The MDX nameplate has been around for more than two decades and is one of the market's most well-known luxury SUVs and for good reason. Over the years, the Acura MDX has proven to be a reliable vehicle that can haul families in style. However, many automakers are stepping up the competition with more SUVs in their lineup; the most recent one being the Mazda CX-90, which debuted earlier this year. With Mazda’s recent focus on luxury and elegant design, it may prove to be a better option than the well-known Acura MDX.

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The CX-90 Promises An Engaging Drive

Red 2024 Mazda CX-90
An action shot of a front 3/4 shot of a 2024 Mazda CX-90 driving on the highway

The CX-90 comes in eleven trim models: Turbo Select, Turbo Preferred, Turbo Preferred Plus, Turbo Premium, Turbo Premium Plus, Turbo S, Turbo S Premium, Turbo S Premium Plus, PHEV Preferred, PHEV Preferred Premium, and PHEV Premium Plus. The base model starts at $40,970 and comes with three engine choices.

The base 3.3 inline-six engine is equipped with a 48-volt hybrid system that produces 280 horsepower and 323 pound-feet of torque in the non-S trims and 340 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque on the S models. The Turbo model has an estimated EPA rating of 24 in the city and 28 in the highway and the Turbo S has an estimated EPA of 23 in the city and 28 in the highway. Both models have a combined estimated EPA of 25 MPG. The plug-in hybrid engine makes 323 horsepower and has an estimated EPA of 56 MPGe and 25 MPG combined with an all-electric range of 26 miles.

All models come with an eight-speed transmission and all-wheel drive as standard. According to Edmunds, the inline-six engine feels taut and responsive. It's not the fastest, but it can get up to speed confidently, and the steering is precise as you'd expect from a Mazda. Even though the CX-90 offers a dynamic driving experience, this is not what makes it stand out from the segment. What really makes the CX-90 stand out from the rest of the competition, especially the Acura is the layout of the engine. The CX-90 has a longitudinal engine layout with a rear-wheel-biased all-wheel drive system.

This is typically found in German rivals and high-end luxury brands, not from mainstream brands like Mazda. Mazda doesn't use this engine layout for any other vehicle in its lineup except for its well-known sports car, the Miata. With the new platform and engine, the CX-90 can tow up to 3,500 pounds. In conclusion, the CX-90's unique position and potent engine make it an enjoyable vehicle to drive like any other Mazda.

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The CX-90 Offers Premium Styling And Luxury

Wine Red Mazda CX-90
A front 3/4 outdoor shot of a 2024 Mazda CX-90

The CX-90’s elegant design is visible from the very first glance. With its wide body and long hood, the proportions of the CX-90 stand out, giving it an excellent road presence. The angular grill with the sharp headlights along with the smooth lines on the side makes the CX-90 look more expensive and extravagant than it is.

The premium design language continues into the cabin which is suited with various different materials such as Nappa leather, wood, and tone-on-tone fabrics. Not found in many SUVs, the fabric dashboard upholstery certainly has a unique look and comes from Mazda's Kodo Design philosophy. All these different interior aesthetics give the CX-90 an upscale look and feel.

The CX-90 comes standard with a 10.25-inch infotainment screen and a 12.3-inch screen is optional with a digital gauge cluster. Across all trim levels, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. The CX-90 comes with heated and ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, and a panoramic sunroof.

Mazda offers many different ways to configure the rear seats. Depending on the trim, the CX-90 offers six, seven, or eight-passenger configurations. The middle row comes with heated and ventilated seats. Nonetheless, the CX-90 is a midsize SUV, which means the third row suffers from a lack of sufficient space for adults. With 36.9 inches of headroom and 30.4 inches of legroom, the third row is mostly suited only for children.

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The MDX Has A More Powerful Engine

Silver Acura MDX
An Acura MDX Type S driving down a road.

The Acura MDX has a base price of $49,550 and comes with six trim models: the base model, Technology, A-Spec, Advanced, Type S, and Type S Advanced. There are two engine choices available. The regular 3.5 liter V-6 puts out 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. The turbocharged 3.0 liter V-6 comes with 355 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque and standard super handling all-wheel drive (SH-AWD). This engine is available only in the Type S models.

With all the extra power, the MDX’s acceleration is quick and responsive with Car And Driver recording the dash to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. In our review of the MDX Type S, we found that it goes around corners with ease and confidence with its agile and accurate steering; furthermore, the powertrain remains comfortably smooth at all times. The extra power also helps the MDX tow up to 5,000 pounds which is significantly more than the CX-90.

But there is one downside to having more power and that is the fuel economy. The MDX with the base engine has an estimated EPA of 19 MPG in the city and 25 MPG on the highway and a combined EPA of 21 MPG. The Type S has an estimated EPA of 17 MPG in the city and 21 MPG on the highway and a combined EPA of 19 MPG. The fuel economy may not be the best in class but for its size and weight, the MDX is assuredly very competent and a nimble SUV.

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The MDX Looks Attractive And Sporty

2022 Acura MDX Type S Review (7)-1

From the outside, the MDX has a wide and aggressive stance. With its long wheelbase and hood along with the sharp headlight and grill design, the MDX certainly looks a lot more sportier in terms of design when compared to the CX-90. The interior is nothing short but premium. The high-end trims come with French-stitched leather on the dashboard, open-pore wood with metal, and piano black accents.

The cabin of the MDX comes with all types of features and amenities such as heated and ventilated seats, massaging seats, and leather upholstery. Similarly to the CX-90, the second-row seats are spacious but the third-row seats are not spacious enough for adults to be comfortable, with 36.2 inches of headroom and only 29 inches of legroom. The MDX comes standard with a large 12.3-inch infotainment and a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster screen. Across all models, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

When it comes to driving dynamics, both SUVs are quick and can go around a sharp corner with effortless ease. In the end, it comes down to the looks and powertrains. If you want an SUV with simplicity and elegance, then the CX-90 is a perfect choice, but it makes significantly less power than the MDX. While looks are subjective, you can't deny that the MDX looks more sporty and unique, especially the Type S model. It also makes more power than the CX-90. But again, you can't get a hybrid powertrain with the Acura and the Mazda also has the advantage of offering that longitudinal engine layout.

So in a nutshell, with its swanky looks and upscale cabin, Mazda has certainly taken a giant leap forward with the CX-90, but in the end, it really comes down to personal choice on which model to choose. However, the Mazda wins this battle on price as a fully loaded 3.3 Tubro Plus comes in at $59,950, whereas the MDX Type S starts at $66,700. Overall, both SUVs defy expectations when it comes to driving because very few mid-size family SUVs drive the way these two do, and they are both excellent at what they were intended for.