2 April 2024

A $94K Mazda? Or should that be BMW? New monster CX-90 SUV confuses as much as it delights

| James Coleman
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Mazda CX-90

The Mazda CX-90 strutting its stuff on the boat ramp at Wollongong Harbour. Photo: James Coleman.

Of all the cars to navigate the narrow and unfamiliar alleys of south Sydney, I’m in one of the worst. I mean, the new Mazda CX-90 is as big as a Toyota Land Cruiser.

On the other hand, I am cocooned by Kaicho Hacho – the two concepts of “harmony” and “broken rhythm” I’m told express the interior’s Japanese aesthetic, so it’s hard to imagine how I could be more relaxed.

The days of every second person having a Mazda on the driveway are coming to an end. The brand is pushing deep into the upmarket territory of BMW, Lexus, Mercedes and Volvo, and leading the charge last year was the CX-60 five-seat SUV.

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Pricing started at $59,800 for the base model, and there’s no doubt it got within a hair’s breadth of the target. But the suspension was crashy and the plug-in hybrid model a constant source of weird robotic noises like that kid in school you always wanted to slap.

The CX-90, however – this is where it’s happening.

On paper, it replaces the CX-9 in the same way the CX-60 does the CX-5. This means it has eight seats, unless you choose the optional ‘Takumi’ or ‘SP’ packages, in which case the centre seat in the middle row is swapped out for a leather-wrapped console box with storage for your children’s champagne flutes … er, juice boxes.

But it’s the little touches. A swathe of fabric across the dash, intricately stitched, that could come from a Shoji sliding door. A slat of light wood here. A buttress of chrome there. I’m really getting behind this Kaicho Hacho stuff.

I wasn’t so sure of the exterior when the initial photos surfaced online. The face looked gormless, and the rear pillar looked like a butt lift gone wrong. I’m still not sure, except that the CX-90 has definite presence – helped by my test version’s deep and lustrous ‘Artisan Red’.

As I may have mentioned before, it’s also enormous.

Mazda CX-90

The optional ‘Takumi’ or ‘SP’ packages swap out the middle seat for a centre console. Photo: James Coleman.

There are big windows, and fewer cameras mounted to the ASIO building, but even so – when I arrived at my night’s accommodation in Wollongong, I stuck a head out the window to make sure I didn’t kerb a wheel, with my third eye watching where the front was swinging.

All the usual safety technology is here too, but apart from a number of beeps as I navigated the roads around Sydney, it’s restrained and polite in letting you know when it thinks you’re an idiot. Like it does so with a little bow.

Some, like the Kinetic Posture Control, is very clever. Basically, it applies “a slight amount of brake pressure to the inner rear wheel when cornering under high lateral G-force to suppress roll and stabilize the vehicle’s posture”. This explains why – when I dived into several corners at pace – I came away baffled by the refusal of all 2200 kg of the CX-90 to feel overwhelmed.

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Unlike the CX-60, there is no plug-in hybrid option (for now). Instead, you get Mazda’s most powerful drivetrain to date – an inline-six ‘mild-hybrid’, available in petrol or diesel forms. It is slick. A bit clumsy taking off at low speed, almost like it has a dual-clutch gearbox, but slick.

In a Learjet such as this, fuel consumption was never going to be brilliant, but my average of 9.3 litres per 100 km is also very respectable for a mix of highway/city driving.

And that’s despite putting it in Sport mode and revving it unnecessarily, just to hear the inline-six roar. It’s intoxicating, like a BMW M3.

Also like a BMW is the price. The base petrol Touring model starts at $73,800, while my top-of-the-line petrol Azami is $93,655. So yes, it’s a little sad that pretty much the only affordable seven-seater SUVs out there now are the Toyota Kluger and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport.

But you are getting a premium product.

Take it from the man outside my hotel, who had just rocked up in a Mercedes G-Wagen when he saw the CX-90 and “could have sworn it was a BMW”. His mate even offered to swap. It took the badge on the wheels to show them it was, in fact, a humble Mazda.

Mazda CX-90

It sure has presence. Photo: James Coleman.

2024 Mazda CX-90 G50e Azami

  • $93,655 (plus driveaway costs)
  • 3.3-litre inline 6-cylinder petrol, 48-volt mild hybrid system, 254 kW/500 Nm
  • 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive (RWD)
  • 8.2 litres per 100 km claimed combined fuel consumption
  • 2,220 kg
  • Not yet rated for safety.

This car was provided for testing by Mazda Australia. Region has no commercial arrangement with Mazda Australia.

Original Article published by James Coleman on Riotact.

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