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2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV: What's It Like to Live With?

We're putting Mazda's first plug-in hybrid through a 20,000-mile test

Mazda CX-90 2024
Miles Driven:Average MPG:

Latest Highlights

  • The CX-90 is Mazda's new entry in the three-row SUV space
  • It's also the first plug-in hybrid Mazda's ever sold in the U.S.
  • The CX-90 PHEV delivers 332 horsepower and should be good for 26 miles of electric range

What We Got And Why

by Clint Simone, Senior Reviews Editor

Our test vehicle: 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV
Base MSRP: $51,320
MSRP as tested: $60,545

The popularity of plug-in hybrids is on the rise and Mazda is trying to cash in on the action with the 2024 CX-90. This is the company’s first PHEV, a version of the CX-90 that includes a very similar list of features with one big exception: In place of the standard CX-90's turbocharged six-cylinder engine, the PHEV gets a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and a big battery pack. This means 26 miles of all-electric range, according to the EPA, and total system output of 323 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque.

We want to see how the CX-90 PHEV holds up after a year of testing, so we’ve added it to the Edmunds long-term test fleet. Is this the right plug-in hybrid for your family? We’re here to help you decide.

What did we get?

While we often purchase our long-term vehicles, this one was loaned to us from Mazda for a yearlong evaluation. This CX-90 is a top-trim Premium Plus model with all the bells and whistles, including heated and ventilated seats covered in black Nappa leather, a 12.3-inch infotainment screen and a digital gauge cluster.

Our car adds a digital rearview mirror for $800 and upgraded carpeted floor mats for $325. This CX-90 is also finished in Mazda's always beautiful Soul Red Crystal paint and rolls on 21-inch wheels. Including a mandatory destination fee, this CX-90 PHEV stickers for $60,545. That puts it right in the vicinity of another long-term test car, the Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe. We'll be sure to weigh in on which PHEV we think is the better choice as time goes on.

Why did we get It?

That Jeep is part of the logic behind testing this Mazda for a long period of time. As shoppers demand more options for efficient family vehicles, we want to break down the reasons why one option may be better than the other. We’re also here to confirm the real-world efficiency of the CX-90 PHEV since EPA estimates don’t always tell the whole story. As the first PHEV from a brand that hasn’t exactly smashed it with electrification so far, we’re eager to put the CX-90 to the (long-term) test.

Mazda loaned Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV: Real-World Fuel Economy

We'll keep you updated on the CX-90's fuel economy here.

Average lifetime mpg: 21.5
EPA mpg rating: 25 combined
Best fill mpg: 27.1
Best electric range (miles):: 21
Best total range (miles): 416.0
Current odometer: 8,777

How does the CX-90 fare on a long road trip?

"During a 4,000-mile road trip, there weren't a lot of opportunities to plug in the CX-90, as even Level 2 chargers were in short supply. That meant the CX-90 was in hybrid mode pretty much the entire time. The fuel economy meter showed an average of a bit more than 26 mpg, with a low of 24 mpg and a high of 28.5 mpg. (Side note: Some quick math shows that the onboard meter is a little optimistic, as our miles/gallons calculations consistently showed a slightly lower number.) That very slightly beats the EPA combined estimate for running solely on gas (25 mpg), and it's honestly not too bad for a large, heavy (5,000-plus-pound) three-row SUV with 323 horsepower.

"The thing is, that's about what you'd get with the non-PHEV version of the CX-90. Around town I'd be plugging in more often to take advantage of the battery and would invariably get better economy. But if that doesn't sound like you, maybe it's best to stick with the standard version." — Keith Buglewicz, managing editor

2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV: Performance

Does the CX-90 live up to the sporty promise of the Mazda badge?

What do we think of the CX-90's throttle tuning?

"I can't figure out the throttle tuning of this car. It's mildly aggressive at first and then totally goes to sleep through the rest of the pedal travel. Even in Sport you have to really dig in to wake up the car. And then the powertrain absolutely fails to meet your requests, feeling utterly flat and reluctant. It's just consternating to me that Mazda — of all companies — would get this aspect this wrong." — Will Kaufman, manager, video

The CX-90 has plenty of power

"I put nearly 4,000 miles on our long-term Mazda CX-90 on a quest to see the 2024 solar eclipse. On a drive that took us from Los Angeles to Melbourne, Arkansas, not once did this big Mazda lack for power. The hybrid drivetrain isn't the most lovely to listen to, but it provides plenty of grunt, with great torque delivery from the electric motor that quickly blends in with the four-cylinder once you're really moving. On the highways, up mountains, and in the weird pockets of traffic you'll find in the middle of nowhere on American interstates for no apparent reason, the drivetrain gave little reason for complaint.

