An Engaging SUV with 3 Rows Designed for Driving-Enthusiast Parents

    The Unlikely Success of the 2024 Mazda CX-90

    When I first laid eyes on the spec sheet for the 2024 Mazda CX-90, I couldn’t help but feel like this SUV was custom-made just for me. It had everything I could ever want in a daily driver – a sleek design, three rows of seating, an affordable price, and a powerful straight-six engine. But as much as I loved the CX-90, I couldn’t help but wonder who else would buy it.

    You see, I’m not your typical SUV buyer. While other customers prioritize power, performance, and practicality, I crave sportiness and excitement. I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of cabin space and reliability for a car that makes me feel alive behind the wheel. Unfortunately, most SUV customers want the exact opposite – a spacious, comfortable, and stylish vehicle that fits their practical needs. And that’s precisely who the CX-90 is designed for – customers like me.

    Driving the CX-90 for the first time, I was blown away by its handling. I’ve never experienced an SUV, especially one as big as this, that could navigate corners with such ease. And let’s not forget about the new engine. Mazda truly outdid themselves with this twin-turbocharged straight-six. Its power delivery is seamless, and it feels more refined than the four-cylinder engines found in its competitors.

    But as much as I adore the CX-90, I can’t help but worry about its sales. While Mazda deserves praise for creating an SUV that defies the stereotypes of the segment, I fear that it won’t resonate with the majority of American SUV buyers. Honda, Toyota, and Chevy sell thousands of Pilots, Highlanders, and Traverses, while Mazda will probably only sell a dozen or so CX-90s. It’s disheartening because the CX-90 is proof that SUVs don’t have to be boring and sensible.

    Moving on to the basics, the CX-90 is a brand-new addition to Mazda’s lineup, joining its sibling, the CX-9. Mazda aimed higher with the CX-90, making it more premium and exciting. And it shows. The CX-90 looks and feels more expensive than any other Mazda I’ve driven, although it’s not quite on par with luxury brands like Lexus or Mercedes. Nevertheless, it holds its own against most Acuras.

    However, its design is where the CX-90 falls a bit short. While it’s not an ugly car by any means, it is rather unremarkable compared to its stylish competitors like the Acura MDX or Kia Telluride. Its Artisan Red paint didn’t do it any favors either, as it looked better in brighter colors. Personally, I’m not a fan of its front end, particularly the headlights that blend into the grille.

    Inside, the CX-90’s design is sophisticated, and the materials feel premium. But the glaring issue lies in its cabin tech. Mazda’s infotainment system feels outdated, with a small screen and clunky controls. It’s a major letdown, considering that GM, Toyota, and Hyundai have more advanced systems. Of course, using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto solves most of these woes, but it’s disappointing that Mazda didn’t invest more in their built-in technology.

    What sets the CX-90 apart from its competitors, and truly showcases Mazda’s identity as a brand, is its powertrain. This SUV doesn’t settle for a puny four-cylinder engine; it boasts a fantastic twin-turbocharged straight-six. As a fan of straight-six-powered cars, I was thrilled to see Mazda introduce a brand-new engine of this kind. And it delivers, providing a smooth power delivery and plenty of punch. It truly stands out among other SUVs in its class.

    Moving on to the driving experience, Mazda’s claims about the CX-90’s dynamics are absolutely true. It handles better than any other three-row SUV on the market, even outperforming some luxury models with hefty price tags. Its steering and balance give it a fluidity that’s unmatched in its size category. Simply put, it’s a joy to drive.

    That being said, it’s not without flaws. The eight-speed automatic transmission didn’t always shift as swiftly as expected, and its low-speed braking was somewhat unpredictable. Its ride, while aiming for sportiness, could be too firm for some with its firm suspension tuning and large wheels.

    But despite its imperfections, the CX-90 stands as the three-row family bus for the driving enthusiast. It’s the perfect choice for someone who previously owned a small, sporty car and now needs more space without sacrificing the thrill of driving. Mazda’s commitment to crafting a vehicle that’s enjoyable and fun shines through in the CX-90.

    Now, let’s delve into the highs and lows of this SUV. Undoubtedly, its standout feature is the engine. The twin-turbo straight-six not only performs exceptionally well but also adds a sense of uniqueness to the CX-90. Every time I heard it purr, I couldn’t help but feel a surge of excitement. On top of that, its steering and handling are among its greatest strengths. And let’s not forget about the surprisingly decent third-row seating.

    However, the CX-90 is not without its downsides. Its cabin tech falls short, with outdated controls and a lackluster infotainment system. Some interior switches also feel cheap, and the ride can be too rough for a three-row SUV in its class. It’s these little drawbacks that can affect the overall experience.

    When it comes to features and options, the CX-90 comes well-equipped even in its base trim. With all-wheel drive, LED headlights, three-zone climate control, and blind-spot monitors, it offers plenty for its starting price. Upgrading to the premium model adds luxurious features like heated and ventilated second-row captain chairs and Nappa leather upholstery, but it comes at a higher price point.

    Now, let’s talk about the competition. The CX-90 faces off against the likes of the Toyota Grand Highlander, Chevy Traverse, and Volkswagen Atlas at the lower end of its price range. On the higher end, it competes with the Acura MDX and Lexus TX. Out of these options, the Mazda CX-90 shines as the driver’s car, offering a level of enjoyment that the others can’t match. However, it falls short in terms of cabin tech and luxury design when compared to its rivals.

    Fuel economy is another area where the CX-90 impresses. Despite having a larger engine, it manages to achieve an EPA-rated 25 mpg combined, surpassing its competitors in the same price range. Of course, my spirited driving prevented me from achieving those numbers during my time with the CX-90, but efficiency wasn’t my top priority anyway.

    Speaking of the engine, it’s worth considering how long Mazda can continue offering this powerful straight-six. As the industry shifts towards efficiency and lower emissions, the days of large engines like this one may be numbered. However, Mazda does offer a plug-in hybrid version of the CX-90, which boasts an impressive 56 mpge and 26 miles of electric-only range. This shows that Mazda is keeping up with the trends while still catering to enthusiasts.

    When it comes to value, the CX-90 is a tricky one to evaluate. On paper, it holds its own against its competitors and offers a compelling option for the price. However, it lacks the same level of cabin technology and creature comforts as its luxury counterparts. Mazda made a conscious choice to prioritize driving dynamics and performance, sometimes at the expense of practicality and tech. It remains to be seen whether customers will appreciate this tradeoff.

    As my time with the CX-90 came to an end, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness. Not only because I had to say goodbye to this exceptional SUV, but also because I have reservations about its future success. I sincerely hope that I’m proven wrong, but the reality is that the CX-90 doesn’t fit the mold of what most three-row SUV customers are looking for. It’s designed for a different kind of customer, one who values sportiness and driving enjoyment over comfort, practicality, and the latest tech. Whether there are enough of those customers out there remains to be seen.

    In conclusion, the 2024 Mazda CX-90 is a remarkable SUV that delivers on its promise of sportiness and driving enjoyment. Its standout straight-six engine and agile handling set it apart from the crowd. However, its outdated cabin tech, design shortcomings, and lack of luxury features may hinder its mainstream appeal. Despite its flaws, the CX-90 is a refreshing addition to the SUV market, proving that practicality doesn’t have to mean sacrificing fun behind the wheel.

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