A person looking for a fun-to-drive, car-based SUV with style and flair
Comparable cars in this class:
Buick Rendezvous, Honda CRV, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Compass, Kia Sorento, Nissan Murano, Toyota Highlander
This spectacular looking SUV is the latest in a string of new offerings coming out of Mazda. Actually, this is the first of three new vehicles that Mazda will release to the North American market. As with all new Mazdas, this 5 passenger crossover SUV will, as Mazda puts it, have the "Soul of a Sportscar" Well, we had a chance to sample this crossover and have to admit that Mazda's reputation is secure.
We spent a day driving around the Virginia countryside and came away with the feeling that Mazda came awfully close to achieving their goals. This is one of the sharpest mid-sized SUV's around. Its styling takes some cues from the Mazda RX8 with the front fender haunches and the large lower grill opening. The rakish lines make this SUV look smaller than it actually is, but on closer inspection, there is decent legroom in the rear seat and 29.9 cubic feet of space in the back with the seats up. That space expands to 58.6 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down
When we look at crossovers, we first have to determine what type of crossover we are talking about. Mazda believes that there are no less than 5 different types of crossover vehicle designs. There is the crossover between an SUV and a station wagon, an SUV and a minivan, an SUV and a Sedan, an SUV and a GT touring car and finally, an SUV and a sport car.
Mazda feels that they have created an SUV with the characteristics of a sports car. Is it an idle boast? Well, let's see, the styling is right on the money. The engine has been lifted right out of the MAZDASPEED6 performance sedan and is certainly up to the image, the dash looks great, the windshield leans back at a wind-cheating 66 degrees, which is better than many sports cars, and the handling is sharp and responsive with minimal body roll. What do you think?
The interior is clean and airy with good visibility. Gauges are illuminated day and night with red markings on a black background and are easy to read. Our test car was the top-of-the-line Grand Touring model and was well equipped with just about every available option including a very nice GPS navigation system that even included a rearview camera for a view to the rear while backing up. Seats were leather with a thin black strip inserted down the center of each seat with simulated alligator-skin texture. I thought that it gave the interior a nice touch.
Another option on our tester was keyless entry and start. This system uses a credit card sized transmitter that you keep in your wallet or purse. As long as the transmitter is on your person, the front doors will unlock as you grab the door handle. Once behind the wheel, the normal ignition switch has a knob in place of the key hole. You grip the knob and twist it as you would a key to start the engine.
The interior surfaces are mostly hard plastic to keep the cost down, but it is good plastic. You would never suspect the surface was hard unless you touched it. Since the upper door panels and the armrests on the front doors are common touch points, they were made of a soft touch material. Overall, the interior feels more upscale than you would expect of a vehicle in this price class.
The rear seats will fold forward easily without removing the headrests even if the front seats were adjusted all the way back. The release for the rear seatback is located in the rear cargo area within easy reach when the hatch is opened. A welcome feature is the floor of the rear cargo area, which is not only removable, it is double sided. One side is carpeted to match the rest of the interior, but flip it over and you have an easily washable hard surface that is ideal for transporting soiled items without messing up the carpet.
Another nice feature is the center console storage compartment. This box is deep enough to swallow a compact laptop and it is lockable. Front door pockets include a recess that will hold a good size water bottle. There are also a couple of cup holders in the center console.
We were driving the entire day and thought that the 8-way power driver's seat was quite comfortable. We also liked the steering wheel which was lifted right out of the Mazda MX-5 Miata sports car (but they forgot to bring the paddle shifters with it). The rear seat was also comfortable with a decent amount of leg room.
Stomp on the go pedal and you are treated to a 0 to 60 time of under 8 seconds. Engine sounds entered the cabin during hard acceleration, but were sporty sounding and not at all harsh. Very little wind or road noise entered the cabin, so normal cruising was relaxing. The ride was a bit firm, in keeping with the sports car personality, but still comfortable. I noticed some initial sluggishness when accelerating from a stop, but that quickly switched to energetic as the turbo kicked in. The brakes felt powerful and secure with top notch pedal feel and modulation. Steering was responsive and direct and hard cornering produced little body lean.
Braking is by a four wheel ventilated disc system with standard ABS (Antilock Brake System). Also standard is Traction Control and Dynamic Stability Control. All CX-7s come with Large 18 inch wheels and tires as standard equipment.
