The Mazda CX-7 is sporty and svelte yet functional, roomy, and comfortable. The CX-7 is available with a turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers sporty performance. For 2010, Mazda CX-7 is available with a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, allowing it to more directly competes with the likes of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. A sporty five-passenger vehicle, the CX-7 will haul nearly as much stuff as it does people.
The Mazda CX-7 offers decent cargo space, a comprehensive set of safety features and distinctive looks. We found it fun to drive, with responsive handling and good high-speed stability. Compared to its competitors, the CX-7 excels in ride and handling.
Mazda introduced the CX-7 for 2007 as a totally new crossover utility vehicle. Crossovers have since become the hottest segment in the auto industry. They combine the high seating position and cargo capacity of a truck-based sport utility vehicle with the agility, smoothness and fuel economy of a car. And they avoid the image of a minivan or station wagon.
The 2010 Mazda CX-7 gets revisions to the interior, exterior, and chassis. The new engine comes with a five-speed automatic transmission instead of the turbo's six speed. The 2010 CX-7 body has Mazda's new corporate face featuring the now-familiar five-pointed grille, as well as a new rear bumper. Underneath, Mazda has retuned the dampers and taken steps to increase body rigidity and reduce noise, vibration and harshness. Inside, it gets a new two-tiered dashboard that features a Multi-Information Display near the windshield that is controlled by buttons on the steering wheel. Other interior changes consist of new door armrests, minor changes to trim, and new features, including Bluetooth connectivity, a Blind Spot Monitoring System, and driver's seat memory for the Grand Touring model.
The Mazda CX-7 sports the latest version of Mazda's styling theme. The bulbous fenders are inspired by those of the Mazda RX-8 sports car. The headlights jut into the tops of the fenders, and Mazda uses a small grille above the bumper line. This leaves substantial mass below the bumper line that's lightened by a massive mouth featuring the company's new five-pointed grille motif. This lower grille is flanked by large air intakes that double as housings for the Grand Touring model's fog lamps.
The side view appeals more, with wheels pushed to the corners and a super-fast windshield sweeping back over tautly drawn side glass. Side mirrors separate the front door glass from an odd-looking, wind-wing-like, but fixed, tiny piece of glass at the base of the A-pillar. The beltline rises as it moves rearward, kicking up just before the severely blistered rear wheelwell before tucking in between the steeply sloped backlight and the sculpted back end. Full-round, easy-to-grab door handles ride the crest of a soft bulge connecting the tops of the fenders. They're chrome plated on the Grand Touring model. An understated crease highlights the lower door panels, skipping over the rear tires to continue around the bottom fold of the rear bumper.
The rear aspect is plain, with a modest spoiler sitting atop the backlight, itself resting in a gentle dip in the liftgate. A large, seamless bumper stretches the width of the back end, above single (for i models) or dual exhaust tips (for s models).
The interior of the Mazda CX-7 makes no less of a statement than the exterior, and with much the same result. Some design features seem to work, others not so well. Overall, the CX-7 cabin doesn't seem as friendly and as functional as its primary competition, the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. Where other car makers are trending toward simplicity and sleekness, the CX-7 has gone chunky and a bit complicated.
The dash is a prime example. Some parts look right, while others come across almost as an exercise in Design 101. For starters there's what Mazda calls the double-roof instrument panel. Translated, this constitutes two parts. The upper part is a ridge stretching across the top of the dash that's supposed to make the front seat passenger feel included in the interior's dynamic. This area is reworked for 2010, with a central trip computer increased in size and given more functions as a Multi-Information Display. The MID has orange characters in most models but is a full-color display in the Grand Touring, where it also shows the image from the standard rearview monitor. Functions on the MID are controlled by five buttons on the right side of the steering wheel.
The MID shows readouts for the vehicle information center, trip computer and the available navigation system. Mazda says the two-tiered approach places the MID close to the windshield so drivers won't have to take their eyes off the road. It does, however, require looking back and forth between the steering wheel and MID, though we got used to it after a little while. The MID screen is only 4.1 inches diagonally, though, making the image from the rearview camera and the navigation screen a bit hard to see.
Below the top tier is a more traditional dashboard. This lower part, the designers say, is intended to play to the driver, concentrating on the interfaces necessary for managing the car. All the pieces for this are there, so the job is doable, but the way everything is put together doesn't make it all that easy or appear that seamlessly integrated. Large buttons and knobs are used, but their arrangement and assigned functions are far from intuitive.
Beyond the quirky design, the instrument cluster is deeply hooded, stylishly compartmentalized and softly lit to the point where it's not a quick and easy scan. The dashboard, door panels, and center console are largely plastic that looks nice but smacks of cost containment. The steering wheel, borrowed directly from the sporty MX-5 Miata with its much more confined cockpit, feels sporty, if undersized, in the more expansive interior of the CX-7.
In interior accommodations, the Mazda splits the difference between the Honda and Toyota in front-seat legroom, rear-seat headroom, and in hip room, front and rear. The Mazda finishes last in front-seat headroom and rear-seat legroom, the latter a true dead last by a substantial two inches. Despite the numbers, front seat room won't be a problem for anyone but the tallest drivers.
Seat comfort is average at best. The seat-bottom cushions offer slightly more thigh support than economy class airline seats, which is to say more would be better. Substantial front-seat side bolsters are fitting for a vehicle with sporty aspirations. And the nicely padded front seat center armrest sits about the same height as the front door armrests, promising comfortable postures for long drives.
