Review: Mazda CX-60 and CX-90 are a serious jump in an already handsome line-up

Split-screen of new Mazda CX-60 and CX-90
CX-60 PHEV Homura (left) and CX-90 Takami. Photo credit: Supplied

By Dave McLeod of Tarmac Life

It's been a while since Mazda has launched a new nameplate, so an invite to test out not one but two new SUVs (one being a new PHEV) was an offer I couldn't refuse.

Seeming to underline their Jinba Ittai philosophy (the unity of horse/car and rider/driver), the launch event was held at the equine-centric Karaka Pavilion, a beautiful and expansive facility with stables, a garden bar, an auditorium and a Phar-Lap room, which has played host to weddings, cocktail parties and numerous business functions. However, we didn't stay long.

Mazda organised for invited media to get behind the wheel of their new steeds as soon as possible and following a quick coffee I was on the road in the new CX90 heading towards the coast.

There's something quite refreshing about jumping in a new car - and a whole new model - without being informed about what to look for, meaning that subsequent 90 or so minutes was a road of discovery.

First impressions included just how substantial this new seven-seat SUV was, and yet how easy it was to drive. I'll get to all the technical stuff and numbers later, but it's a large platform SUV that's been designed to fit.

On the matter of fit, before setting off we were invited to use the CX-90's personalisation programme, which - once you've entered in your height - automatically adjusts the driver's seating position to optimum effect. It's not far off either, although I did initially input my height incorrectly and was almost impaled on the steering wheel.

Within minutes I was accelerating onto SH1 heading north, a feat accompanied by the glorious sound of a 3.3L straight-six under high revs, a soundtrack that never gets old.

Review: Mazda CX-60 and CX-90 are a serious jump in an already handsome line-up
Photo credit: Supplied

My model was the Takami spec and that meant a premium fit and finish with real wood trim and Nappa leather. The cabin layout is undeniably Mazda in its modernity and yet has been upgraded in literally every way. Big infotainment screen, same with the instrument cluster, an improved gear selector that requires pushing to the left before engaging, and did I mention its powerful engine?

Drive modes include Normal and Off-Road, but a shift into Sport had the instrument cluster dials turn red, encouraging you to drive a tad more ambitiously - or at least that's what I read from it.

The roads around Clevedon and Kawakawa are a nice mix of long straights and tighter turns, and the CX90's wide footprint and hefty powertrain made light work of it all. As I found out later, it has a near 50/50 weight distribution - although more to the front when I was driving - and sat sweetly on the road. Overtaking is a simple affair thanks to its mild hybrid boost, yet it's also keen to save fuel with rapid start/stop and cruise functionality adopted whenever possible.

It's clearly safe too (although the CX-90 has yet to be ANCAP tested), with plenty of beeps - possibly too many at times - front and rear cross traffic alerts, surround camera views with see-through view, and driver monitoring.

With a fair amount of driving already under my belt, I made a pit stop at Waitawa Regional Park to take a walkaround. Despite its evident size, the CX-90 is still a looker. It comes with a new-look grille, minimal overhang and a stately profile. The third row of seats are usable, with ample visibility to ease those with dodgy stomachs, and the sense of premium is there inside and out.

Review: Mazda CX-60 and CX-90 are a serious jump in an already handsome line-up
Photo credit: Supplied

Back at the Pavillion, it was time to fill in the blanks.

The CX-60 is the first SUV to sit on Mazda's all-new large modular platform and the CX-90 is the second. In New Zealand there is only one CX-90 variant, Takami (but there are eight colour options) and four CX-60 variants (Touring, two Homura, and Takami).

The CX-90 (5.1m long, 1.75m tall, 1.99m wide) sits beside the CX-8 as a seven-seat SUV alternative, while the CX-60 (4.74m long, 1.69m tall, 1.89m wide) joins the brands range of five-seater SUVs, but is the first model to come as a PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid).

