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Anticipate Elegant Design And Robust Performance From Mazda’s Luxury Flagship CX-90

Mazda, a “boutique” Japanese automaker highly esteemed by driving aficionados due to the MX-5 Miata, produces sporty, performance-oriented vehicles that not only excel in handling – each model is crafted with the driving experience at the forefront – but they also boast a sleek appearance. The latest addition to their lineup in North America vows to offer both performance and exquisite eye-catching design with their freshly introduced flagship three-row luxury SUV. Recently, I put the 2024 Mazda CX-90 Plug-in Hybrid Electric (PHEV) and the 3.3 Turbo S to the test on rain-soaked urban roads, highways, and rural routes between San Francisco and Sonoma County. Prepare to be amazed.

Embracing Simplicity: A Japanese Artistic Sense

As I prepared to depart from 1 Hotel on the waterfront of San Francisco’s Embarcadero, a gentle drizzle allowed me to fully appreciate the CX-90 PHEV interior. Mazda has spared no effort in crafting the CX-90 interior, renowned for its sophistication. As a fan of stylish neutrals, I was captivated by the white perforated Nappa leather seats, the wrapped steering wheel, and the premium finishes, including refined aluminum trim on the door panels. The cabin felt roomy, and the 12.3-inch infotainment system was well-proportioned. Navigation was a breeze, and as I made adjustments to the mirrors and prepared for my journey, I scrolled through a curated Mazda playlist. The cabin also offered ample storage thanks to ergonomic central compartments and a wireless smartphone charging pad.

The digital gauge cluster and infotainment stack were modern, but the user interface boasted traditional buttons, including a commander knob on the central console. The PHEV comes standard with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto integration, and USB inputs, while wireless connectivity and a premium Bose sound system are available as optional upgrades in higher trim packages. My route – plotted from the city across the Bay Bridge and Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, along Highway 101, and through a snippet of Petaluma – was already set in the navigation system.

Journey from San Francisco to Sonoma

As I made a right turn onto Mission Street, the car exhibited responsiveness – almost whisper-quiet – navigating through a series of traffic lights. By the time I reached the Bay Bridge and merged onto Interstate 580, the drizzle had escalated into a steady downpour, but I effortlessly switched music from Tom Petty to my preferred driving soundtrack, The Cars: Complete Greatest Hits. The 12-speaker Bose stereo system delivered clear, dynamic notes across the sound spectrum as I cranked up Just What I Needed. Mazda’s decision to position the base speakers in the cowl rather than the door panels eliminated any rattling, resulting in an even quieter cabin – no need to be cautious when adjusting the EQ.

Despite challenging conditions, driving a car that offered such a serene, spa-like ambiance and top-tier safety features made it hard to feel anything but relaxed. Mazda is known for equipping its vehicles with cutting-edge safety features, and the CX-90 is no exception. Standard safety technologies include Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane-keep Assist, and a Lane Departure Warning System. On my journey, I first encountered Blind Spot Assist, which promptly alerted me to a vehicle on my left as I signaled for a lane change. The warning was subtle, conveyed through a slight sensation in the steering wheel and a heads-up display – no startling alarms here.

Featuring an inline four-cylinder engine, an electric motor, and a 17.8-kWh battery pack, the plug-in hybrid offers an estimated 26 miles of electric range per charge, designed to maintain the battery above 20% of its usable capacity whether on the school run or daily commute. In instances of low battery, the gas engine seamlessly engages.

Opting out of a planned photo stop at Stafford Lake due to the rain, I experienced the CX-90’s smooth handling capabilities while traversing the picturesque countryside of Northern California – rolling green hills and ranches spanning the Marin-Sonoma border, punctuated by bright yellow Deer Crossing signs. The driving experience felt consistent, with Mazda’s Kinematic Posture Control enhancing balance and responsiveness while cornering. The PHEV gripped the road flawlessly as I journeyed towards Denmark Court for a meeting with Takanori Tsubaki and other Mazda representatives.

With a broader body and extended wheelbase compared to its precursor, the CX-90 stands as Mazda’s largest model in North America to date. Geared to compete in the premium mid-size three-row segment, Jon Leverett, project manager of the crossover’s launch strategy, shared that the CX-90 signifies a move towards a more upscale positioning for the brand. Leverett highlighted that the CX-90 embodies Mazda’s vision of a luxury vehicle titled ‘Mazda premium’, distinct from typical German or Swedish offerings. “This is our interpretation of Japanese luxury,” he emphasized.

For a vehicle that merges dynamic driving performance with captivating design appeal, who better to articulate its design ethos than CX-90’s chief designer Takanori Tsubaki? Mazda’s Kodo Design philosophy, which aims to streamline design elements and create a minimalist aesthetic, resonates deeply with the ethos of motion. Tsubaki elaborated on the design language, emphasizing the natural and dynamic shapes of the body, with smooth yet not flat surfaces, granting a sense of motion even at rest.

Mazda’s grandest and most opulent model

Beyond its striking exterior, spacious interior, and potent performance capabilities, the advanced safety features embedded in the CX-90 will undoubtedly position it favorably in the forthcoming IIHS Top Safety Pick rankings. Notably, Mazda’s lineup, including the Mazda3 Sedan, Mazda3 Hatchback, CX-30, CX-5, CX-50, and CX-9, all secured spots on the 2023 list.

Before returning to San Francisco, I examined a top-tier Turbo S model showcasing Mazda’s Japanese heritage in a new Artisan Red finish. The interior featured dash and door panels upholstered in intricate Kakenui-stitched fabric, integrated with curly maple wood bearing a wavy pattern reminiscent of Nishijin-ori woven silk from Kyoto.

The refined and harmonious interior with its thoughtful material selection and color palette underscores Mazda’s design principles that not only look appealing but also feel gratifying. Remarkably, the full range of CX-90 features and options, including this high-end trim level, remains within the $60,000 range. Leverett mentioned the availability of 11 distinct trim packages and configurations, catering to varied aesthetic preferences.

Motion’s Essence & Play of Light

As I embarked on the journey back to the city in a CX-90 3.3 Turbo S with Rhodium White exterior, complemented by handsome saddle brown leather interiors and contrasting suede dash trim, I decided to explore the driver personalization system. Leveraging facial recognition technology, the system identified me as the primary driver, automatically adjusting the cockpit for optimal ergonomics. As my seat, mirrors, and steering wheel aligned seamlessly, the rain subsided, revealing a route through the redwood forest in Marin County – a perfect setting to delve into the Mi-Drive modes and engage the Sport mode.

Enthusiasts will appreciate the 3.3-liter inline-six engine’s 340 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, translating to smooth power delivery for swift acceleration. The P-R-N-D setup was user-friendly, featuring an Off-Road and Towing mode (which I didn’t explore), and an EV mode exclusive to the PHEV. Upon engaging Sport mode, the 8-speed transmission emitted a low growl, effortlessly shifting gears as the AWD system provided stability along Lucas Valley Road, offering tight corners and a moment to appreciate the interplay of light, as Tsbuaki San alluded to earlier.

The return journey along Highway 101 was an apt occasion to experience the Lane-Keep Assist and adaptive cruise control as I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge back into the city.

Equipped with a hands-free rear power liftgate – suitable for family outings or adventures, accommodating up to eight passengers or ample storage with folded rear seats – the CX-90 epitomizes an upscale SUV that not only boasts a striking appearance but also delivers a refined driving experience that enthusiasts will relish. Visit

Image Source: CNET

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