Have you ever heard of Amati? Back in the early 1990s, Mazda was crafting its own luxury brand to compete with the likes of Lexus and Infiniti, but a Japanese recession forced Mazda to can the project and roll most vehicles under development back into Mazda’s lineup. The Amati 500 became the Mazda Millennia, the Amati 300 became the Mazda Xedos 6, and the Amati 1000 vanished off the face of the earth. More than thirty years later, Mazda itself is heading upmarket with models like the Mazda 3 Turbo, and the new CX-90 is Mazda’s biggest and most ambitious upmarket car we’ve seen this millennium. Mazda’s lips are fairly tight on specifications, but we do know that this three-row crossover is generally bigger, more powerful, quicker, and more expensive than the current three-row CX-9, and it rides on a new longitudinal engine architecture (i.e. the engine isn’t sideways like it is on most modern cars). Yeah, it must really suck to be the Cadillac XT6 right now.
Let’s cut to the big news, Mazda’s new 3.3-liter turbocharged mild-hybrid inline-six. It makes 340 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft. of torque on premium gas, putting it in the same league as lower-output versions of BMW’s lauded B58 inline-six. I’m a huge fan of inline-six engines as their smoothness is incredible, and this particular unit is unlikely to disappoint CX-90 customers who opt for it.
However, not everyone wants inline-six power, which is where the seriously impressive e-Skyactiv plug-in hybrid powertrain comes in. It pairs Mazda’s tried-and-true 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a very reasonable 17.8 kWh battery pack to produce 322 horsepower and the same 369 lb.-ft. of torque as the inline-six. It should be a compelling option for city-dwellers who can charge at home.
Regardless of engine choice, power gets to the ground through an eight-speed automatic gearbox that doesn’t have a torque converter. Instead, a multi-plate clutch connects the engine to the gearbox, similar to the setup you’d find on the old C63 AMG. According to Mazda, it’s a smaller assembly than an equivalent torque converter, which helps with packaging. Clever stuff. Expect all-wheel-drive to be standard equipment, handy for carving through snowy climates.
What’s more, the engine and gearbox are mounted longitudinally, which sets this three-row family hauler apart from most of the premium pack. Mazda’s longitudinal architecture gives plenty of space for a double-wishbone front suspension that should pay dividends in the bends, and it places the four-cylinder engine on plug-in hybrid models as close to the firewall as possible for the sake of balance. We’d have to get our hands on one to be sure, but there’s a chance that the plug-in CX-90 may be front-mid-engined. How weird would that be?
Right, oily bits over, let’s talk about how the CX-90 looks. This thing is the most beautiful three-row crossover I’ve ever (virtually) seen. Instead of making something conservatively handsome like a Volvo XC90 or outlandish like a Lexus RX, Mazda took a suitcase full of compound curves and found a way to make them work on a box. The resulting crossover combines the practicality of a tall greenhouse and minimal tumblehome with the tautness and long dash-to-axle of classic coachwork, all while using as few sharp creases as possible.
There’s a lot of metal between the bottom of the doors and the bottom of the greenhouse, but it doesn’t look monolithic thanks to very careful shaping of the door skins. The subtle protruding arches really plant the CX-90 on the tarmac, the long taillights buck the heckblende trend while oozing style, and the ultra-slim rear bumper deserves recognition of its own.
Mazda is known for its excellent red paint, and the CX-90 gets an all-new color called Artisan Red that appears near-black in shadow yet pops with red when sun hits it. In press photos, it seems to smother body lines, but I’ll wait to see it in the metal to pass final judgement as one image sensor and editing process isn’t always indicative of real-world appearance. Still, I like it a hell of a lot more than greyscale, and more colors are always a good thing.
Moving to the interior, what’s the first thing you notice? Other than the very nice fabrics, leathers, and trim. That’s right, physical buttons. Lots of them. Good job, Mazda. As almost every manufacturer seems to be moving towards touch-sensitive this and voice-controlled that, at least Mazda has the common sense not to bury activation of the heated seats or heated steering wheel.
Zooming back out, let’s focus on the general material selection of the CX-90’s interior. Everything here seems just that cut above other Mazdas, which is impressive considering Mazda’s hallmark of embarrassing much more expensive cars with soft-touch plastics, stitched textiles, and artful design. There’s stitched leather-like material right where your knee might rest against the console, rich-looking fabric on the dashboard and door cards, modern pale wood, and loads of metallic parts including the physical glovebox release. It all adds up to a lovely interior that looks set to run with the likes of Lexus.
Judging by the photos, a Bose stereo appears to be optional, as do third-row USB ports, a new parking camera system with a see-through mode, ventilated front seats, and all the sorts of toys you’re used to seeing in well-equipped three-row crossovers. We’ll have to wait to see a full equipment list, but early signs are promising.
