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CX-90 on the beach

We tried the Mazda CX-90 PHEV last fall while moving in San Diego and fell in love with the vehicle. It was the first time that I began to consider the possibility of selecting a luxury 3-row crossover instead of a truck. However, to be completely honest ... that rapid two-week whirlwind of packing and moving also wiped our mind clear of some of the specific details so when we got the opportunity to try it out again we jumped at the opportunity. Doubly so since we were going to be doing a bit of a road trip to Port Clinton, OH to watch the eclipse from near the center of the path of totality.

Our original goal was also to be able to take Jim with us so that even though he's not able to walk ... he could just lay back and watch through the huge panoramic sunroof. Sadly, his health didn't match our hopes and he ended up watching from the window of his rehab hospital instead.

Heather and I, though, got a great opportunity to test it out with loading boxes from Ikea, driving it out to the beach, relaxing for a few hours, and waiting for the moon to eclipse the sun for a few brief moments.

cx 90 cargo space

Previously we had the PHEV and pretty much that experience placed the forthcoming CX-70 PHEV on our list of cars to consider buying (personally we don't need 3-rows but we do like the extra space for moving stuff around). However I was curious about two things - what did it "really feel like" when we weren't running around frantically and what was the experience like with a gas-powered ICE instead of the hybrid engine adding a bit of extra boost.

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Comfort, features and Style:

There's no other way to say it ... Mazda has come a LONG way. I was first introduced to the brand about 8 years ago with the launch of the new CX-5 and they talked about wanting to make the brand a no-nonsense luxury brand that was built around the driver. Over the years their quality, materials, and design has continued to evolve and today I'd put them in the same category as BMW and Mercedes as well as Genesis ... although Mazda has a much more practical approach to tech gadget and wizardry than those brands. 

For instance while pretty much everyone in this price point (50-60k) has some sort of lane centering technology and others like Cadillac and Lincoln have a fully hands free system that makes road trips much more enjoyable. Mazda though has failed to bring something like this to the market in a meaningful way. They do have LAS - Lane Keep Assist that includes a Lane Trace feature but It didn't seem to perform to the level that similar systems in Toyota and Lexus do.

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Despite this, the actual experience of driving a Mazda is an enjoyable and safer experience due to one of the most intuitive dash configurations including a "puck" system and HUD that helps to keep your eyes on the road and avoid leaning forward to press buttons on the big touchscreen.

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Similarly, the front seats were perfect ... without being opulent. This ultimately reflects that balance between offering a vehicle that is relatively affordable ... but still competes with a more traditional luxury peer set.

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They were perfectly comfortable though for laying back and watching the eclipse!

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Cargo Room and Space In The Back:

While the CX-70 is not at the top of the pack in terms of raw cubic foot space for cargo, from a practical perspective, it comfortably fit four large Ikea boxes with the seats down, and adults will be comfortable in the second-row captain chairs.

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Comparing The PHEV to The 3.3L Inline 6

The driving experience was a completely different beast here compared to the PHEV. First, the base petro-powered engine is a 2.5L 4-cylinder mated to a 68 kW electric motor producing a total of 323 hp with Premium fuel (319 regular) and 396 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. On the other hand, the 3.3L inline 6 is 280 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque at 2-3,500 rpm.

The net net here is that while the 3.3L felt a bit more responsive initially off the line at stop signs, I felt like the experience of driving on highways, trying to slide into that spot in traffic and rapid acceleration on entrance ramps was all more responsive. Cumulatively the experience was just that much more fun to drive.

Fuel economy, though is obviously the reason most folks choose the PHEV and so it isn't surprising to see that while the combined number for both trims is 25 ... with the eMPG the PHEV jumps up to 56. What we enjoyed about the PHEV was that we could charge it up while shopping (a Level 2 charger would charge 20-80% in about 90 minutes) and then get about 26 miles of pure EV range. In practical terms - the average American commutes 41 miles per day, so you could drive to work, charge it up and drive home all on electric battery power. 

Then, if you need longer range the vehicle provides that with the main gas engine which can help recharge the battery the way a traditional hybrid does.

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Second Time Around Observations

One thing really stuck out this time because I was evaluating it to buy ... and not just as a "car of the week" type review scenario. The biggest factor here is something that almost all of the 3-row SUVs suffer from ... despite the large size, the cockpit is cramped.

the CX-90 is wider than the CX-9 and from that perspective we really like the extra shoulder room.  

Howeover, the process of getting in and out of the vehicle and the simple act of spreading my legs a a bit during a long road trip weren't nearly as comfortable as I'd hoped.

I'm not sure why this is and I'm hoping possibly the CX-70 can give us back some of this space since it is 2 row and not 3-row.  However, while it wasn't uncomfortable ... it was something that as a big guy, I am not sure it is something that I want to invest 60k of my money in. However, despite this ... I still very much like Mazda, and I'd rather have a Mazda that I will "grow to love" than another vehicle that has a bit more space but lacks the comfort and intuitive feel that Mazda excels at.

Ultimately that's why it's always important that you take multiple test drives of any vehicle.