Mazda Goes Upscale with the 2024 Mazda CX-90

mazda logo with transparent backgroundThe automotive industry has been evolving over the last few decades, with entry level car makers pushing into more luxurious designs and fancier trim packages. Brands that were synonymous with “first car” now offer vehicles with all the bells and whistles that were formerly only in top-end models. As this bar has moved, it’s also forced luxury car brands to create ever more innovative features, sometimes to the point of being rather ridiculous (do rear passengers need touch-panel climate control screens embedded in the door handle?)

Mazda is one of those companies that offered a simple lineup of vehicles but has gradually been improving its entire lineup. I know, I drive a 2017 Mazda CX-5 and to this day it has almost all of the smart safety systems that other manufacturers are heralding in their 202x models. When Mazda offered me a week behind the wheel of its top-end vehicle, the 2024 Mazda CX-90 3.3 Turbo S Premium Plus, I was definitely interested to see what evolution had occurred in both the drive experience and vehicle design in the intervening five years.

With its third row of seats, the CX-90, a follow-on to the CX-9, unsurprisingly has a bigger curb presence, but the overall looks remain the same, based on the company’s heralded “Kodo” design language:

2024 mazda cx-90 premium plus - exterior front

This particular vehicle is Artisan Red Premium with White Premium Leather interior, and it’s quite lovely. The interior design has a lot of nice luxury touches for a vehicle that’s well-priced for its size and class. Certainly switching from an older CX-5 to this CX-90 was effortless, with every control where I expected, though most of the key elements have been refined with new materials or interface materials.

Unlock the CX-90 and the side-view mirrors fold out, ready to drive. Slide into the driver’s seat and you find an array of controls organized in logical clusters:

2024 mazda cx-90 premium plus - dashboard

The 12.3″ entertainment screen offers a panoramic view of whatever’s being shown, whether it’s wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, or the built-in nav system or entertainment system. Some manufacturers have been inspired by the enormous and vertically oriented Tesla screen but I found that this relatively modest display was more than sufficient for navigating complex areas and managing the various settings for the vehicle.

The center display is also expansive, but before we talk about that, notice the two additional materials being utilized for the luxury finish of this Premium Plus trim set: A beech colored wood finish on the doors and around the control clusters on the center console, and the patterned grey fabric accent on the main dashboard. It’s a bit busy with the black and tan of the underlying interior (and white accent stitching on the steering wheel), but works together harmoniously when you’re actually in the vehicle. Still, I couldn’t help but look at the fabric detailing and wonder how easy it would be to clean after a passenger had spilled something on it…

2024 mazda cx-90 premium plus - main gauge display

Speaking of the main gauge display, you can see that the CX-90 retains a tachometer on the left side (though it does also include paddle shifters so it’s not completely obsolete) with a feedback system in the center that shows a 360º view of what’s around you, including other vehicles, how well you’re centered in the lane, the current speed limit and your current speed. The right cluster shows fuel efficiency, engine temperature, fuel level, and distance to empty (110mi, in this instance). All easy to understand at a glance, though there’s also a very nice heads-up display that Mazda’s long since perfected in its lineup.

2024 mazda cx-90 premium plus - steering wheel controls

A close look at the steering wheel controls shows that it’s a bit overloaded with functions, though it’s reasonably organized with infotainment controls on the left and driving (cruise) control on the right. What stymied me for a while was that the vehicle has two different adaptive cruise control buttons (lower right): one for regular adaptive cruise control, the other, called its Cruising Traffic Support (CTS) system, for adaptive cruise control that also utilizes Lane Keep Assist to steer for you. But it’s not self-driving: You still have to keep your hands on the steering wheel, you just (ostensibly) don’t have to pay quite as much attention to the road.

One of the best features of the Mazda design is the infotainment control system that’s integrated into the center console, and that remains with the 2024 Mazda CX-90 Premium Plus, with the addition of the fancy faux wood finish:

2024 mazda cx-90 premium plus - center console

You can see those controls in the lower portion. In practice, it’s quite easy to manage system interaction while keeping your eyes on the road, a far better user experience than a touchscreen display that you have to lean forward to utilize. The shifter has a weird figure-7 design with park on the left and all the drive gears along the ride side, which had me thinking I’d parked the vehicle when in fact I’d shifted it into reverse more than once. To the left of the shifter are two buttons: a hill descent safety feature and the 360º view cameras. I didn’t test the former, but the latter was great for parking and useful if I didn’t want to wait for it to auto-engage by shifting into reverse.