The CX-90 features an e-SKYACTIV G 3.3L Hybrid Boost straight-six mated to an eight-speed automatic (254kW/500Nm), while the CX-60 offers a slightly reduced 3.3L Hybrid Boost mated to an eight-speed automatic (209kW/450Nm) in Homura, or an e-SKYACTIV 2.5L four-cylinder PHEV mated to an eight-speed automatic (241kW/500Nm) in Touring, Homura, and Takami - and offers up to 63km of EV-only driving. All models are AWD and come with Mazda's five-year warranty, five-year roadside assistance and five-year scheduled servicing.

Review: Mazda CX-60 and CX-90 are a serious jump in an already handsome line-up
Photo credit: Supplied

The CX-60 is more traditional in its appearance, however it does come with a new grille and large wheels and depending on what model you opt for, a whole suite of interior goodies that include a Bose stereo, driver personalisation, and the aforementioned see-through camera view.

The tech has been upgraded with 12.3-inch screens for both infotainment and instrumentation, and thanks to a 2.87m wheelbase, space for everyone inside.

The CX-90 is a whole different design for Mazda, and although it's only slightly bigger than the CX-8, it's very imposing and a real step up from their current line-up. New grille, 21-inch wheels, strong lines, and casts a substantial shadow. It also boasts a 3.12m long wheelbase, so those that step inside may never be seen again.

As I had experienced already, the ADAS has been enhanced - offering more safety and driver aids for all (the CX-60 has a five-star ANCAP). The driver personalisation system that I used when I first jumped in the CX-90 actually comes with over 250 settings, and has face recognition, so it knows who's who and what's what.

Review: Mazda CX-60 and CX-90 are a serious jump in an already handsome line-up
Photo credit: Supplied

There was plenty more to talk about, but following lunch we swapped SUVs and I headed out in the CX-60 PHEV Homura spec.

With EV-only, hybrid, regen, petrol flows, a 'not dual clutch - but has two clutches' and AWD all going on under one SUV roof, the powertrain in the CX-60 PHEV is obviously a complex thing, however, it magically does everything with the driver blissfully unaware. You can dap into the EV menus and watch the energy flow, or you can just enjoy the ride.

Much of my drive was spent in relative silence, with the SUV opting for battery power rather than fossil-fuel, but when I stamped on the accelerator, everything bursts into life, including the speed - the world outside passing at a considerable rate.

The EV-only power will take you into licence-losing territory and as I mentioned, has an range of 63km (although not at the same time as the 140km/h).

As with the CX-90, the 60 feels well weighted (it too is virtually 50/50) and with the clever (not dual clutch) set up, the driver gets a little more leg room - which is ideal for those of us with little legs.

The Homura spec offers a premium feel and is loaded with goodies: I can see why Mazda feels that this is the sweet spot of the range. Thanks to the brand's Jinba Ittai focus, it is an engaging drive, especially for an SUV.

Review: Mazda CX-60 and CX-90 are a serious jump in an already handsome line-up
Photo credit: Supplied

With the Auckland weather deciding to pour and the prospect of traffic congestion looming, I called a halt to proceedings for the day, although I have both booked for a follow-up drive soon. 

Both the CX-90 and CX-60 are a serious jump in Mazda's already handsome line-up and with the move to PHEV, alternative powertrains are obviously on the brand's radar. It's also cool to see (and hear) a hefty 3.3L straight-six under the bonnet of the seven-seater, and for the neigh-sayers, it's both a strategic move from diesel and a joy to drive.

Review: Mazda CX-60 and CX-90 are a serious jump in an already handsome line-up
Photo credit: Supplied

What else to consider: For the CX-90, the best bet would be to take a look at the Germans - the BMW X7, Mercedes-Benz GLE/S or the Audi Q7. There's more choices in the CX-60 category - Volvo XC60, BMW X4, Merc GLC, Hyundai Tucson, I could go on.

Tarmac Life was supplied a Mazda CX-90 and CX-60 for this review.

Tarmac Life