Car Review: Mazda’s 3-row SUV is a high-tech hit

“This is the greatest car ever,” proclaimed my hyper-focused 5-year-old.

She had homed in on the available rear-seat center console as the deal-sealer, giving her, for the first time, her very own mobile stash for small stuffed animals, snacks and other things that young children somehow find appealing, like tree bark. Never mind that the console took away a potential middle seat and made accessing the third row more difficult; it was a home run for her.

Dada was none too unhappy, either, with the Mazda CX-90, in its 3.3 Turbo S Premium Plus variant. That 6-cylinder (of the in-line variety, for you gearheads) pumped out 340 horsepower, moving the SUV with authority.

Inside, there were stylish brown leather seats with black accents and a suede (or suede-esque) dashboard. Also of note: the Driver Personalization System, which uses prompts and cameras to size you up and move the seat and side mirrors into what the computer believes is the optimal position. (One still must — gasp — adjust the rearview mirror by hand.) Facial recognition technology is used to remember drivers whose profiles have been saved and the car’s settings are adjusted accordingly. Still, while the infotainment system worked overtime on its advanced tasks, it proved a bit maddening for simpler ones, like finding radio stations or pairing with my phone.

Size is a big appeal of the CX-90. I also drove the plug-in hybrid version of the SUV on a long road trip, and it happily swallowed our family, plus luggage and even a toddler’s bike. (The CX-90 is about 202 inches long, giving a precious few extra inches for cargo. Our family’s 2021 Toyota Highlander, by comparison, is about 196 inches long. Toyota has since responded with the longer Grand Highlander.)

The CX-90 plug-in hybrid featured a surprisingly spirited power plant, centered around a 4-cylinder gas engine. However, I was only able to get a maximum of 23 miles worth of projected range out of the batteries, so be prepared to charge constantly if you do any meaningful daily driving.

Those shopping based on quality and safety have reason for comfort. Mazda ranked as the seventh-best brand in the latest J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, which looks at issues with three year old vehicles. The CX-90 is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety “Top Safety Pick+” award winner, acing its crash tests, including a tougher new side test that other vehicles have been flopping on left and right. Mercifully, it has a spare tire (something that a surprising number of vehicles do not have anymore).

Be warned, though: Mazda’s upmarket move has it encroaching on luxury territory. The plug-in hybrid that I drove came in at $56,950, the Turbo S at $59,950.

It begs one question: Just how long will it take for a preschooler to save that up?

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John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP.

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