2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV: Classy, Sporty and Thrifty

Strong points
  • Elevated driving experience
  • Great handling
  • The only PHEV in the segment
  • Federal and provincial incentives apply
Weak points
  • GS models are less attractive
  • Frustrating infotainment system
  • Cargo capacity is still below average
  • Towing is limited at 3,500 lbs
Full report

The all-new 2024 CX-90 is Mazda’s flagship crossover moving forward, effectively replacing the three-row CX-9 that made a name for itself as a sporty-looking and dynamic performer. The same qualities apply to the CX-90, but the latter also raises the bar for luxury, technology and fuel economy.

In addition to offering the most athletic SUV in the segment, Mazda now has the greenest, as we found out during a week behind the wheel of the CX-90 PHEV.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Continuing to Move Upscale

As you know, the latest generation of Mazda vehicles is moving away from traditional competitors and closer to luxury models. The CX-90 offers a splendid illustration—from the new front grille to the sharp-looking taillights, it boasts a more mature and more sophisticated design, not to mention larger dimensions than the outgoing CX-9. We can’t say we’re fans of the smaller, less aggressive headlights, however. Why didn’t Mazda copy those of the CX-50?

While designers have created a new signature body colour specifically for the CX-90—Artisan Red—our mid-grade GS-L tester (starting at $59,950) flashed the popular and flashier Soul Red Crystal instead, along with a set of uninspiring 19-inch wheels. Spending an additional $4,400 would get you the top-line GT model, which sports much more attractive 21-inch alloys plus silver accents along the lower body (and lots more content, too).

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

More Refined? It depends

Inside, the CX-90 is more modern, quieter and more refined than its predecessor, no doubt about it, but honestly, we expected more from an SUV that costs just shy of 60 grand. In particular, all that black is boring and suffocating, hard plastics are strangely commonplace, and the non-ventilated, non-perforated synthetic leather seats will make you sweat on hot days. As mentioned earlier, if you can afford the more luxurious and more generously equipped GT model, it’s well worth the extra money.

The 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in the CX-90 PHEV looks sharp, but Mazda’s infotainment system continues to be a pain for users. Unsurprisingly, it ranked dead last in J.D. Power’s latest Tech Experience Index (the second time in two years). Excessively stark and frustrating to use, it just can’t compete with rivals, let alone Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Speaking of which, these two systems are available with wireless integration in GT trim, and they’re the only way for the centre display to have touchscreen capability. Sadly, the screen is a bit too out of reach.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

In terms of space, we like the large doors providing easy access to the cabin, as well as the front seats accommodating drivers of all shapes and sizes (though they lack lateral support in corners). The longer wheelbase versus the outgoing CX-9 translates into extra room in the second row, where captain’s chairs and a folding cup holder tray (except in base GS trim) add convenience. The third row is still best suited for kids due to the extremely limited amount of room for the feet.

As for cargo, the CX-90 once again trumps the CX-9, offering anywhere between 423-2,101 litres. The average competitor is more capacious than that, just so you know, and it’s the same thing when it comes to storage in the doors and centre console.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

A Brand New Driving Experience

Where the 2024 Mazda CX-90 stands out the most is under the skin, with a new Large Vehicle architecture that puts the engine in a longitudinal position and primarily sends power to the rear wheels. This completely transforms the driving experience in Mazda’s biggest crossover. A more rigid body structure, redesigned seats and upgraded suspension also contribute to better balance and a remarkably solid feel.

While most CX-90 models feature a new turbocharged 3.3-litre inline six-cylinder engine with M-Hybrid Boost mild hybrid technology (up to 340 horsepower and 369 lb-ft. of torque when running on premium fuel), the CX-90 PHEV combines a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder with a 68kW electric motor and 17.8kWh battery. It’s the only non-luxury plug-in hybrid in the segment right now.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

In addition to delivering 323 horsepower and 369 lb-ft. of torque, which are quite fun to exploit in Sport mode, this greener variant can travel up to 42 km without burning any drop of premium gas, as we validated during our tests in the middle of August. When the battery ran empty, we achieved a combined 7.3 L/100 km, which is much better than the official rating of 9.4 L/100 km posted by Natural Resources Canada.

Complaints? Of course there are a few. In particular, pure electric sprints are by no means zippy, and the new eight-speed transmission often makes things jerky at lower speeds. It performs better in hybrid operation, but if you were hoping for a CVT, remember this is Mazda we’re talking about. The brakes can be touchy, and while regenerative braking can be adjusted, the difference is negligible.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Charging could be quicker, honestly. A full charge can take around 10 hours via a 120V power outlet (including 6.4 hours to go from 20-80 percent). With a 240V charging station at home, which we highly recommend since you’ll want to spend as much time as possible on EV power), the process is over two hours long (including 1.3 hours to go from 20-80 percent).

What else? Let’s see. Some CX-90 models can tow up to 5,000 lbs like the vast majority of rivals, but the PHEV variant is stuck at 3,500 lbs, which is disappointing yet understandable. A Tow mode is available to make towing easier in various conditions. Also, we didn’t take the vehicle far away from the pavement and believe few people will, even though there’s an Off-Road mode. Will Mazda add a more adventurous Meridian model (like it did with the CX-50) next year or beyond? That remains to be seen.

Photo: Guillaume Rivard

Our Verdict

Classy, dynamic and surprisingly efficient, the 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV is a very compelling product that stands out from the competition in many ways. Considering pricing, specs and amenities, we’d probably pick the top-line GT model, although the 21-inch wheels may affect EV range and ride quality. The CX-90 PHEV is eligible to a $2,500 rebate from the Canadian government and up to $5,000 provincial incentives where applicable.

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