Opinionated at any speed . . . Silvio Calabi

Mazda CX-90 PHEV Premium Plus

Tue, 09/26/2023 - 10:30am

Aha, so this is how it’s done—elevating a vehicle from mid-grade to luxury: Just add a zero to the badge! For 2024, Mazda’s long-running CX-9 three-row crossover SUV has morphed into the bigger, cushier and pricier CX-90. Especially in Premium Plus trim, the difference between the two is substantial. Ours is also a PHEV, a plug-in hybrid, which is one of three powertrain options in the CX-90.

The hybrid CX-90 has a high-test-burning 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine good for a mere 150 horsepower, but also a 173-horsepower electric motor; total system output is 323 horses and 369 pounds-feet of torque, all funneled through a gelato-smooth 8-speed wet-clutch automatic transmission. Acceleration—from a standstill and at highway speed—is quietly impressive for a large and heavy vehicle. So is the rear-wheel-biased handling.

In town, the CX-90’s behavior is marred somewhat by its hybrid interface. The computer seems conflicted at times—gas? electricity? both?—and so the power delivery isn’t as smooth as it should be. Switching over to Sport mode erases these slight hiccups and improves the response; it also puts the CX-90 up on tiptoe for a bit more agility. On the highway, however, any hesitations disappear and Normal drive mode is entirely . . . normal.

The battery is reportedly good for about 25 miles of electric propulsion, but even in town it’s difficult to drive this nearly-two-ton vehicle gently enough to keep the internal-combustion engine from waking up. The battery can be recharged at home, with the supplied cable or a Level II fast charger, or the gas engine can do it on the fly. The driver can initiate this with a button, and select the desired level of charge—features that smack of needless complexity. Two levels of regenerative braking are also available: Normal and High.

We averaged 26 miles per gallon over a 400-mile week of combined town/highway driving with four people and luggage aboard, so the cost-effectiveness of the hybrid drive is questionable. (Its real benefit may be that it provides Mazda with some battery-powered street cred.) What is not questionable is the electrified CX-90’s willingness to run, which is abetted by a stiff structure, a well-tuned adaptive suspension and excellent braking, and its quiet comfort.

Mazda also equipped the CX-90 with all manner of safety aids, and then put them on high alert. Just sitting in the driveway, the vehicle warns us audibly and visually about potential threats; in traffic, or when backing up or in tight quarters, the CX-90 can go into semi-hysterical nanny mode. We quickly learned to turn off the rear-seat monitor and the radio, which switches itself on with the ignition. The power tailgate, on the other hand, won’t operate from the driver’s seat unless the ignition is off.

Our loaded PHEV Premium Plus has an out-the-door price of $58,920. If this seems spendy for a Mazda, the CX-90 is also available with a 280-horsepower 3.3-litre turbo Six for about 18 grand less, in Select trim. Somewhat oddly, Mazda offers the same gas engine tuned up to 340 horsepower in S Premium and S Premium Plus trim levels, starting at $57,825 and $61,325. The CX-90 is expected to beget a two-row CX-70 soon, equally posh and, if the 90 is any indication, likely just as radical a departure from the more utilitarian vehicles we’ve come to expect from Mazda.  

Next week: Hyundai Ioniq 6 Limited