"But it was when we were heading home after the eclipse that I really appreciated the Mazda's chassis tuning. Arkansas has some absolutely stellar twisty two-lane roads snaking between its towns, and the CX-90 felt right at home. That goes double after putting it in Sport. For everyday driving the Sport steering weight is a little much, but on these roads it felt just right, and I appreciated the added responsiveness of the drivetrain as well. I don't want to oversell it; it's not like a seven-passenger Miata or something. But for a big vehicle with decent passenger and cargo space, it was surprisingly fun." — Keith Buglewicz, managing editor

Some unexpected mud wasn't a problem for the CX-90

"Google Maps really wanted me to push the CX-90 to its limits.

"Our trip from Texarkana to our overnight stop in Albuquerque was a solid 12 hours of drive time. Pair that with 'everything's bigger in Texas' thunderstorms, and I happily accepted the suggestion when Google recommended a detour that would cut 45 minutes.

"We turned off Highway 287 onto a numbered county road. Then another, smaller road. And then another, even smaller one. At last it recommended we continue on to something called Wolf Hunt Road, which would under most circumstances be a bumpy dirt track but thanks to the rain was now a swampy, muddy mess.

"It made no sense to turn around, so I pressed on. The CX-90 almost immediately started to slide around in the mud, the i-Activ AWD trying to find purchase. Toggling the Mi-Drive into its Off-Road mode helped the big Mazda feel more stable, and we cruised by a few other vehicles that didn't fare quite as well. We continued to slip and slide for a few miles, ultimately arriving back on pavement with nothing more serious than an expensive Mazda in serious need of a bath. The mud rooster tail must've been a sight because the entire back of the car was covered, completely blocking the rear window and backup camera.

"I'll admit, it was fun, and the CX-90 performed just fine. But I'll also admit that's about the most off-roading I'd ask of it." — Keith Buglewicz, managing editor

2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV: Interior

Here are our thoughts on the interior of the Mazda CX-90

A nitpick on the interior design of the CX-90

"This is a very, very minor nitpick, but I think it's demonstrative of the weird lack of thoughtfulness put into this vehicle. So, there's a row of physical buttons for climate control (yay!), and a lot of those have little indicator lights on them so you can tell at a glance if they're on or off. There's a button for recirculation, but it does NOT have a light on it. Instead you have to look at the little tiny icon on the little climate LCD screen (a screen that is really easily washed out by glare). Why not put a light there? Ford has a light on their recirc buttons (which is helpful because then you can tell at a glance when the car has irritatingly decided to switch off the recirc of its own volition right as you're driving past the stinktastic cattle yards that line Interstate 5 ... that's right, you need to do better too, Ford).

"Look, I know this is a little thing, but it's emblematic to me. All the other buttons in that row establish a simple premise: Light for on, no light for off. This one button — that is so valuable when you live in LA and your commute might take you from the glorious fresh air of the beach to the khaki smog of the SGV [San Gabriel Valley] — is different for no good reason." — Will Kaufman, manager, video

The CX-90's interior has its fans

"Credit where it's due, this is a nice interior. The switchgear all feels high-quality, the control knob is satisfyingly clicky, and I really liked the leather inserts on the soft-touch dash. It's no secret Mazda is making an upscale play, and it shows here with some pretty obvious attention to detail. It's a whisper's distance from what you'll get in a premium or luxury brand like Acura or Lexus, especially considering the base model non-PHEV CX-90 undercuts those by thousands." — Keith Buglewicz, managing editor

2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV: Comfort

All you need to know about the CX-90's comfort is here

One manager is perplexed by the CX-90's ergonomics

"[What exactly] are the ergonomics of this car? There's so little knee room in the front seat, and the center console is incredibly wide. But it's wider at the top than the bottom, and the gas pedal is kind of recessed under the console. That means I either twist my knee awkwardly to get a foot flat on the pedal, or I plant my heel in front of the brake and pivot my toes over to the gas. It's utterly bizarre." — Will Kaufman, manager, video

"The air vents on the outside edges of the dashboard are sculpted to stick out a bunch from the line of the dash. With the doors closed, it kind of creates the impression that the dash is wrapping around you. With the doors open, and approaching the car from the outside, it creates a big triangular protrusion to bang your knee on. Bad choice." — Will Kaufman, manager, video

How's the climate control on the CX-90?

"I love that the climate controls are real buttons and not buried inside the infotainment screen. There are a LOT of buttons, but they're logical enough, and if you use the automatic climate control you're really only going to use the temperature and seat settings. The seat heaters warmed up quickly, and the seat vents kept things decently cool, but the heated steering wheel was only so-so as a hand warmer, quickly getting overwhelmed just by my hands.

