(San Francisco) A new era is dawning for Mazda, but for now, electrics play a supporting role.

At Mazda, we are not afraid of rapid successions of turns or exits from the road. However, its forced transition to electric and its desire to pursue beautiful automotive signatures simultaneously represent great challenges for such a small manufacturer. As proof, the CX-90 does not reach all targets.

Mazda has a very clear idea of ​​the road ahead and the battles ahead. It would be wrong to claim that the Japanese manufacturer is evading the obligations that several laws seek to impose on the abandonment of fossil fuels. But just like Toyota, Mazda believes there is a time to do everything. The electric vehicle will soon have its heyday, but for the Hiroshima firm, the internal combustion engine has not yet said its last word. The latter still has a role to play in this transition. Mazda considers, in the current context, that it best meets expectations, taking into account geographical and climatic realities, without forgetting, of course, the deployment of infrastructures specific to each region of the globe.

By 2030, Mazda will integrate 10 new hybrids (5 will have a wire at the wheel) and 3 battery-powered vehicles into its starting line-up. These vehicles will all be developed on a modular architecture that the CX-90 is the first to inaugurate. This model, which prides itself on accommodating up to eight people on board, will be followed in the fall by a trimmed version (five seats) called the CX-70.

Back to the CX-90. This took over from the CX-9 and obtained, because of its size and price, the role of standard bearer at Mazda. It flaunts its advances, which will soon benefit the entire range. At the same time, he strives to leave the orbit of generalist manufacturers (Honda, Toyota, Nissan and others) in order to raise the brand to the rank of the elite. A goal that Mazda pursues with foresight, as evidenced by the complex nomenclature of the CX-90.

Before going any further, a review of the engines is in order. The CX-90 introduces an all-new 3.3L inline-six. The less powerful version of the latter powers the entry models, while the other, High Output, is reserved for the more expensive variants. The power difference between the two appears noticeable, but the octane number has a lot to do with it. The advertised 369 hp (see “Specifications” tab) can only be obtained by fueling them with premium gasoline. By switching to regular gasoline, the horsepower number drops to 319 hp. And these must gallop between 5500 and 6000 rpm and not between 5000 and 6000 rpm as is the case with the “base” 3.3L. In addition, its consumption is a bit higher (0.2 L/100 km). It’s tiny, but in “real life” the difference is likely to be greater. Another thing to consider is the variable towing capacity between the two engines. There is an alternative (see boxes in the “Specifications” tab), provided the buyer opts for the GS-L.

During this media preview, the less vigorous CX-90 was conspicuous by its absence. Let’s not assume anything, since this one is less heavy (about 50 kilos) and its torque is only 37 lb-ft less.

As for the plug-in hybrid mechanics, it combines a 2.5L four-cylinder with a 68 kW electric power unit. This is powered by a 17.8 kWh lithium-ion battery. It takes a little over six hours to refuel (from 20% to 80%) on a domestic outlet, but divides this waiting time by almost six by using a level 2 terminal. Surprisingly for the hybrid, Mazda n does not use a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to maximize energy performance. Instead, it retains the services of an eight-speed automatic transmission. This ensures that power and torque are directed to all of the wheels. No other training modes are offered.

We expected a lot from the plug-in hybrid version. May be too much ? Its electric range of 42 km does not make it eligible for the full rebate granted by the federal government ($2,500 instead of $5,000). Yet with a 16 kWh battery in such a heavy vehicle, Chrysler manages to run the Pacifica for 50 km. For its part, Mitsubishi, with a slightly larger accumulator (20 kWh), allows the Outlander PHEV to travel 61 km. In terms of energy efficiency, we will come back. On the other hand, considering the target competition, the asking price and, above all, the criteria that Mazda sets for itself when it comes to driving pleasure, how could it be otherwise? However, these objectives have unfortunately not all been achieved. The four-cylinder causes annoying vibrations. Also, on the test vehicle, some form of misunderstanding seemed to exist between the two power units. A skirmish that results in hesitation in the first phases of acceleration, but also in deceleration.

The gearbox enthusiastically follows the cadence. Acceleration is solid. So are the covers.

Dynamically, hybrid and gasoline are practically equal. Weighted in its midpoint, the steering then becomes lighter to facilitate manoeuvring. Some might find it a bit contrived for a Mazda, but with over two tons to steer, it’s actually well suited to the circumstances.

The firmness of the suspensions also contributes to the good overall balance of this vehicle. But they are agitated at times on the irregularities of the roadway.

The interior of the CX-90 testifies well to the aspirations of its manufacturer. Careful assembly, precise docking, varied and tasteful materials, the CX-90 exudes an atmosphere that changes us from the copy-paste that we perceive (too) often from the competition.

Compared to the CX-9 that it replaces, the CX-90 appears more refined, more functional (storage) and more spacious for the occupants of the front seats. The lack of a flat floor in the mid-section practically makes it an option to afford the seven-passenger configuration. As for the third row, only short people will agree to join them. In return, the seats fold flat to increase cargo volume. In this regard, the CX-90 does better than the CX-9, but still falls behind many rivals in this area.

At the wheel, we appreciate the ergonomics of several controls with the exception of the P (Park) position of the gear lever which is engaged by executing a hook to the left.

In this sector, competition does not make it less effective, but much simpler. But isn’t this exoticism, both physical and cerebral, an antidote to standardization, a snub to uniformity?

La Presse will soon publish the test of the following vehicles: GMC Canyon, Ioniq 6, Nissan Ariya, Porsche Cayenne and Subaru Crosstrek. If you own one of these vehicles or are considering one, we would love to hear from you.

From $45,900 to $64,350

Yes (PHEV)

The plug-in hybrid version disappoints us, but the “all-gas” delights us

The CX-90 marks the start of a new era for Mazda, and the end of the CX-9. This one was originally presented at the 2006 New York Auto Show. This model – the largest ever built by Mazda – nevertheless derived from an architecture (code name CD-3) developed by Ford. And for good reason, the American brand held at that time the main shareholder of the Hiroshima firm. In contrast, the second generation (2016) was a pure Mazda. In addition to integrating all the latest advances (grouped under the Skyactiv terminology), the CX-90 also inaugurated turbocharged mechanics.

Unnecessarily complex in my opinion, the nomenclature of the CX-90 invites the consumer to clearly target his needs before making his decision. Anyone wishing to tow a maximum load of 2268 kg must imperatively opt for the more expensive (petrol) versions. Otherwise, it is limited to 1588 kg. However, there is a shortcut. Choosing the GS-L ($49,300) gives you access to a “Premium” package. By checking this option ($2050), the CX-90 GS-L is then able to tow a load of 2268 kg. And you get bonus little treats like heated seats for the occupants of the middle row.