The rear seats favor two passengers over three, an impression reinforced by the decently contoured seatback and the absence of a head restraint for the center seating position. The CX-7's competitiveness in rear-seat headroom is no doubt facilitated by the shallowness of the rear seat bottom cushion and by the closeness of that cushion to the floor. We sat in the back seat and didn't like the proximity of knees to chin.
Visibility is best out the front. The kicked-up beltline and tapered cabin constrict vision toward the rear. Even with the driver's seat at its highest adjustment, however, the hood drops away so severely it's below the sight line of a six-footer. This demands cautious navigation of parking lots and tight spaces. The available rearview video camera helps the driver spot objects behind the vehicle when backing up, including short metal posts, other cars and children on tricycles.
Storage is adequate. The front center console's lockable bin is deep enough for a laptop computer and includes a secondary power point for that purpose. The glovebox holds more than gloves, but not much more; at least it comes with a lock. Fixed, hard-plastic, front door map pockets are shaped to hold a pop can or small water bottle, too. Rear seat passengers get no map pockets, but magazine pouches are provided on the backs of both front seats. Two cupholders fill the space in the front center console between the shift gate and the storage bin. The fold-down center armrest in the rear seat also provides two cupholders. Illuminated vanity mirrors are located in the sun visors.
Both the CR-V and RAV4 hold more cargo than the CX-7 with the rear seat either up or down. With it up, the CR-V can handle about six more foot-square boxes, the RAV4 about seven more; down, both can hold more than 14 additional boxes that the CX-7 would have to leave behind. Nonetheless, with 58.6 cubic feet, the CX-7 has plenty of cargo space for a trip to Home Depot.
A few more distinctions: Alone among the three, the RAV4 can be ordered with a third-row seat, giving it accommodations (however meager) for seven passengers. The CX-7, on the other hand, is the longest, lowest, and widest of the three; which gives it the dubious distinction of providing the least interior space for the most exterior bulk. However, the CX-7 has the best aerodynamic performance of the group.
The Mazda CX-7 is fun to drive, especially when compared with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. In fact, it's the most engaging compact crossover SUV.
We found it stable at high speeds. The brake pedal returns a solid, firm feel, and the vented disc brakes deliver reassuring, controlled stops when called upon. Driven fast on winding, two-lane roads, the CX-7 tracks cleanly, with minimal body lean despite its somewhat upright stature. Yes, its design default mode when carrying too much speed into a corner is understeer (where it wants to go straight instead of turn), but the electronic stability control system shields all but the most lead-footed driver from ever experiencing this. There is some head toss in quick left-right-left transitions, not a lot, but it's notable.
The steering wheel, brake and accelerator pedals and shift lever are properly juxtaposed for spirited driving, or at least as spirited as is comfortable in the CX-7. In support of which, Mazda points out that the wheel/shifter geometry replicates that of the RX-8 sports car.
Changes to body stiffness and suspension make the CX-7 a bit more forgiving over bumps this year. Over rough pavement, the suspension now tends more to firm than stiff, though sharp ruts can result in some harshness. Despite thicker engine and interior insulation, the tires still transmit too much road noise into the cabin, which otherwise is fairly quiet, even over poorly graded railroad crossings.
The big news for 2010 is the new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. This engine lowers the base price, bringing the CX-7 more in line with the CR-V and RAV4 in both power and price. The engine is well matched to the CX-7, providing good gitty-up from a stop, though it lacks a bit in midrange punch. It's also fairly smooth, and it works well with the five-speed automatic transmission. We do find it odd, though, that Mazda didn't use the same six-speed as in the turbo models. Yet another benefit is the increased fuel economy. The base engine is EPA rated at 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway.
Power from the turbocharged four-cylinder engine builds smoothly, with impressive torque at low engine speeds. It's worth noting here that the CX-7 develops more torque at significantly lower engine speed (258 pound-feet at 2500 rpm) than even the Toyota RAV4 V6 (246 pound-feet at 4700 rpm). That's worth noting because it's torque, not horsepower, that propels you from intersections and up steep hills. More torque sooner is always better. The turbo engine also has more midrange power than the base engine, making passing a much easier prospect.
However, the turbo engine pays a price with the poorest EPA fuel economy estimates of the group. The ratings are 18/25 with FWD and 17/23 with AWD.
The six-speed automatic transmission shifts well and adapts well to different driving situations, quickly learning a driver's preferences and holding lower gears longer and adjusting shift points to match. That's in Drive. Shift into the Sport mode and it executes manually directed shifts smoothly, up or down. To change gears manually, slide the shifter into the Sport slot, which is conveniently placed on the driver's side of the primary shift gate. Then simply push the lever forward to downshift, pull it back to shift up.
With either engine, there's some torque steer (where the front tires pull one way or the other, most commonly to the right) under hard acceleration, and we've noticed it in both the front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models. It's somewhat less in the latter, which redirects up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels in extreme conditions.
New for 2010 is a Blind Spot Monitoring System. It illuminates lights in the side mirrors when vehicles are traveling in the CX-7's blind spots. And if you attempt to change lanes when vehicles are on those spots, it sounds a warning. We found it works as advertised, without giving false readings or being too annoying in heavy traffic.
The Mazda CX-7 is a competent crossover utility vehicle when measured against the competition. It's not the roomiest in the class, trading some interior space for sporty styling. The sporty looks are backed up by sporty handling characteristics. The new base engine broadens the vehicle's appeal by lowering the starting price while still offering useable power. And the turbocharged engine is remarkably energetic. In short, the CX-7 is worth a look.
Tom Lankard filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive the CX-7 in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. Kirk Bell contributed from Chicago.