Auto123 is spending several weeks behind the wheel of a Mazda CX-90 PHEV, and we’ll need all of it to properly analyze this new plug-in model from the Japanese brand. Here's the fourth part of our long-term review.
In the last chapter, we checked, compared and tested the interior living space of the CX-90, designed to accommodate up to 8 occupants. How’s about we hit the road now?
Is it true that the Mazda CX-90 has all-wheel drive?
Absolutely, and this applies to all eight versions of the CX-90, thus the five equipped with the turbocharged inline-6 and the three plug-in hybrid variants (4-cylinder and electric motor).
Note that this AWD system is a reactive one, not permanent like Subaru’s for example. In ordinary situation, say on dry and safe roads, the 8-speed automatic transmission engages only the rear wheels of the CX-90. When the sensors of the i-Activ AWD system detect a risk of slippage or skidding, they instantly transfer torque to the front wheels.
Nothing new under the sun here, but it’s a certain selling point to consumers used to harsh winters like us hardy Canadian types.
Has Mazda succeeded in making its large CX-90 sporty?
This is a relevant question, because a Mazda vehicle wouldn't be one if it didn't deliver a certain pleasure behind the wheel. Even though this is an 8-passenger utility vehicle, its engineers have made sure that it respects the brand's sporting tradition as much as possible, making the driver feel engaged.
The steering conveys the messages contained in different types of surfaces. Although its centre is slightly dulled by the mass of about 2,300 kg in motion, most of its reflexes remain sharp. Moreover, I was pleasantly surprised by the short turning radius (11.6 m) given the length of the CX-90. The independent suspension (double triangulation at the front and multilink at the rear) absorbs without fuss. This SUV is more athletic than soporific, put it that way.
The steering wheel (tiltable, telescopic, and frankly very pleasant to grip), the suspension elements, the accelerator, the braking (ventilated disc ABS) – all of these change their behaviour depending on the drive mode selected via the Mi-Drive switch placed on the lower console. Note that the choice of available drive modes varies depending on the model: Normal, Sport, EV, Towing and Off-road.
Another demonstration of Mazda’s focus on optimizing road handling and grip? The inclusion in all CX-90s of “Kinematic Posture Control” (KPC). Introduced on the MX-5 in 2022, this system improves cornering by slightly pinching the inside rear wheel. The effect of KPC is to eliminate roll and increase self-confidence.
What are the behaviour differences between the two powertrains of the CX-90?
The model equipped with the inline-6 is especially good at delivering linear power and flexibility and combines very well with the dynamic steering. The PHEV variant – which used only the gas engine when at speed – is also very able, though it doesn’t match the silky character of the 6, especially during acceleration, which gets noisy.
The real downside in the case of the plug-in hybrid is when the charge runs out and the switch to the ICE becomes necessary. Frankly it sounds like the two components are arguing under the hood:
The gasoline engine: "It's my turn!"
The electric motor: "No way, I'm not done!"
The gasoline engine: "You got nothing left! Get outta here!"
The electric motor: "Oh yeah? I'll show you, you..."
The reason behind the obstinance of the 68-kW electric motor is its regenerative system that continually returns to it small amounts of charge. This encourages it to persist instead of simply giving way to the ICE.
In any event, behind the wheel, you’re collateral damage to the dispute as you have to put up with transmission hesitations and elastic hiccups between the two antagonists. These happen mainly in the city at low speed, during starts and decelerations. At high speed, the electric motor simply goes into hibernation (sulks in its corner? You choose), biding its time until your braking returns strength to it.
What is the range of the Mazda CX-90 PHEV?
This tumultuous handover between gasoline and electricity highlights the second drawback of the PHEV: its low all-electric range.
On paper, I expected 42 km. I read that colleagues easily exceeded fifty km... last summer. During my test weeks in fall/winter, my record was 32 km. Yes, I know, let's blame Old Man Winter, but I was charging on a Level 2 charger in a heated garage, sometimes for more than 24 hours (even though, on paper, the maximum recharge should be achieved in less than two hours on 220V).
Anyway, even if I had been able to reach that theoretical 42 km in the middle of July, I would have said the same thing for a 2024 model: it's not much.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV offers 61 km, the RAV4 Prime 68, the new Mercedes-Benz GLE 450e 77.
The explanation is mathematical: Mercedes and Mitsubishi use batteries of 23.3 and 20 kWh, respectively, while Mazda has chosen a 17.8 kWh lithium-ion battery developed, by the way, in partnership with Panasonic and Toyota (which knows a thing or two about hybridization and owns 5 percent of Mazda). To wit, the RAV4 Prime outranges the CX-90 using a 18.1-kWh battery, barely bigger than the Mazda’s.
Not only does this puny 42-km range quickly shrivel in cold weather, it also more often brings back the arguing under hood. Argh.
Fortunately, we can console ourselves with the combined consumption of the PHEV, which can flirt with 7.0L/100 km - if you stick to Normal mode and recharge at every opportunity and maximize regeneration. Otherwise, expect 9.0L/100 km. And in the case of the High Output 6 with premium gas and if you whip around in Sport mode, count on 11.0L/100 km. The motivation to behave is there…