"I was honestly surprised the smallish vents on the CX-90 had such good airflow, though. Like everything in the cabin they're aesthetically pleasing, but that design made them small. Lo and behold, they blast out a great amount of air. Nice trick." — Keith Buglewicz, managing editor

But it isn't all good

"I agree with Keith that the physical buttons are awesome. That's, unfortunately, where my compliments end. The 'automatic' climate control doesn't work very well ... but then neither does the 'standard' climate control. I found the air conditioning would oscillate between blowing warm air (when set to a cool temperature) and frigid air. The result was frustrating, as I felt like I needed to constantly fiddle with the thermostat." — Jake Sundstrom, editor

What do we think of the CX-90's seats?

"When you first plop into them, the CX-90's front seats are very comfy. Supportive without being confining, they have good padding all around and an aesthetically pleasing design. But after a few hours behind the wheel I got a bad case of 'flat butt,' and I started shifting around to find a comfortable position. Short roadside breaks only helped a little.

"Granted, multiple 12-hour days behind the wheel are an acid test for any seat, and a certain amount of discomfort behind the wheel is inevitable. On the other hand, I recently spent a similar amount of time in a Jeep Grand Wagoneer L, which was significantly more comfortable on long hauls even without using that beast's built-in seat massager. Yes, it's also considerably more expensive, but still. Maybe I just got spoiled, but for its price, I'd want a more consistently comfy throne." — Keith Buglewicz, managing editor

How's the third row?

"It's jarring how tight the third row is on the CX-90 given its size. The Mazda is more than 200 inches long and has a long wheelbase (122.8 inches) but that hasn't translated into an adequate third row for adults. The Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade, both of which are smaller vehicles, have roomier third rows that are easier to access. The Mazda has a high floor in the third row, which makes it difficult to climb in and out in addition to limiting legroom." — Jake Sundstrom, editor

2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV: Utility

What do we think of the CX-90's utility?

How good a gear-hauler is the CX-90?

"The CX-90 is not the biggest cargo hauler out there; look to the Kia Telluride or Toyota Grand Highlander if you need max cargo space. But on our road trip we didn't lack for space once we put the third row down. The Mazda easily swallowed our bags, along with some extra equipment to take pictures of the eclipse.

"On eclipse day, we met up with my sister and brother-in-law and proceeded to load the cargo area with a crate, a large cooler, folding chairs and other stuff, packing it to the ceiling in an admirable job of cargo Tetris. Even though I'm generally a little meh when it comes to rearview cameras, I was grateful that the Mazda has one since otherwise I would've had virtually zero rear visibility.

"So while the cargo room proved adequate, I wish I could say the same for the underwhelming interior storage. There's a wide center console with dual doors to make it easy to access what's inside without disturbing the other person's elbow. But why is it so shallow? It measures just a couple inches deep, and pulling away the soft lining inside shows bolts holding it all down. Sure, there are rear seat vents and climate controls, but do they really take up THAT much room under the console? It's not like it's compensated for in other places, as the door pockets are only average, as is the glovebox. We wound up tossing stuff onto the floor behind us." — Keith Buglewicz, managing editor

2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV: Technology

How's the tech in the CX-90?

What do we think of the new knob in the CX-90?

"I own a Mazda 6, and I really like it. I'm on record as a defender of the knob-based system in that car (and basically every Mazda prior to the CX-50). This was my first encounter with the new knob, and ... I don't like it. It's sleeker, but that makes it harder to grip. The rotational clicks are certainly tighter, with a little less play, but the directional pushes feel more rubbery. And overall, the knob material feels cheaper in your hand. And the revisions to the OS make navigating things just a little less clear than before.

"But my biggest gripe by far is something that I'm not sure I can blame Mazda for ... is it Mazda's fault, or Google's? When I plug my Android phone into my 2018 Mazda and go to the maps screen, there's a button in maps that lets me use the knob to move around the map: Rotate the knob to zoom, push the knob in a cardinal direction to scroll. But in this brand-new Mazda, all I get are individual buttons I can select to zoom in or out. No freedom to scroll at all. And that stinks because I can't look ahead at what's coming on my route and make decisions about whether I want to take any of the million shortcuts that are only sometimes faster that are a hallmark of Los Angeles driving." — Will Kaufman, manager video

More thoughts on the CX-90's new knob

"The CX-90 uses a selector dial to interface with the infotainment system, unless you're using Apple CarPlay in which case the screen is a touch interface, but only sometimes. I'll get to that in a bit.

"From a pure design standpoint the knob is nice. Smooth clicks, easy to find, 'falls to the hand' as they say, all that stuff. The buttons around it are intuitive as well, although it's easy to accidentally bump the volume knob next to it and advance to the next song in your queue.

