Following the lead of luxury automakers like BMW and Mercedes, Mazda has been squeezing new models into its SUV lineup. First it was the subcompact CX-30 then the compact CX-50 and now this midsize 2024 CX-90. We were invited out to San Francisco where we hit the Golden Gate Bridge and headed north for a First Drive.

“We are in wine country, beautiful Sonoma California driving the all-new Mazda CX-90. Not the CX-9, the CX-90 so this is completely all-new. The big news is: powertrains. A 3.3-liter turbocharged inline 6, which seems to be all the rage these days and then of course a plug-in hybrid version. Let’s start with the PHEV because that’s what I’m driving right now. This is Mazda’s first ever application of the technology in North America. Naturally you have different kinds of drive modes right now I’m currently in EV. It feels like it is electric power in that it is instant torque, but it is by no means like a powerful launch like you would get in something that is more performance oriented.”

The plug in hybrid uses a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder and combines with the electric motor for a total of 329 hp and 369 lb. Feet of torque. I found that torque most useful on the highway where its instant response made passing a breeze. Even more impressive considering the PHEVs 5200 pound curb weight.

With a 17.8 kEh battery, EV only range is rated at 26 miles. Fuel economy numbers, however, have yet to be announced.

The PHEV sits in the middle of the cx90 lineup between the turbo and turbo s which both use a 3.3 liter inline 6 cylinder turbo and run on 48 volt mild hybrid architecture.

Output varies between the turbo and turbo s, with the base model making 280 horsepower and 332 pound feet of torque on regular gasoline while the high output turbo s model coming in at 340 hp and 369 lb feet with premium fuel. Mazda says regular gasoline can also be used although it drops the horsepower rating to 319.

One thing all CX-90s have in common, is an 8-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive.

“One of the first things I noticed with the i6, wasn’t necessarily the torque, but the other reason for the i6 is the refinement. It’s really smooth. And there’s a unique inline 6-cylinder sound that if you know, you know. It sounds really nice. It’s like a high pitch frequency to it that is appealing to me. Now full disclosure, I have owned several Mazdas over the years including a Miata obviously because I’m an automotive journalist and Miatas are the best, but what I’m noticing here in the CX-90 is that, inside I don’t see many vestiges of what Mazda was 10-20 years ago. But they’re still prioritizing the drive dynamics and that’s what makes it a Mazda and I appreciate that.”

Like the CX-9, the CX-90 offers three rows of seating in either 6, 7 or 8 passenger configurations. But when it comes to size, the 90’s wheelbase is almost 8” longer than the CX-9’s, yet its overall length holds just a 2-inch advantage with third row passengers getting a tad more legroom.

The interior materials in our two top-trimmed testers felt premium and I applaud Mazda’s choice to avoid piano black touch surfaces. Relative to the solid and satisfying operation of the center controller, the shifter feels a bit delicate. The wheel mounted paddle shifters on the other hand offer positive feedback and are quick to respond.

The cabin is luxury car quiet. So quiet in fact, with no music playing my ears focused on the electrical noises coming from the hybrid systems in both the inline 6 and the PHEV. Nothing off-putting, and the optional 12-speaker Bose sound system is more than capable of drowning them out.

“So when Mazda revealed that they were using the all-new inline 6-cylinder engine, they were adding a PHEV to the CX-90, my first thought was ‘wow, they’re going right after the Germans.’ BMW, Mercedes. So the question is: how close have they come? Are they encroaching on their territory? My personal feeling is that they are getting close. When it comes to driving dynamics, they are actually quite close. Refinement, compared to what Mazda used to be a couple years ago is miles better than it was, but still not quite full-on luxury levels.”

And you know what? That’s fine. The fact that we can even draw comparisons between Mazda and traditional luxury brands shows just how well the brand is doing as it trends upmarket.

The CX-90 is on its way to dealers now with Turbo models starting at 41-thousand dollars, PHEVs at 48- thousand and top trim Turbo S models maxing out at 61 thousand after destination charges.

And we’ll have much more on the 2024 Mazda CX-90 soon on MotorWeek!