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2023 Lexus RX 350 Vs. 2024 Mazda CX-90: Which SUV Has the Nicer Interior?

mazda cx 90 phev premium plus 2024 lexus rx 350 awd f sport 2023 01 scaled jpg 2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV (top) and 2023 Lexus RX 350 | Cars.com photos by Christian Lantry

Mazda vehicles have long been known for sporty driving characteristics — particularly the fun-to-drive MX-5 Miata sports car — but the Japanese brand has also been emphasizing interior craftsmanship in some of its latest vehicles. We observed this in a recent comparison test of six compact SUVs, where the all-new CX-50’s interior quality was judged best of the group. The interior refinement and luxury of the brand’s all-new CX-90 three-row SUV also impresses and helps distinguish it from mainstream three-row models.

Related: 2024 Mazda CX-90 Review: More Than Mainstream

This move upmarket doesn’t come without costs to car shoppers. The top trim levels of the CX-90 we’ve driven have been priced around $60,000; that’s well into luxury SUV territory, and considerably more than the top trim of Mazda’s now-discontinued CX-9 three-row SUV. That had us wondering how well the CX-90’s interior compares with that of an actual luxury-brand SUV. We got our chance to find out at the Midwest Automotive Media Association’s 2023 Spring Rally held in Elkhart Lake, Wisc., as top trims of both the CX-90 and redesigned 2023 Lexus RX 350 were on hand for evaluation.

The SUVs

The two-row 2023 Lexus RX is a popular luxury SUV that has room for five, while the 2024 Mazda CX-90 has three rows of seats and room for six, seven or eight people, depending on the seating configuration. They also both offer traditional and alternative-fuel drivetrains; the RX is available in four-cylinder gas, hybrid and (eventually) plug-in hybrid form, while the CX-90 offers a six-cylinder engine with mild-hybrid technology as well as a PHEV powertrain.

There’s also a lot of price overlap between the two SUVs when looking at their different trim levels, and the as-tested prices of the models on-hand at the rally were within 10% of each other; the CX-90 PHEV Premium Plus was $58,920, while the RX 350 F Sport was $64,395 (both prices include destination). Both trims are the top ones available for the RX 350 and CX-90 PHEV.

2023 Lexus RX 350 F Sport Interior

One of the best things about the redesigned RX’s interior is that Lexus has finally done away with the Remote Touch multimedia interface and its laptop-like console-mounted touchpad. The touchpad’s usability had long been problematic, and Lexus was wise to make the dashboard display a touchscreen a few years ago. In the redesigned RX 350, both the standard and optional touchscreens are larger, and the infotainment system has a new interface.

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Our RX 350 had the optional 14-inch touchscreen, and it’s easy to use. Some of the climate controls are incorporated into the touchscreen interface, but there are physical dials for the driver and front-passenger temperature zones. There’s also a conventional volume knob just below the screen. The result is an interface that strikes a good balance between screen-based and physical controls.

The F Sport is the sportier of the RX’s available trims, and it gets unique front bucket seats with noticeable side bolstering. The seats are finished in NuLuxe simulated-leather upholstery (there’s semi-aniline leather in the Luxury trim), and there’s both suede-style accents and stitching on the door trim as well as real aluminum interior accents. Apart from the rubberized trim on the dashboard, which seems a bit downmarket for a luxury SUV, the RX’s interior materials have a premium appearance and feel.

Related Video:

2024 Mazda CX-90 PHEV Premium Plus Interior

In Premium Plus guise, the CX-90 PHEV’s interior is very impressive. The seats are finished in Nappa leather upholstery, the accent stitching looks nice, there’s a synthetic-leather insert on the dashboard that looks convincing, and build quality is good. The one aspect of the cabin that seems a bit low-rent, by comparison, is the patterned silver trim pieces on the doors and center console.

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Mazda has included a strip of easy-to-use climate-control buttons and rocker switches in the CX-90, but the automaker’s infotainment system relies, for the most part, on a knob controller and some associated buttons on the center console. Navigating the system’s menus with the controller isn’t particularly intuitive, but if you get the 12.3-inch infotainment screen that’s included on Premium Plus trims, you can use the display as a touchscreen for the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces only. It’s an odd setup, for sure, and drives home the point that a rethink of the Mazda user interface that supports touch-based controls is in order.

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Takeaways

Overall, the RX 350’s interior controls are easier to use, while the CX-90 has higher-grade materials — which might come as a surprise considering the CX-90 doesn’t have a traditional luxury badge on its grille. A prestigious badge is part of the appeal with luxury brands, but if you’re more concerned with cabin niceness, the CX-90’s interior holds up well against a luxury model like the RX. We just wish Mazda would reconsider its infotainment controls — as Lexus did.

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Mike Hanley has more than 20 years of experience reporting on the auto industry. His primary focus is new vehicles, and he's currently a Senior Road Test Editor overseeing expert car reviews and comparison tests. He previously managed Editorial content in the Cars.com Research section. Email Mike Hanley

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