2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV Long-Term Update: 5 thoughts

After more than a month in our long-term 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV, I have many thoughts, some of them conflicting. I feel like this attractive three-row crossover is destined to be one of our more complicated long-termers. Here’s what I’m thinking:

I like the steering, but …

This isn’t what I want in a large, three-row crossover. The steering is heavy, responsive and a bit of work. That’s a good thing. It feels like a Mazda, which is something the company prides itself on and justifiably considers a selling point. It adds a sporty vibe to the CX-90 that no other three-row SUV possesses. But, maneuvering tight parking lots at shopping centers, backing out of spaces, sipping a coffee — they’re all a bit dicier than in more conventionally tuned crossovers like the Kia Telluride or Honda Pilot. I guess it comes down to: Does Mazda hope to gain new customers with the CX-90 or sell it to Mazda enthusiasts who need a crossover? It feels more like the latter.

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The powertrain is not great, Bob

We’ll get the bad out of the way early: I don’t enjoy this powertrain. The naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four labors. The eight-speed automatic seems to always be hunting for gears. It holds gears too long and will upshift clunkily. The occupants can feel a light thunk as the powertrain tries to sort it all out when the transmission settles on a gear. It also often tries to start the drive experience in EV mode, which feels plodding, before the gas engine jarringly interjects. Dropping things into sport mode can help, as it feels like the transmission calibration is more aggressive and linear. My solution is simple — get the straight six — which is a gem of an engine. 

I charged it once for several hours and got 21 miles of range, though in the allotted time I should have topped off at 26 miles. I averaged 22.51 miles per gallon during my month-plus stint in the CX-90, spending $193.54 to drive 898 miles on premium fuel, which Mazda recommends.

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The interior is pretty good

Ok, so I’ve been fairly hard on the CX-90 so far, but things get better inside. I generally like the cabin. There’s black leather accented with bronze stitching and silver trim. It looks as classy as it sounds. My main complaints are the small and not very versatile cupholders and a tight center console. Not a huge fan of the L-shaped shifter, either. The infotainment is the real letdown for me, specifically the audio setup. Inexplicably, you can’t scroll through different stations, and the system takes you to the start of the band when you want to search for other channels. It’s annoying, and there’s so many better infotainment systems in Mazda’s competitors, it’s hard not to see this one’s flaws. The navigation is solid — informative, colorful and relatively easy to use — the opposite of the audio controls. I explain all of this in my interior review video below. 

The design is excellent

The CX-90 is the one three-row crossover that can legitimately claim to have sports-car styling.  In a segment filled with bland styling or overwrought off-road designs forced onto family haulers, Mazda stands out. The long hood, subtly curved fenders and a grille that would look at home on any Mazda provide the CX-90 identity. Other brands have to try much harder to build character. and the results — like the Hyundai Santa Fe — can be a risk at best or polarizing at worst. The CX-90 looks like a Mazda, which is to say it looks great.

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It’s a solid three-row crossover

While the CX-90 has its shortcomings, it is a solid three-row crossover. I used it for family duty, which included soccer and baseball games, golf, a trip to the airport, school pickup and plenty of errands. People and dogs can get in and out of it fairly easily. I put the third row down and loaded the back with all sorts of things. It’s highly functional. This is the crossover for Mazda owners who want their family hauler to feel like a Mazda with three-rows. And I’d suggest they opt for the straight six engine, rather than the plug-in hybrid. 

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