Lexus RX 2023 review: 500h F Sport Performance
The new RX has been revamped, restyled and retooled, so how does it compete in the luxury large SUV market?
Browse over 9,000 car reviews
The 2024 CX-90 presents very well and is loaded with equipment – as I’ve already established – but as the largest non-commercial model in Mazda Australia’s current line-up, does it also live up to the brand’s driver-focused ethos?
Conventional wisdom would say no, this is a large, three-row SUV after all, and this top-spec Azami diesel weighs more than a BT-50 Thunder ute, but Mazda always finds a way to defy expectations.
Peak power of 187kW comes in at 3750rpm, while the maximum 550Nm of torque is offered from as little as 1500rpm.
To be fair, those utes all have two fewer cylinders, but still, it’s impressive that a luxurious three-row SUV wearing a Mazda badge is gruntier than what seems to be the new default family car for many Australians.
In fact, the only mainstream large SUV that can challenge the CX-90 for the crown is the Ford Everest V6, which punches out 184kW/600Nm from a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel.
However, an Achilles heel for some in the CX-90 might be its lack of towing prowess because, despite the ample output, the diesel-powered large SUV has a braked towing capacity of just 2000kg.
Even the petrol CX-90, which outputs 254kW/500Nm can tow up to 2500kg, so those with a boat or caravan might have to look elsewhere.
But a punchy and responsive engine would be nothing if the transmission attached is clunky and slow to shift, and again it’s here where Mazda has defied expectations.
If you’ve driven a CX-60 and thought the eight-speed automatic transmission was jerky and unrefined and then written off the CX-90 as they share the same powertrain, know that Mazda has made tweaks to the latter to smooth out gear changes and vehicle take-off.
It’s honestly a night and day difference, with the CX-90 smooth enough to keep sleeping babies happy in the rear in my three months with the car, despite being stuck in stop/start traffic.
Mazda says the CX-90’s transmission calibration has been through more revisions than the CX-60’s, but the eight-speed box and diesel engine is a powertrain befitting an upmarket model like this one.
And don’t be fooled into thinking a large displacement engine that drives all four wheels of a large SUV will mean a big fuel bill at the bowser, either, because this Mazda set-up also features a 48-volt mild-hybrid system.
Officially, this CX-90 returns a combined rating of 5.4 litres per 100km, but in my time with the car, I saw that figure hover closer to 7.0L/100km.
My driving was geared much more towards the inner-urban sprawl however, so your mileage will of course vary.
Still, even with a circa-7.0L/100km real world figure, it's more frugal than the Hyundai Santa Fe diesel that has two fewer cylinders that I tested earlier this year, and considerably less than the Ford Everest Platinum V6’s 11.9L/100km number.
Okay, so the CX-90 has all the right ingredients in place, but what’s it like to actually get behind the wheel to cook?
I’d argue the CX-90 doesn’t feel like a large SUV, but more like a hatchback than its contemporary peers that are much more boat-like in their handling characteristics.
I was initially taken aback at just how weighty the steering feels, but it’s a worthwhile trade off because it brings a tightness and connection to the road not often seen in a large SUV.
The suspension, too, while a little on the firmer side especially with the Azami’s 21-inch wheels, feels taught and controlled, offering very little body roll and sway in corners.
Mazda’s mantra of the driver being at one with the car shines through, and the CX-90 is a delight to drive around town at slower speeds or on a fast country switchback.
It’s not perfect, mind you, because the sleek design means there is poor visibility out the back, so you have to be extra careful when backing out of a driveway.
The ride on these 21-inch wheels is also quite hard, and you can feel the stiffness of the CX-90 when hitting potholes or approach speedbumps at pace.
There is also piped in engine noise, which helps drown out the gruff and growly diesel, and while it might be fake, I’d rather listen to this than an oil-burner climbing the revs.
So, has Mazda succeeded in delivering a genuinely premium product? The answer is a bit of a double-edged sword.
The CX-90 Azami is a wonderful family car that drives well, looks great and is loaded with gear, but you shouldn’t buy one.
Or, at least, you shouldn’t buy this one.
Lower-spec and more affordable grades offer the same benefits to your family as this top-spec Azami, and you can save a bit of cash for those pricey servicing costs.
Acquired: August 2023
Distance travelled this month: 685km
Average fuel consumption this month: 7.0L/100km (measured at the pump)
Mazda's CX-90 Azami diesel if a wonderful family car that has a lot going for it.
It's one of the most fun-to-drive large SUVs on the market, is heaps practical for families, filled to the brim with equipment and its chiseled looks are enough to make even Chris Hemsworth jealous.
But it all comes at a price.
At nearly $100,000, the CX-90 Azami with 'Takumi Pack' will be out of reach for some, but the more affordable base version offers up just as compelling a package without any frivolous fancies.
Based on new car retail priceVIEW PRICING & SPECS