Looking around at the marketplace, the Mazda CX-90 couldn’t have been unveiled at a better time. The Cadillac XT6 feels a lot like its Chevrolet Traverse platform-mate, the Acura MDX has an awful touchpad to control its infotainment and no plug-in powertrain options, the Infiniti QX60 is just a re-skinned Pathfinder, the Lincoln Aviator is weighed down by memories of a botched launch, and Lexus doesn’t have a three-row crossover at all right now. Mazda seems to be coming for everyone’s lunch money, and it might just succeed. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but expect the Mazda CX-90 to cost more than the CX-9. How much more, we don’t know yet, but we wouldn’t be surprised if Mazda shares for information this Spring, when the CX-90 is expected to arrive.
(Photo credits: Mazda)
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Ye gods, Mazda, paint the Miata this color. Throw a tan interior in it and it could be the return of the 1995 M-Edition.
this whole shift upmarket does strike me as a little odd, especially when they’re keeping the pleb CX9 around.
I’d imagine your average person isn’t going to realise just how different the CX9 and CX90 are (or that they’re different at all), thus hurting the potential prestige of the brand.
If I were in charge, I probably would have re-launched Eunos, separated the grille/lighting signature just a bit (like toyota/lexus do) to distinguish them from regular mazdas, then sell them in a fancy corner of the mazda dealers.
That way it’s still fairly apparent that “Eunos” is part of Mazda, so it boosts the perceived quality of the whole brand, while distinguishing the luxury models’ enough to give them room to accrue prestige.
Mazda would be printing cash if they would just give us a few more hybrid cars. Their style plus efficiency would crush Honda and Toyota. I would buy the CX90 all day with the hybrid 2.5L, especially if it got over 32 mpg.
I feel like Mazda styling peaked a few years ago and now has been trying to get “tougher” and losing some style. They’re still good looking cars, but not excellent like a few years ago.
I’m good with everything except the hatch. The back end is very old looking. The interior is outstanding. Now, call me when they put this engine in a two door GT car. Hmmm, I don’t think my phone is working.
I really hope this move upmarket works out for Mazda. Other manufacturers who play in this space have had mixed success. VW did it in the early 2000’s and then decided to reverse-course and go for volume. Acura has lived in this quasi-luxury space since its inception and their cars have been fine but most don’t justify the price premium. Buick has also tried to be a contender but their most interesting vehicles (redbadged Opel’s) have been dropped. Now they’re just left with some seriously insipid crossovers.
As for the CX-90, it sounds like a really offbeat option, given the powertrains. From the press photos, I’m not entirely sold on the exterior. The front end looks like it was stung by bees and the profile is giving off third-gen Acura MDX vibes. The interior is astounding. In summary, this has been added to the list of crossovers that have piqued my interest. This is the only crossover on that list.
Addendum: I’d really like to get Adrian Clarke’s take on the design.
I’m having trouble gauging the size of this thing, but it’s really nice looking, especially in that dark red. Mazda does great work.
This thing is gorgeous. And I absolutely love the twill dashboard. No more faux-chrome or piano black blindness syndrome! That is such a classy touch. Make mine with the inline six and matching fabric seats if such a configuration is possible. But please, let me swallow my coffee first before telling me the price. The saddest thing is, we had a Mazda dealer in our area for the longest time, then they packed up about 4 years ago. Would’ve loved to get one of these and service it locally, but now the closest dealer is 110 miles, one way. Damn.
I wish they would put out at least SOME specs, to give a better sense of its size against competitors.
Seating is up to 8, so that way back should be decent at least that they can squeeze 3-across. But there’s both 2-seat and 3-seat third rows in the different pics out there, so will be interesting to see how it can be equipped. At first I thought that could be tied to the powertrain options – say, the PHEV-I4 option with the 2-seat 3rd row, maybe for room for the batteries and/or something with max capacity – but the red car seems to be the I6 with a 6-passenger 2-2-2 layout, and the whiteish one is a I4 with a 7-passenger 2-2-3 layout. (So then I wonder if a 2-3-2 layout will also be available? That’s a lot of seating options, compared to the simple 2nd row bench or captain’s chairs choice most have.)
Love the red color. Interested to see how the CX-70 shakes out. Something about the CX-60 didn’t blow me away, this I like much more, but maybe it’s as simple as the color differences in the press photos.
The CX-60 seems like it’s constrained by it’s width. A nice profile but boxed in with no character in its body sides.
This, at least, has some bulges and flares to give it a batter stance. It’s not great, but I think they’re trying to maximize space, here. It’s certainly an improvement. The CX-70 should have a similar width/stance with a shorter, sportier profile.
Yeah, it would maybe be easier if the CX-80 were unveiled too for a frame of reference.
The CX-50 and CX-60 are pretty close in length, so the -70 I have to think will also end up a bit longer than the -60 to fit more neatly in the lineup here which should also help its proportions.
It’s good-looking for an SUV, but I’d rather see this type of engine in a smaller vehicle…
Same engine choices should be offered in the 2 row CX70