Car reviews - Mazda - CX-90
Decent performance and efficiency, abundance of cabin and cargo space, materials and assembly quality on point, planted dynamics
Room for improvement
Pricing nudges luxury rivals, firm ride and road noise detracts from the experience, some transmission and driveline quibbles, steep service pricing
Biggest Mazda SUV offers straight six power and acres of cabin space, but is it the premium experience we had hoped for?
5 Feb 2024
By MATT BROGAN
AUSSIE family buyers love their Mazda SUVs. They also love a seven-seater, and the premium feel of a luxury badge. Combine all three and the Mazda CX-90 should seem like a winner… assuming you consider Mazda a luxury badge.
Bigger and more upmarket than the CX-9 it (essentially) replaces, the CX-90 is one of several new Mazda Premium offerings now available in Australia. It is priced from $74,385 plus on-road costs and is available with turbocharged six-cylinder petrol and diesel mild hybrid drivelines, developing 254kW/500Nm and 187kW/550Nm.
Mazda quotes a combined cycle fuel consumption number of 5.4 litres per 100km for the D50e (diesel) and 8.2L/100km for the G50e (petrol). On test, we saw mid-nine-litre figures in a mix of urban and peri-urban driving.
All variants are hooked up with an eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-biased all-wheel drive system and ride on Mazda’s Kinetic Posture Control suspension arrangement.
The seven-seat CX-90 range offers more cargo and passenger space than any Mazda before it, with 608/1163/2025 litres of baggage volume in seven/five/two seat mode. Braked towing capacity is just 2000kg.
Technology offerings are plentiful and include a 10.25-inch infotainment array with 360-degree camera functionality, eight-speaker audio, DAB+ digital radio reception, wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto connectivity, 7.0-inch digital instrument display, keyless entry and push-button ignition, electrochromatic rear-view mirror, native satellite navigation, wireless device charging pad, and tri-zone climate control.
The mid-tier GT (on test, from $84,800 +ORC) builds on the Touring grade with adaptive LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, signature rear combination lights, 21-inch alloy wheels, front and rear heated seats, heated steering wheel, premium Bose audio system and Mazda’s Driver Personalisation System (auto restoration of all vehicle settings).
Other highlights include a larger 12.3-inch infotainment array and 12.3-inch instrumentation display, electric steering column adjustment, and LED footwell lighting.
On the safety front, and standard across all CX-90 grades, is a blind-spot monitoring system with vehicle exit warning, driver monitor, front and rear parking sensors, LED headlights with dusk-sensing function and auto high beam and smart brake support with turn-across traffic function.
Eight exterior colours are available across the range including Artisan Red Metallic, Deep Crystal Blue, Jet Black Mica, Machine Grey Metallic, Platinum Quartz Metallic, Rhodium White Metallic, Sonic Silver Metallic or Soul Red Crystal Metallic.
The CX-90 is backed by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with includes roadside assistance. Petrol models require servicing every 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first) while diesel models must visit the service department every 10,000km.
Service pricing for the petrol comes in at steep (read: near vertical) $3360 over five years, the diesel costing $3217 over the same period.
Space might be the final frontier, and the CX-90 certainly offers plenty of it. But there are other areas in which the model falls short – especially when you stop to consider the model on test retails for nearly the same price as a Land Rover Defender, Lexus RX or Volvo XC90.
Those big alloy wheels crash and jar over larger bumps and transmit more than their fair share of road noise into the cabin. The steering is a touch on the heavy side, and the brake pedal modulation not nearly as convincing as it ought to be.
A smooth driving experience takes time to master in the CX-90 and requires a certain level of finesse and focus to achieve…
Harder to ‘dial out’ is driveline NVH. Considering the list price, we expected more of the CX-90, which is at times coarse and disjointed. The engine is rather vocal under load and tends to produce perceptible vibration that isn’t usually associated with an inline six configuration.
Enthusiastic performance aside, we were also disappointed with the CX-90’s eight-speed automatic which felt disjointed and at times reluctant to decide which ratio it needed. The hesitation, paired with a disconcerting ‘shudder’ on occasion, left us feeling a little cold.
We hope this is something Mazda improves as the range is honed.
On the plus side the vehicle handles well and is easy to enjoy despite its size. It is a vehicle that seems to shrink around you when meandering along a country road, and one that is easy to place with a good view out.
We found the grip levels impressive and the steering accurate, with appropriate response levels both in the transition from centre, and when changing directions rapidly. The rear-bias of the AWD system is felt, and is something we feel contributes significantly to the balance and response of the vehicle on faster flowing roads.
It’s a pity, then, Mazda’s lengthy list of ADAS systems will at times get on your goat. The lane keeping uptight and the traffic sign recognition ‘hit and miss’. We also found the blind-spot monitoring very pessimistic, requiring gaps large enough to park a B-double when executing a simple lane change.
Conversely, the adaptive cruise control is an absolute pleasure to use and handles stop-and-go traffic duties with aplomb. Lose some, win some…
We found the human-machine interface to be as good as it gets in a Mazda, with a logical instrumentation array and infotainment setup. The rotary dial controller and its lengthy menu options won’t be to everyone’s liking, but in some respects is easier to use than a touchscreen, requiring less ‘eyes off’ time than the alternative.
It is also nice to see a rich mix of materials used throughout the cabin and a level of build quality that really steps things up. Mazda has offered a terrific level of fit and finish for generations now, and the Premium offering steps things up again.
Take a good look at the vehicle inside and out and it is evident that Mazda has poured a lot of effort into the car, ensuring it will stack up well against the likes of Genesis, Lexus, Volvo and others.
But whether that’s enough to win the hearts and minds of buyers remains to be seen. Sales of the CX-60 and CX-90 aren’t yet where we would have expected, buyers perhaps quick to note the same shortcomings we did.
Let’s hope Mazda’s promise of ongoing improvement comes fast and that its ride and driveline issues are addressed. If the wrinkles experienced on test are ironed out, Mazda could have a winner on its hands – taking its own space in a segment that Aussie buyers love.
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