"As for interacting with the system, it highlights the drawbacks of modern screen-based infotainment because there's just so much there. Mazda lays things out with reasonable logic, but you still have to scroll and click a lot. Like when I was setting up the sound quality, it was a hassle of scroll-push-scroll-push-click left-click right-scroll … you get the point. Over the course of the trip I got used to it, and in fairness most of those functions are set-and-forget once you get everything tweaked to your liking.

"Which leaves me on the fence. It all works, even if it's on the clumsy side. I like living in the future as we do, with our high-tech toys; I just hope someone smarter than me comes come up with a way to make it easier.

"Oh, the touchscreen. The CX-90 behaves as a touchscreen if you're using your integrated smartphone, but it's weird. If you've started to do stuff with the knob, then the system locks you out from using your fingers on the screen, which is frustrating. I don't know if this is a bug or a feature, but the reality is that the screen is far enough away that using it as a touch device is a hassle unless you're built like an orangutan. I just got comfortable using the knob." — Keith Buglewicz, managing editor

What do we think of the active cruise control?

"I'm a fan of active cruise control, and this Mazda's has a neat trick. It passes the basic tests of being able to follow cars well, not over- or underreacting to changes in traffic and overall imparting a sense of confidence that it would just work. Like most of these systems it took longer than I'd prefer to resume full speed after a slower vehicle moved out of the way, but I've always suspected that behavior is due to lawyers wanting engineers to be absolutely certain there's nothing ahead before resuming speed.

"But the tricks. Mazda lets you key the active cruise to the posted speed limit, which it's constantly reading off roadside signs. So let's say you're giving yourself a little extra speed on the highway, say 5 mph over the speed limit, just to keep up with traffic and not be an obstacle.

"The speed limit sync gives you a couple of options. By leaving it at an offset of 0 mph, a tap of the Resume button on the steering wheel will quickly drop you to the posted limit, handy if you see a possible speed trap. If the speed limit increases or decreases, such as going into a construction zone with a lower limit, tapping Resume will bring you to the new posted limit.

"On the flip side of that, you can tell it to add an offset of an additional 3, 5 or 10 mph when you hit Resume, automatically enabling that keep-with-traffic speed. The only downside is that you have to dig around in the Mazda's menu, and it's deeply buried enough that it's a bit of a hassle. But once you find a setting to your liking, you won't have to mess with it again." — Keith Buglewicz, managing editor

How's the CX-90's sound system?

"The CX-90 is undeniably nice, one of the nicest vehicles in its class. In fact, maybe it's a bit too nice, because the audio system isn't as premium as the rest of this SUV. It's a Bose system, and along with the usual bass and treble controls and it has Centerpoint, AudioPilot and SurroundStage, but those are turned off by default. As a result the standard sound quality is muddy, with the old joke of 'No highs? No lows? Must be Bose' sadly appropriate.

"I went into the settings and dialed up the treble to give it a little clarity and played around with the more advanced features until I got it to a place that sounded better. But it still felt inadequate. Mazda makes a big deal about its 12-speaker system being custom developed for the vehicle and yada, yada, yada. To my ears, though, it still needs some work." — Keith Buglewicz, managing editor

What do we think of the CX-90's lane keep assist?

"Lane keeping assistance is a pretty big variable in modern cars. Some use aggressive 'lane centering,' which can be intrusive but nice on a long road trip. The Mazda CX-90 is on the other end of that scale. As you drift closer to the line the wheel vibrates a bit, but only when you're hitting Botts dots does it actually say 'OK, pal' and help guide you back to your lane. I think I'd prefer a slightly more aggressive system." — Keith Buglewicz, managing editor

The CX-90 is adamant you check the back seat

"The driver alerts in the CX-90 are incredibly annoying. No matter how many times I turn off the 'rear seat occupant alert,' it always finds a way to come back, blaring at me until I exit the vehicle. The CX-90 also insists at screaming at you when you start the vehicle if you don't have your seat belt on; all this while the vehicle remains in park." — Jake Sundstrom, editor

2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV: Miscellaneous

If it doesn't fit somewhere else, it ends up here

"I'll be honest, I don't care how good the inline-six engine is. I have so many gripes with the choices Mazda made designing the the CX-90 that changing the engine out can't possibly make up for them. I think the CX-9 was so much better thought-out than this new car. I know the third row was a lot smaller, but I don't need a big third row in my life; a small one for kids would do fine. So with that caveat, I can say that if I wanted a three-row Mazda right now I would be shopping for used CX-9s and totally ignoring the CX-90." — Will Kaufman, manager, video