An SUV with zoom-zoom instead of room-room
What We DroveMazda CX7 – Review:
Nimble, yes. Sporty, not so much. The aging Tribute SUV has trouble meeting the expectations of Mazda’s zoom-zoom brand identity, so the new CX-7 swoops in to feed the need for speed. Turbocharged and tuned for driving on the pavement rather than off, the CX-7 is available in Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trims with front- or all-wheel drive. Prices start at $24,345 and we tested a Grand Touring AWD with a sticker of $29,585. After a week behind the wheel, including a rocking good time racing up and down mountain roads, it’s clear that the CX-7 possesses the soul of a sports car if not outright athleticism.
The Mazda CX-7 is brand new for 2007, a sleek crossover arriving at a time when consumers are switching from traditional SUVs to these more efficient car-based sport-utes in record numbers. Aimed at people who love to drive (our staff), the CX-7 gets the same turbocharged four-cylinder as the MazdaSpeed 3 and 6, making 244 horsepower in this application and optionally coupled with Mazda’s active torque-split AWD system. Forget about third-row seats; there isn’t one in this SUV. Instead, the CX-7 provides a good-sized cargo area and a flat load floor. Acura sells a similar package called the RDX at a premium price, but also provides premium materials and equipment not found on the Mazda.
Mazda’s 2.3L DISI turbo four-cylinder, when paired to this six-speed automatic, displays aggravating turbo lag. Direct injection supposedly cuts this inherent detriment to turbocharged engines, but doesn’t reduce the phenomenon enough in the CX-7’s powertrain. In city driving you’ll get halfway across an intersection before the turbo kicks in and then it’s more aggressive than I’d like. Manually shifting the automatic is made harder by a counterintuitive shift pattern requiring the driver to shift up for a downshift and shift down for an upshift. Once spooled up, this blown motor is entertaining, resulting in our unimpressive gas mileage average of 16.7 mpg.
As with almost every Mazda, handling is where the CX-7 shines. This is a deceptively quick little SUV that can tackle a twisty road with nearly the same verve as some so-called sport sedans. Firmly planted with excellent roll control, equipped with sharp steering that transmits good feedback from the road, and blessed with responsive brakes, the CX-7 hauled ass from sea level to the mountain resort town of Lake Arrowhead, Calif. The turbo engine was unfazed by the mile-high elevation, the P235/60 Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires offered impressive grip, and the transmission’s grade-logic software kept the CX-7 in the right gear.
Thanks to collapsing rear headrests, large side mirrors, relatively thin windshield pillars, and small triangular windows at the base of the A-pillars, it’s easy to see out of the Mazda CX-7. However, the protruding nose and stubby rear end can be tough to gauge. When parallel parking, I often found myself too close to the car in front of me and half a car length away from the car behind me.
Fun to Drive
Mazda’s CX-7 is an entertaining vehicle that combines performance, comfort and functionality like few SUVs at any price. The turbo lag is a bummer, and ultimate cornering limits are lower than a sport sedan or wagon, but the CX-7 is still plenty of fun to drive.
Because the Mazda CX-7 is small rather than midsize, getting in and out is hard for large people. I felt I needed to squeeze through small door openings and duck my head under the rakish roofline. I also kept tripping on the bottom sills when entering or exiting. Once inside, the CX-7 is quite comfortable thanks to the tall, firm, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat. Since the CX-7 lacks a telescopic wheel or power adjustable pedals it’s up to the seat adjusters to do all the work. The upper door panels are wide and just soft enough to avoid characterization as hard plastic. Ditto the center console armrest.
Four adults can ride comfortably in the Mazda CX-7, but rear passengers have precious little room to spare. Entry and exit are compromised for bigger people, and once inside the bottom cushion feels too low and too flat to provide proper support. Leg and foot room are adequate, and a center armrest plops down when a fifth rider isn’t squeezed in the center position, which lacks a proper headrest.
“Boy, it’s pretty loud in here.” That’s a quote from my better half, a woman who’s been driving a Nissan Murano for the past two years and loving every minute of the experience. Indeed, the Mazda CX-7 is loud inside. There’s equal parts engine grumble and turbo whistle, there’s wind noise on the highway, there’s road roar, and there’s impact harshness. The CX-7 doesn’t isolate occupants from the outside world. For conversation, bring one of those loudspeakers from that irritating Volkswagen commercial, or crank up the Bose Audiopilot sound system when traveling alone.
