San Francisco, the Golden City, aptly named for California’s gold rush era, could not have been a better backdrop to showcase Mazda’s newest flagship vehicle, the CX-90. The CX-90 like the city is as picturesque as the golden sunset admired at the San Francisco Bay. Beyond aesthetics the city also offers some incredible roads on which to stretch the CX-90’s legs.
Now some of you may be saying, Sandeep, I think you added an extra “0” at the end of the name. That would be very astute of you, but, unfortunately incorrect. The CX-90 is meant to be a replacement of the outgoing CX-9 as the only three row SUV Mazda will offer. However, the CX-90 is a larger vehicle in proportion to the CX-9, which has similar dimensions to the soon to arrive CX-70. So in the place of losing one vehicle Mazda will introduce 2 new ones to its lineup, with others to follow.
The CX-90 is a bold move forward for Mazda. With a long hood and more masculine front end, the CX-90 looks more aggressive than the CX-9. It drops the sharper edges for smoother body lines and a more upright flatter front end. The whole silhouette of the CX-90 is more racked back, almost muscle-car like. To pull in this more aggressive feel, the wheel arches are flared and the CX-90 has this low hunkered down look to it.
Now the CX-90 is not just about the look of speed, by the way Mazda calls this KODO, which roughly translates too “soul of motion design”, it also incorporates Mazda’s highest output drivetrain to date. At the heart of the CX-90 are two variants of a turbocharged 3.3L e-SKYACTIV Mild-Hybrid inline 6-cylinder. Gone is the high compression ratio turbo 4 cylinder from the CX-9. This new inline six breathes life and vigour into the CX-90 that makes driving a pleasure. The upgraded variant on premium fuel produces 340hp and maximum torque of 369 lb-ft of torque. The regular version on regular gas produces 280hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. The result is a more efficient drivetrain than the outgoing 4 and with the added pleasure of a smooth growly 6 cylinder. The drivetrain also incorporate a 48V mild hybrid system to assist with slow moving, start stop and initial take off with instant torque. A further PHEV drivetrain comprised of a 2.5L four cylinder and a high output electric motor allows for up to 42 km of EV driving. This variation gives you the feel good go green option around town on short trips yet eliminates the range anxiety associated with full BEV’s.
Mated to all engines is a new 8 speed that utilizes multiple clutches rather than a torque converter. Behind the wheel, this new transmission allows for crisp and direct shifting with minimal to no lag. It definitely feels more responsive than the outgoing 6 speed from the CX-9. This combination is connected to an all-new rear-wheel drive architecture designed to inspire and maximize the joy of driving. The culmination of all these moving parts, a vehicle that despite its significant size, garners confidence as you hit b-roads. This is abundantly obvious while storming the back roads of the Sonoma Valley in San Francisco. The CX-90 felt composed and planted, managing switch backs with the ease of a car half its size. It remained flat and the exhaust note from the inline 6 was a symphony to my ears, especially as I held gears with wheel mounted paddle shifters. The power delivery from the turbo six is linear and predictable, combined with the 48 volt mild hybrid system, provide the instant thrust as you pull out of corners or turns. This driver oriented feel is enhanced by i-Activ AWD, which utilizes a multi clutch system to route power to all four wheels to achieve high traction performance and stability in any weather condition.
Out on the open roads, the CX-90 swallows the kilometers with ease, absorbing the road imperfections with minimal disruption in the cabin or the wheel. Driving manners are further enhanced by an interior worthy of a Mercedes or BMW. The combination of unique materials like maple wood and soft white Napa leather and unique angles makes for an interior that is appealing and intriguing at the same time. Mazda calls it Kaicho or “harmony,” and Hacho or “broken rhythm.” Interior dimensions have been increased for front and rear passengers with more thigh and leg room. It is truly a luxurious place to be.
Now if there is one thing that most of us auto journalists agree on and that is that Mazda produces some of the best vehicle colour palettes in the industry. We especially consider them to make the best red, called “Soul Red Crystal Metallic.” Now for the CX-90, Mazda has introduced “Artisan Red Metallic”. It is a deep soulful red that highlights the CX-90 body lines and oozes a sense of old money like nothing else can. If you were to order the CX-90, this would be the colour of choice, bar none.
My experience in San Francisco beyond the obvious thrill and enjoyment of driving the CX-90 was meeting the team leads and heads behind the creation of the CX-90, from engineers to designers. A tight knit group of varied individuals who have a core passion for driving and cars. People that truly love being behind the wheel of a car and hitting the road or race track. It’s not surprising then why Mazda consistently produces vehicles in different segments that lead the way in driving dynamics, cars like the CX-5 and MX-5 Miata. The CX-90 is no different; the dedication to the pleasure of driving can be instantly felt when you get behind the wheel and it truly deserves its place as Mazda’s flagship vehicle.