Mazda has been a leader when it comes to making crossovers and SUVs that feel more premium and are more engaging to drive, compared to most other mainstream offerings. Recently, the company had taken big strides, expanding their portfolio and capturing a wider audience with the rugged CX-50, the Europe-only CX-60, and now this — the 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV GT.
You can tell simply by its name that this is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version of Mazda’s newest and biggest SUV. Although the CX-90 currently coexists alongside the CX-9, Mazda has confirmed that this will be the final year of the CX-9, and that the company will focus on the CX-90 going forward as their de-facto three-row family hauler. The entire CX-90 lineup is electrified — buyers can choose from the turbocharged inline six-cylinder with a 48-volt mild hybrid system we had sampled earlier this year, or this PHEV model we have here. Both excel in vastly different environments.
The plug-in CX-90 produces a total of 323 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. It is certainly no slouch compared to the inline-six, which produces up to 340 hp depending on the trim. The main difference here is that the CX-90 PHEV is more suitable for short urban stop-and-go commutes, whereas the inline-six is better for road trips and highway commutes.
The powerful 68-kilowatt motor on the PHEV is more than capable to carry the load during acceleration, and can do so for up to 42 kilometres before the four-cylinder engine kicks in. And you definitely feel it, as the four-cylinder has to push quite hard just to keep this 5,167-pound vehicle moving at speed. On the other hand, the 3.3-litre inline-six is far less efficient especially in the city, but its effortless power is perfect on the highway. The distinct advantages between the two powerplants makes the decision easy for buyers when they have to decide between the two CX-90 models.
Most Mazda models handle well for their class and the CX-90 follows that trend, though the distinctly sharp response is not as evident largely due its larger size and weight. The steering has decent response and weight, but it lacks the noticeably sharp feeling that we have found in the smaller CX-50 and CX-9 models. You can really feel the weight shifting once you get to a corner, and you will want to prepare in advance as the regenerative brake feel is a bit mushy.
Before you write it off, though, it is worth noting that the CX-90 PHEV is still an above-average performer in its segment, especially when you put it up against its peers with hybrid powertrains.
The biggest advantage for choosing the CX-90 PHEV is its excellent fuel economy. As with many plug-in hybrids, your fuel efficiency will depend largely on your commute and charging habits. Those with a daily commute shorter than the CX-90’s posted 42-kilometre electric range, and who are able to plug in overnight, might be able to get by using zero gasoline all week. Those who rely on the gas engine a lot, however, might see closer to Mazda’s posted 9.4 L/ 100 km average.
Our week with the CX90 PHEV consisted of a good mix of bumper-to-bumper traffic as well as several long road trips. We observed 6.7 L/100 km combined in the real world, and found that the shorter the commute, the more fuel economy improves — as long as you have the means to charge overnight from home. To get the maximum power output, Mazda recommends premium for its 70-litre tank, but the sacrifice going down to regular is only a four-horsepower drop, so you can decide what’s best for you.
Styling of the CX-90 PHEV is unmistakably Mazda inside and out, with many familiar cues such as the front grille and the overall silhouette. However, it is noticeably more bulbous especially towards the rear, and the upsizing is especially apparent when you park alongside a Mazda CX-9. Its conservative approach was somewhat controversial throughout the week, as many argued they prefer the more radically designed CX-50, but this segment has long been a boring one. The CX-90 still looks fresher than many of its box-like rivals.
Inside, the CX-90 PHEV is simple yet functional, with a widescreen tablet atop the centre console and a good number of physical buttons for climate control and other functions. We like that the climate control unit is somewhat recessed from the dashboard to avoid cluttering up the layout, yet still manages to be within reach for quick adjustments. Same goes for the volume knob and rotary dial for infotainment — they are conveniently located in front of the central armrest, making controlling the system easy and distraction-free. For the GT trim, there is wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration — the lesser GS and GS-L trims have wired connectivity — as well as a 12-speaker Bose premium sound system for quality music playback.
Given its additional size over the outgoing CX-9, it is fair to expect better space inside and that is exactly what we have with the CX-90. The first two rows offer generous head and legroom, and the third row is acceptable for a three-row SUV. The oversized windows and panoramic sunroof did wonders to brighten up the cabin and we enjoyed the relatively supple ride, despite the oversized 21-inch wheels. Our only complaint is that the front seats, while well-padded and climate-controlled, were too flat especially on the bottom bolster, and hoped to have better support for longer road trips. Cargo space is listed at 423 litres behind the third row and 1,133 litres behind the second, and 2,101 with both rows folded — a significant improvement over the CX-9, but still trailing behind some key competitors.
Our loaded GT tester also receives additional drivers assistance technology, such as a 360-degree camera system, parking sensors in the front and rear, a heads-up display, traffic sign recognition, automatic braking front and rear, and blind-spot monitoring, among many more. These systems are crucial in keeping the driver alert and its occupants safe, and we would hope to see them expanded to the lower trims.
The CX-90 PHEV starts at $54,900 for the base GS, and moves up to $64,350 for the GT trim. Add $400 for the Rhodium White Metallic paintwork, and we arrive at an as-tested total of $64,750. This certainly puts it on the upper echelon of mainstream three-row SUVs, but there are not many at this price point with a plug-in hybrid powerplant, so it proposes a unique value proposition considering Mazda’s upmarket intentions. It is also very similarly priced against the $63,300 CX-90 Signature and its turbocharged inline-six, so we suggest evaluating your needs closely before taking the plunge.
The 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV GT offers a distinct advantage for buyers with short urban commutes, all the while enjoying a sophisticated and premium package all around. The extra space is much welcomed compared to the CX-9, and we expect to see the CX-90 becoming a hot seller in no time — now with the help of two powertrain choices to best suit your needs.