Pop the lightweight hatch, and the Mazda CX-7 reveals a large carpeted cargo area with small storage nooks under the floor. Step forward, but watch your head on the tailgate if you’re six feet tall or more, and note how low the liftover height is. Pull the handy release levers on either side panel and the 60/40 split folding rear seat flops down without needing to remove the headrests. All that’s missing is the same slick cargo cover that Acura designed for the RDX. Instead, Mazda supplies a traditional flimsy cover housed in a plastic shell that takes up space when removed.
Our Mazda CX-7 test vehicle was a pre-production unit with more than 10,000 miles on the odometer. We did not assess build quality, as it is our rule to praise or critique this aspect of a vehicle only when it is reflective of what consumers will find at the local dealership.
Design is different from quality. So, while the Mazda CX-7’s interior looks terrific, it also looks a bit cheap. Hard plastic is the rule, the exceptions being the upper door panels and the center console armrest. Mazda skipped the trend to woven mesh headliners, installing an inexpensive material that resembles outdoor carpeting. The leather barely passes muster, and the strange crocodile-style fabric stripes are sure to trap dirt and crumbs over time. Piano black plastic trim on the dash and steering wheel looks classy when it’s clean, but that’s infrequent. Usually it looks dusty and smudged.
The Mazda CX-7 appears to have gotten a tummy tuck when what it needed was rhinoplasty. Taking cues from the rather homely RX-8 sports car, the CX-7 has a big ‘ol schnoz and flared fenders combined with a swept roofline, taut haunches, and big 18-inch wheels. Despite somewhat disparate design elements, it still manages appeal. Inside, black-over-tan décor looks sporty and upscale, with tasteful silver trim accents. The gauge cluster is perfection, the steering wheel looks identical to the Miata’s, and the controls are easy to find and use. At night, the gauges and center console are bathed in soothing blue accent lighting.
Up front, the Mazda CX-7 offers ample storage with a large glovebox, a big center console bin, and door panel bins that can be used as bottleholders and storage, but not simultaneously. The driver’s visor has a flimsy ticket flap, and there is a dished recess forward of the shifter that can hold stuff but it’s not lined with rubber so items will slide and rattle. Rear seat riders get a magazine pocket on the driver’s seatback and two cupholders in the center console. Small items can be stashed in the door panel armrest grips. Small recesses under the cargo floor can hold items in a concealed space.
How can it be that a Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring with a sticker price close to $30,000 doesn’t have a trip computer? Guess that’s part of the optional navigation system. Our test CX-7 did have a Bose Audiopilot sound system with six-disc in-dash CD changer. The control buttons are huge and clearly labeled, a big center knob controls power and volume, and secondary knobs handle tuning and audio settings. The main flaw is that the display is located at the base of the windshield rather than with the stereo controls; given the amount of vacant real estate just above the climate system, this seems an odd choice.
How can it be that a Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring with a sticker price close to $30,000 doesn’t have dual-zone climate control? Indeed, our test CX-7 had a single-zone automatic system, operated using simple, large, and well-marked knobs and buttons located under the stereo. Selected and outside temperature were displayed at the base of the windshield, forcing the driver to first look down at the center console to find the right knob or button and then up at the display to see the desired information.
No surprises here, because the Mazda CX-7’s secondary controls are all logically located, grouped, and marked. Both front windows feature automatic lowering and raising, the power sunroof is a one-touch open and close affair, cruise and audio buttons on the steering wheel are simple and easy to use, and the single-setting heated seats are on the center console. The main ergonomic glitch is the manual shift feature for the transmission, which is counterintuitive.
2nd Opinion – Brian Chee
This car is too much. The seats are too high and too flat, the interior is too funky, the doors are too small and the dashboard is too wide and too deep. There are too many buttons, too much orange and not enough blue luminescence, too much hard plastic and cheap materials on the inside, and too much turbo lag. Mazda sells this CUV as a small, zippy little car with plenty of go-go, but the CX-7 drives much larger from the driver’s seat. Yep, it handles nicely, it brakes like a goat on a mountain ledge, and it has plenty of power. But thanks to the huge, sweeping dash and the aforementioned seats, the CX-7 feels more boom-boom than zoom-zoom.
2nd Opinion – Ron Perry
I like the Mazda CX-7 with the exception of the instant-on turbo, which makes smooth driving virtually impossible. Once past the initial lag off the line, the little engine that could pulls the CX-7 along nicely. I give Mazda points for style since the CX-7 doesn’t follow the typical cookie-cutter crossover-SUV styling template other manufacturers seem to use. Inside, the Mazda CX-7 is stylish (ours even had a faux alligator accent on the seats) and comfortable. Material and build quality seem up to par and the noise level from wind and road is minimal.
Photos courtesy of Ron Perry