If you need to haul more than five people regularly, you need either a minivan or a 3-row SUV. Most Americans opt for the second choice. But large vehicles mean higher gasoline budgets and, for many, worries about contributing more emissions than we’d like.
Thankfully, automakers have some efficient hybrid options in the 8-seater space this year.
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid has long been a solid answer to the problem, with unexpectedly good fuel economy and lots of family-friendly space.
But there’s a new option this year. Mazda has an all-new flagship 3-row SUV, the CX-90. It comes in a plug-in hybrid edition capable of driving up to 26 miles on electric power before burning any gas. Let’s see how these two more environmentally-friendly 8-seaters compare. Note that this article compares the 2024 Mazda to the 2023 Toyota because that’s what dealers currently have for sale.
2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV
The 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV is the greener version of Mazda’s newest flagship SUV. It’s not just a hybrid, but a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), capable of charging from a wall socket and not using gasoline at all until its battery is nearly empty. It’s also lovely, with premium details inside and out that make it feel close to a luxury SUV. Prices start at $47,445. It does not qualify for federal electric car tax breaks.
Mazda CX-90 Highlights
Upscale feel inside and out: Mazda is pushing up against the luxury market with this design. Its elegant body has lines worthy of a European SUV with a higher price tag and details like chrome badges on the fenders identifying the powertrain. The cabin is perhaps more elegant. A minimalist dashboard, thoughtful details like stitching borrowed from traditional Japanese bookbinding techniques, and available Nappa leather give it a real presence.
Plug-in flexibility: The Highlander is a conventional hybrid of the kind Toyota has made famous. It uses less gas than an equivalent internal combustion-powered car. The CX-90 PHEV is a plug-in hybrid. It uses no gas for about 26 miles, then lights its engine. It’s like owning an electric car for around-town driving and a gas-powered car for road trips.
It’s fun to drive: The CX-90 PHEV has 80 more horsepower than the Highlander. Kinematic Posture Control — a technology borrowed from the lithe little MX-5 Miata — gives it what our test driver called “fine agility” for such a big vehicle.
Check this week’s Fair Purchase Price or see the CX-90 PHEV models for sale near you.
2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a more fuel-efficient version of the best-selling 3-row midsize SUV. There’s a lot to like in that statement. It offers legendary Toyota reliability on a proven platform and saves you fuel and guilt. Prices start at $40,620.
Toyota Highlander Hybrid Highlights
Lower price: Mazda is pushing for a premium image with the CX-90, and the price shows it. The Highlander Hybrid starts at nearly $7,000 lower. Even fully equipped, it’ll save you thousands over a CX-90.
Proven technology: The CX-90 PHEV is Mazda’s first hybrid. Toyota has sold more hybrids than any other automaker. If you want to be absolutely sure of what you’re getting, there’s no more proven option with 3-rows than the Highlander Hybrid.
More cargo space in every configuration: With all seats filled, the Highlander Hybrid has more cargo space than the CX-90 PHEV. With the rear seats folded, the Highlander Hybrid has more cargo space than the CX-90 PHEV. With the second-and third-row seats folded, the Highlander Hybrid has more cargo space than the CX-90 PHEV. If you’re buying for space, the answer is easy.
Check this week’s Fair Purchase Price or see the Highlander Hybrid models for sale near you.
Identical warranties, similar passenger space
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the conventional answer for 3-row hybrid shoppers. With an investment as big as a new car, there’s a good argument for the conventional answer. Its lower starting price and proven resale value will make sense for many buyers.
The Mazda CX-90 PHEV is all-new, which will give some buyers pause. But it’s better-looking inside and out, and its plug-in technology means most drivers will end up using far less gasoline than they would with the Toyota.
|2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV||2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid|
|Engine||2.5-liter 4-cylinder plus electric motor||2.5-liter 4-cylinder plus electric motor|
|Horsepower||323 hp @ 6,000 rpm||243 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque||369 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm||175 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||TBD||36 city/35 highway/36 combined mpg|
|Also Available||Inline 6-cylinder||2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder|
|Basic Warranty||3 years/36,000 miles||3 years/36,000 miles|
|Powertrain Warranty||5 years/60,000 miles||5 years/60,000 miles|
|NHTSA Overall Safety||TBD||5 stars|
|Max Seating Capacity||8||8|
|Wheelbase||122.8 inches||112.2 inches|
|Overall Length||201.6 inches||194.9 inches|
|Width||84.9 inches||76.0 inches|
|Height||68.2 inches||68.1 inches|
|Turning Diameter||38.1 feet||37.4 feet|
|Headroom, Front||39.7 inches||41.2 inches|
|Headroom, 2nd Row||39.3 inches||39.4 inches|
|Headroom, 3rd Row||36.9 inches||36.1 inches|
|Legroom, Front||41.7 inches||42.0 inches|
|Legroom, 2nd Row||39.4 inches||38.7 inches|
|Legroom, 3rd Row||30.4 inches||28.0 inches|
|Shoulder Room, Front||57.2 inches||59.0 inches|
|Shoulder Room, 2nd Row||58.1 inches||58.7 inches|
|Shoulder Room, 3rd Row||53.3 inches||55.0 inches|
|EPA Cargo Volume||14.9/40.0/74.2 cubic feet||16.0/48.4/84.3 cubic feet|