Optional is an Active Torque Split All-Wheel Drive system to replace the standard front-wheel drive. On vehicles with all-wheel drive, Traction Control and Stability Control are fully integrated to prevent wheel spin on slippery surfaces. There is no driver control of the All-Wheel Drive system. Under normal cruising conditions, 100% of the power goes to the front wheels. Under slipping conditions, up to 50% of the power is diverted to the rear wheels.
The CX-7 is not meant for off-road use, especially since it has the ground clearance of a passenger car. Low ground clearance has the advantage of easier step in height, especially for older people who might have a problem getting into a truck-based SUV. On-road advantages of all-wheel drive include more secure footing in rain, ice and snow.
The Engineering This section explains some of the technical details of the new CX-7. If you are not interested in technical mumbo-jumbo, you can skip ahead to The Choices. It's ok, we won't be hurt.
The CX-7 is powered by a turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-liter four-cylinder Direct-Injection Spark Ignition ( DISI ) gasoline engine that produces 244-horsepower at 5,000 rpm and is coupled to Mazda's 6-speed automatic transmission. Unlike normal fuel injection systems that inject the fuel into the intake air stream, the DISI system sends fuel under extremely high pressures right into the combustion chamber. Normal injector pressure ranges from 40 to 65 pounds per square inch, but the pressure on the DISI system ranges from 430 to 1600 psi. What this high pressure does is send the fuel charge into the combustion chamber as a vapor instead of a mist. This allows more complete burning of the fuel-air mixture which means better fuel economy and better performance from the engine.
Turbocharging is standard on all CX-7 models and is responsible, along with an air-to-air intercooler, for getting 244 horsepower, that's V6 territory, out of a relatively small 2.3 liter 4 cylinder engine. This is the same engine that is currently used in the MAZDASPEED6 performance sedan, but special tuning has been done to bring peak torque of 258 lb-ft. in at a low 2,500 rpm.
A normal engine relies on vacuum to draw the fuel and air charge into the cylinder, but this is not the most efficient way to fill the cylinder for maximum power. If instead of relying on vacuum to fill a cylinder, the turbocharger takes the air and force-feeds it into the combustion chamber, more air and fuel can be crammed into the cylinder for substantially more power from a given size engine. The beauty of this method is that we can have plenty of power when we need it, but the small size of the engine means that fuel economy during normal driving is better than a larger V6 producing the same level of power. Essentially, what it means is that you can have your cake and eat it too.
The engine also has an air-to-air intercooler for even more efficiency. Normally, a turbocharger has the unwanted side effect of heating up the air that is going into the cylinder. What the intercooler does is take the hot air that is coming out of the turbocharger and pass it through a radiator that is sitting in the air stream, cooling off the air before it reaches the combustion chamber. The reduced temperature of the intake charge permits the use of a higher compression ratio 9.5:1 which boosts low and mid-range torque by approximately 10-percent over conventional turbocharged engines.
As with many vehicles these days, the engine has a large plastic cover to hide the mechanicals and look pretty. But unlike most vehicles, this cover is actually functional. It is designed to duct air into the intercooler which sits on top of the engine.
The CX-7 uses the very competent MacPherson Strut type coil spring front suspension borrowed from the Mazda6. The rear suspension is an independent multi-link type with coil springs. There is a stabilizer bar both front and rear.
The Choices There are three trim levels offered for the Mazda CX-7. The Sport is the lowest priced model, the Touring adds some features like leather seats, and the vehicle we tested, the Grand Touring adds things like automatic climate control and Xenon headlamps among other things. From the outside, it is very difficult to tell them apart since there is no special badging. The only way to tell that you have a Grand Touring from the outside is by the chrome door pulls and body-colored outside mirrors. The others use body colored pulls and black mirrors. This means that if you chose the base model for $23,750, it will look virtually the same on the outside as the top-of-the-line model.
What you get for under 24 grand is a very well equipped car with a turbocharged 4 cylinder engine, 6 speed automatic transmission, 18 inch alloy wheels, ABS, traction control, stability control, 6 air bags, power windows, door locks and mirrors to name a few. Not bad at all.
Our well equipped Grand Touring tester came in at just under $33,000 which included all-wheel drive and the $4,000 Technology package that groups the GPS navigation, moon roof, keyless entry & start, Bose surround sound and a host of other niceties.
Mazda advertises that all their vehicles come "With the soul of a sports car". This has been Mazda's calling card and it holds up well for their newest SUV crossover. After spending a day tossing this baby around the highways and byways of the Virginia countryside, I came away with a genuine respect for Mazda's ability to take a mundane vehicle like an SUV and inject it with this much style and passion. Keep em coming Mazda.