In a world where automakers favor efficiency and fewer cylinders over turbo inline-six fun, finding a powerplant that can get your blood flowing while having room for the whole family is a tall order. The Cadillac CTS-V wagon is a distant extinct dinosaur, and the Chrysler Hellcat Pacifica minivan proved to be little more than vaporware. Forget the Escalade V-Series. That machine has the footprint of a double-wide and the handling to match.
Let’s see… what’s left? There’s always Ford’s twin-turbo V6 Expedition, which has the potential to be a ton of fun. Oh but wait… It really isn’t all that invigorating in stock form and is better suited for off-road mods. Oh, wait! What about that nearly 600-horsepower Audi RS6 Avant that we’ve been fawning over? It still costs north of $100K in base trim and comes standard with a thirst that rivals Hunter S. Thompson on a bender. Riiiight…
So what’s a well-to-do dad to do? You turn toward one of the only automakers on the planet investing in affordable cars and new internal combustion technology that are both engineered with the spirited driver in mind. Yes, we’re seriously talking about owning a fun Mazda. And because you are a family man, we aren’t referring to the kind with two seats, a junkyard LS swap, and a bright red rear tow hook.
Getting Back Inline With What Matters Most
Ever since Mazda got out from under Ford’s thumb, the Hiroshima-based auto brand has made it a point to produce cars and powerplants that are meant to enhance the driving experience, and not just fatten executive wallets. Ok, so the base Mazda2 isn’t anything to brag about, but for the average commuter who doesn’t give a crap about the joys of driving it should work just fine. You have to sell a few snoozers to make the next rotary-powered bruiser, right?
But for those who adore the open road, having some power available under your right foot, and relish a road trip with the fam, the need for a three-row vehicle that doesn’t suck is pretty damn paramount, and fortunately for us, Mazda gets it.
This is why on January 31st of 2023, Mazda revealed that its all-new 2024 CX-90 will be offered with the most powerful engine Mazda has ever engineered for a street-legal production vehicle. It’s called the e-Skyactiv G 3.3L Inline 6 Turbo engine, and yes, that “e” does stand for electric. But in this vehicle’s case, it’s more of an assist motor than anything, ergo making it a Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicle (MHEV). Besides that, it’s a brand new, turbocharged, dual overhead cam, four-valve-per-cylinder inline six designed for enthusiasts.
That said, from the looks of things the CX-90’s dual-clutch connection between the turbo inline 6 engine and 8-speed transmission/hybrid combo is set to turn an already outstanding three-row family hauler into a bona fide brawler. Which leads us to wonder, what’s the rub?
Impressive Inline-Six Power, Served With A Side Of Turbo Spool
But before we get to munching on that mixed bowl of nuts and bolts Mazda has so graciously placed on the table in front of us, we need to confront the electrified elephant in the room. Yes, the 2024 CX-90 will be the first vehicle from Mazda to be offered with a plug-in electric hybrid variant for North American buyers. No, it will not be as boring as your auntie’s PHEV sub-compact.
In fact, PHEV versions will come powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 323 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. So while that may not be our primary topic of discussion today, rest assured in knowing that there are options out there with damn near identical figures to the inline-six engines we’re discussing today.
Now for the sake of full disclosure, I must admit that I live in Japan. Therefore, I have yet to experience the USDM-spec Mazda e-Skyactiv G 3.3L Inline 6 Turbo engine for myself. That being said, some driving impressions have been made by a few trusted colleagues back in America that are worth mentioning.
According to long-time friend, and veteran vehicle test driver and automotive reviewer, Jill Ciminillo of Pickup Truck+ SUV Talk, the e-Skyactiv G 3.3L Inline 6 Turbo engine makes a very compelling reason to wait to buy a CX-90.
Photo Credit: MazdaCanada/YouTube
One of many interesting things Mazda has done with the 2024 CX-90 is offer three powertrains. The base Turbo is a 3.3-liter inline-6 that delivers 280 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque.
The Turbo S uses the same 3.3-liter engine but adds extra power, delivering 340 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque – as long as you use premium fuel. With regular fuel, you’re looking at a 21-horsepower drop. And, trust me, you want that 21 horsepower. — Jill Ciminillo, Managing Editor for Pickup Truck+ SUV Talk
That’s not to say that the outgoing boosted four-banger in the CX-9 was a slouch. It’s just that the weight of the chassis itself deserved a more vibrant powerplant. In fact, Jill and I test-drove the (at the time) all-new Mazda CX-9 together as driving partners in San Francisco a few years back, and we both agreed that Mazda has the ability to make even the most pedestrian-looking family car fun to drive.
According to Mazda, the optional 3.3-liter inline 6 “Turbo S” variant will have the highest horsepower and torque rating ever unleashed in a mass-production Mazda gasoline engine. An engine that Mazda proclaims will provide the CX-90 with “…an engaging driving experience with a rewarding exhaust note, while also featuring a mild-hybrid system for efficiency without compromising on performance.”
Apparently, Performance Still Matters, Even for Us Parental Units
Additionally, this motor’s all-wheel-drive setup favors a rear bias, which in a three-row SUV should help make for a more balanced driving experience. This more than likely was done to help provide the chassis with its 5,000 lbs. towing capacity rating, which is not something that has been discussed in much detail. Either way, apparently the professional test drivers on Mazda’s launch drive event approved of this revised performance calibration, so that bodes well.
The Turbo S was by far my favorite powertrain with nice bursts of speed for highway passing. Pop it over into Sport mode, and the transmission holds the gear a little longer and revs the engine a little louder, making the driving experience visceral. — Jill Ciminillo, Managing Editor for Pickup Truck+ SUV Talk
And while the topic of the Turbo S version’s $50K starting price may deter certain shoppers, this inline-six engine seems to pack far more tuning potential than a lot of other three-row SUVs on the market. Laugh if you must, but for us parental units, the notion of owning a tuned, turbocharged inline-six-cylinder Mazda family car seems far more exciting than a bone-stock V6 grocery-getter.
Not to mention, as diehard fans of the high-performance internal combustion engine, it warms our hearts to see an OEM not only developing an all-new gasoline-powered internal combustion platform, but one that is turbocharged and shows some performance potential. We’ll even accept the little hybrid portion Mazda is adding in, because, after all, that’s the world we live in.