qualify the new arrival as the most expensive, as well as the most powerful, Mazda available.

What comes as standard?

Takami is Mazda’s premium specification level, so the CX-90 is well loaded with kit.

There’s a digital instrument cluster, head up display, a wireless charge pad plus an array of USB plug points, a 12.3-inch centre screen, satellite navigation, 12-speaker Bose sound system, and smartphone mirroring. Mazda continues to rely on a rotary control knob and associated buttons to operate the main display.

The seats are trimmed in Napa Leather, the front pair power-adjusting, heated and ventilated, the middle row split 60:40 with a fold-down center armrest, and the back pair split 50:50.

A panorama sunroof, power-adjusting steering column, rear side window blinds, and a power-operated tailgate are also provisioned, as are front and rear parking sensors, and a 360 degree surround-view camera system.

The safety specification includes blind sport monitoring with front and rear cross traffic alert and vehicle exit warning, radar cruise with stop-go functionality, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning, blind spot assist, tyre pressure monitoring, and traffic sign recognition.

What’s it look like?

Measuring 5100mm long, 1994mm wide and 1748mm tall, and with a substantial increase in wheelbase over its predecessor, the CX-90 is a large vehicle. Designed primarily for the North American market — where big and bold is still best — the styling doesn’t set out to hide this reality.

Substantial 21-inch alloys and 275/45 R21 tyres fill the ample wheel arches.  

What’s it like inside?

Expectations of a big vehicle providing a spacious interior are fully met, whether entering the front of the cabin, or accessing the middle and rear seating rows.

As is usual with vehicles of this type, boot space is limited when the third seating row is deployed. However, the 257-litre capacity available when all the seats are raised increases to 608-litres when the rear row is folded down. Fold the middle row down too, load to the roof, and the CX-90 will swallow over 2000-litres of cargo (and it’s rated to tow 2500kg).

The benefits of an extra 190mm of wheelbase compared to the CX-9 are most evident when occupying the second and third row seats, and access to these rows is made all the easier by large and wide-opening rear doors.

Entry to the back pair of seats is aided by the ease with which the middle-row of seats slide and tilt forward to allow entry. While children are the likely occupants of these rear pews, there is sufficient leg and headroom to accommodate average-sized adults.

The middle-row of seats takes three with relative ease. Head and leg room are excellent, and middle-row occupants have their own air-conditioning controls and USB plug points.

Set between broad, sumptuous front seats, and featuring a metallic mesh, the centre console is wide.

There’s a wireless charge pad at its base, gear selector and various drive controls plus cupholders behind, and ahead the controller and buttons for the centre display screen. The lidded centre bin is broad, but surprisingly shallow; none of the other in-cabin storage spaces are especially generous either.

The dash features clean lines and layering, with the centre display screen neatly recessed between the layers, and a separate climate control panel positioned lower down. This separation of climate controls enables ease of operation but it — along with the lack of touchscreen functionality — are indicative of Mazda’s conservative approach with ICT systems. Overall, the CX-90’s main digital infotainment interfaces are underwhelming, to the point at which Android Auto proved much superior on test.

What’s it like to drive?

Unsurprisingly, this large, tall vehicle provides a commanding driving position. Niggles over infotainment interfaces aside, the instrumentation and layout of key controls is clear and logical.

The main digital instrument cluster mimics a traditional analogue set-up at start-up, but changes when adaptive cruise control or one of the non-standard drive modes is engaged. Usefully, the adaptive cruise offers two options, one with lane keep assist engaged, and one with it off. There’s also a tap-button system to update the cruise speed to match speed limit changes,

which are automatically picked up by the CX-90s navigation system; it’s especially handy entering towns and other slower-speed zones while on a main highway drive.

Smooth, creamy and characterful power delivery is a stand-out feature of the CX-90 driving experience, and the integration of battery assist with the petrol engine is excellent.

There’s certainly ample pep for spirited open road motoring. The engine is at its most compelling accelerating hard with sport mode engaged, but a more subdued aural delight is provided at less aggressive throttle openings.

The size of the CX-90 is apparent during round-town motoring, especially on routes where once broad lanes have been narrowed to accommodate cycles lanes or so-called ‘traffic-calming’ features. Tight parking spaces are best avoided too, not so much because it is hard to get the car into them (all the cameras and sensors assist with this), but because there may not be sufficient room to open the doors once you are parked.

Main highway driving is easy-going, marked out by low noise levels, commanding views, plenty of performance, and comfortable ride. Once you learn which options are best for which conditions, the adaptive cruise and associated drive assist systems are useful and fairly unobtrusive supports for long-haul motoring.

Moving off main highways and onto less-busy byways, the CX-90 is more engaging than you might expect, with reasonably direct steering and sure-footed handling. It’s not, to be fair, a vehicle that responds well to being thrown into tight bends; adopting a conservative entry speed to corners and then squeezing on the power to accelerate out works far better, as indeed it does with most large SUVs.

Economy-wise, I was unable to match the 9.1litre/100km standard cycle fuel consumption figures on test but was reasonably satisfied to land a 9.9litre/100km result. However, I was left wondering how very much better a plug-in hybrid version of the CX-90 would have fared, given its ability to cover all of the test’s round-town motoring in zero-emissions battery-only mode.


Large, comfortable, luxurious and smooth in its performance, CX-90 as currently offered is a significant advance on the CX-9. However, the absence of a PHEV version leaves it feeling like an opportunity lost as much as an opportunity taken.  


At A Glance



Overall rating: 3 star

Design & styling: 3 star-plus

Interior: 4 star

Performance: 4 star

Ride & handling: 3 star-plus

Safety: 5 star

Environmental: 2 star-plus



Price (as tested): $92,990

Clean Car rebate/fee: $4,025 fee

Drivetrain: 3.3 litre in-line six with 48 volt electric assist, 254kW/500Nm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive

Safety rating ANCAP: Untested

Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 275/45 R21 tyres

Fuel and economy (WLTP): Premium unleaded petrol, 9.1L/100km, fuel tank capacity 74 litres

Carbon emissions: 210g/km

Dimensions: Length 5100mm; width 1994mm; height 1748mm


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