Looking up, there’s a beautiful and expansive panoramic moonroof that lets in tons of sunshine on a beautiful day:

2024 mazda cx-90 premium plus - panoramic moonroof

These sorts of moonroof designs can be annoying when the sun’s directly overhead, but Mazda anticipated that by tinting the glass to help offset the glare and heat. I left it open just about the entire time I was driving, whether daytime or nighttime. You can also close it with the touch of a button above the rear-view mirror, of course.

The passenger experience was good, but Mazda is still wrestling with trying to create a compact vehicle and having sufficient legroom for everyone. You can see this in the luxurious finish but rather mediocre rear legroom:

2024 mazda cx-90 premium plus - rear legroom

The rear climate controls are worth highlighting, as they also show the attention to luxury details of this trim line:

2024 mazda cx-90 premium plus - rear climate controls

I really like the heated – and cooled – seats, full climate controls, dual USB-C charging ports, really everything a rear passenger might need to stay sufficiently distracted to stop asking “are we there yet??”

Stepping around to the back, there’s plenty of cargo space as long as you keep the third-row seats folded down. Pop them up and the remaining storage space is about one-shopping-bag deep:

2024 mazda cx-90 premium plus - rear cargo space seats up

My expectation with third-row seating is that it’s used in a pinch, but mostly remains folded down in deference to additional storage and cargo space. Is that how your family utilizes a bigger vehicle of this nature, or do you have a little one in the very back row on every drive?

While we’re talking about design changes, I can’t omit the fact that Mazda’s shifted to an edge-on key fob design for this 2024 model:

2024 mazda cx-90 premium plus - key fob

I’ll be candid; I don’t like it. Rather than being able to access the controls on my own Mazda’s key fob by touch, I found that I needed to look at the buttons here to ensure I was pushing the correct one. Worse, more than once I locked the car inadvertently by pushing the fob while leaning against something or carrying a heavy weight. Perhaps the “OG Mazda key fob” is an option?

With all of that shown, let’s talk about the drive experience, because this Mazda featured the Skyactive  G 3.3L inline-6 Turbo Engine putting out 340 horsepower with M Hybrid Boost and an 8-speed automatic transmission. It was fun to drive and had plenty of pep for merging onto the highway or just popping off from a stop when the light turned green. The weakness of this engine technology is that I found the fuel efficiency pretty poor, averaging 24.3 mpg across a few hundred miles of residential, highway, and mountain driving. It’s 2024, I expect better from every vehicle than these 2000’s era efficiency numbers.

The bigger issue with the CX-90 is that it has too darn many safety and monitoring features. Glance away from the front windshield for more than a few seconds and “DISTRACTED DRIVER ALERT” would flash on the display with an accompanying beep. Try to get out at the end of a drive and it would again beep and warn you to “CHECK REAR SEAT”, with the disable feature simply stopping the alert, not the message. Veer from the exact center of your lane on a turn? There’s a beep for that. Signal to turn from a multi-turn-lane and it’ll alert you that there are vehicles on that side. More amusingly, it also includes a “pedal misuse alert” which is enabled by default: Press both the gas and brake simultaneously and it’ll scold you for your bad driving technique. I lasted a day before I had to pull into a parking lot and figure out how to disable the majority of these safety features.

2024 mazda cx-90 premium plus - exterior rear

Those issues notwithstanding, I enjoyed driving the 2024 Mazda CX-90 and found it to be a solid option for people seeking a three-row SUV with beautiful styling and lots of both safety and luxury features. The drive experience was solid, and while you’ll want to fine tune the settings to match your own driving preferences, there’s a lot to admire in this surprisingly luxurious addition to the top end of the Mazda lineup.

2024 Mazda CX-90 3.3 Turbo S Premium Plus in Artisan Red Premium with White Premium Leather. BASE PRICE: $59,950. Options included: Premium paint. Everything else is included in the Premium Plus trim package. AS DRIVEN: $61,920.00

Disclaimer: Mazda loaned me the CX-90 for a week in return for this candid writeup and review. Thanks, Mazda!

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dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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