Updated: Aug 5
I'm coming up on 26 years of writing about cars for (part of) a living. There has been one constant:
Mazda doesn't make bad cars. In fact, they usually make cars that are arguably better and more involving for a driver than everything else in their class.
I copied and pasted that from a review of the CX-5 that I wrote nine years ago and it wouldn't surprise me if you could produce multiple instances of my having said the same thing, more or less all the way back to my first online review. In fact, I'll save you the trouble. It was in the fifth review I ever wrote online, published August 26, 2008, about the Mazda 3:
One of the great mysteries in life is why Mazda isn't one of the top 5-selling automakers in the United States. There are no bad Mazdas and only one mediocre one (the B series pickup, a rebadged Ford Ranger from the previous millenium). The canary in the coal mine came last spring, with Mazda's first EV, the MX-30, a low-range compliance car. Even then, I couldn't say "bad", just "hard to recommend".
And I suppose that's where I've landed on the CX-90, which will replace the long-lived and much-loved CX-9. Not bad, necessarily. But hard to recommend.
Yes, the CX-9 was long in the tooth, and yes, Mazda needed a new platform to move into a new, more upscale phase of its existence. But let's start with the surface---the beautiful, taut lines of the Kodo design (which Mazda says it used in the design of this new vehicle) are gone. The CX-90 looks...bloated.
There's a new engine under the hood---a 3.6-liter inline six with a turbo. 340 horsepower, 369 lb-ft of torque (on premium gasoline) with M hybrid boost, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Zero to 60 in 6.5 seconds and an EPA-estimated 25 miles per gallon combined (city 23/highway 28). That's a quantum leap from the CX-9's 227-horsepower turbo four and a six-speed automatic, which needed nine seconds hit hit 60 from a standing start and only managed 20 mpg combined. So, a major advance there.
But---in the interests of full disclosure---in mid-May, I had a CX-90 for review. I put 40 miles on it, was driving on city streets at 45 miles per hour and this error message appeared on the screen.
Now, sometimes, that can be as simple as a loose gas cap. So I took the gas cap off and re-tightened it. The error message remained. Mazda's press fleet folks came and got it and told me they'd re-schedule me in it when it was sorted out. Which they did, seven weeks later. Except it was a different CX-90. Different color. (EDIT FOR CLARITY: CX-90 number one was a 2023 CX-90 Plug-In Hybrid. CX-90 number two was a 2024 CX-90 Turbo S---a purely gasoline-powered CX-90. After this story published, I heard from Lawrence Hodge at Jalopnik, who says he had the same thing happen---the same warning light on a CX-90 PHEV, which was taken to the shop, not to be seen again. His replacement was a different CX-90. After hearing from Lawrence, I went looking---and found a CX-90 owner forum, where there are first-hand accounts of these types of gremlins from people who actually bought the vehicles: https://www.cx90forum.com/threads/cx90-2024-hybrid-malfunction.179/ ) I'd love to tell you CX-90 number two was free of weirdness, as literally every other Mazda I've ever driven has been, but:
Okay, this happens every now and then. The journalist before uses up the washer fluid and the delivery guys, who are usually on top of everything, just don't check the washer fluid tank before getting the car to the next journo. Not a biggie. Except this warning would come on, and then go away, and then come on again. No rhythm, no pattern, no "the car's at an angle, so the fluid is tilting away from the sensor".
...and no shortage of windshield washer fluid in the reservoir. Is this fatal? No. But it's not normal, either, especially for Mazda.
When it comes to the interior, the CX-90 makes a strong case for Mazda's upscale aspirations. Always better than the Asian competition it has traditionally faced (Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Kia), Mazda's new philosophy is different from European luxury, but every bit as premium and holds its own in a comparison with Lexus and Genesis.
Our tester was the 3.3 Turbo S Premium Plus AWD. Top of the line, with a base price of $61,325 including destination. As always with Mazda, a lot is included at that price, including 21-inch wheels, a hands-free power rear liftgate, eight-way heated power quilted Nappa leather-trimmed seats, three-zone climate control with vents for the third row, a comprehensive suite of active safety features, a panoramic moonroof, navigation, a 12-speaker Bose audio system, and wireless charging.
The only extra-cost option was the Rhodium White metallic paint ($595), so the bottom line on the window sticker reads $61,920.
I want to love the CX-90. At best, I like the CX-90, but I don't find it terribly attractive physically and my confidence is a bit shaken by oddball error messages. At a price 13 grand higher than the as-tested price of the last loaded CX-9 I reviewed, it, like the MX-30 on the opposite end of the Mazda spectrum, is hard to recommend.