In the business of building and selling family haulers, the last decade will likely be remembered by the crossover replacing the SUV as the vehicle of choice. Rewind five years ago to see what Mazda had on offer, and you may be shocked to find no crossovers at all-just the MPV minivan and the Ford Escape based Tribute. Mazda’s answer arrived in 2007 in the form of the CX-7. In typical Mazda fashion, the CX-7 was like no other CUV out there. This was no wallflower-svelte, edgy, well-equipped, but above all, sportier than any crossover had a right to be.
The centerpiece was the engine-a 2.3L turbo putting out 244hp, that really put the ‘zoom zoom’ into the CX-7. Yet what warmed the hearts of enthusiasts needing a vehicle to haul their families and their stuff likely kept the CX-7 out of more mainstream buyer’s garages. The reason? Fuel economy. The turbocharged CX-7’s thirst at the pump may have turned buyers off. For 2010, Mazda has an answer to the problem with a new CX-7 model that sips, rather than gulps fuel. But can a thriftier CX-7 maintain the spirit? Read on.
2010 marks the first freshening of the CX-7. The changes are minimal, and for good reason. The car is a looker-the now trademark Mazda fender flares are present and accounted for. The outline of the exterior side glass is particularly jazzy-a stand-out feature that really didn’t cut into visibility. Your eye is drawn low from the front-side profile and arcs upward as you move to the rear. The design language here is sleek, sensual, and serious.
The real news is how Mazda brought the CX-7 models inline with the Mazda3 and Mazda6-a base model i, supplanted by a more powerful s version. Our CX-7 i Sport is powered by a 2.5L four with 161hp, coupled to a 5-speed automatic. The i loses some of the classy touches of the upscale models, but unless you are an expert, you would never know the difference. The 17″ alloys look a little small in the wheel wells, but otherwise, there is nothing here to suggest “base model”. In appearance, the look, especially in our car’s rich Copper Red, lent a decidedly upscale appearance.
That theme continues to the interior with a pleasing contrast of black and tan, enhanced with quality soft touch plastics. At night, the CX-7 looks especially elegant, with rich white gauges against typical Mazda amber switchgear. A quick review of the features-power driver’s seat, auto climate control, satellite radio, back-up camera, power moonroof, heated seats, followed by a glance at the window sticker gave me cause to think I needed my eyes checked. As tested, our CX-7 cost $25,990 (including delivery), which represents one heck of a value.
Driving around town, I was convinced the CX-7 i Sport was the bargain of the century. Power was adequate. Steering was quick, the ride firm (but not too much so). Then I got on the highway. This engine is shared with the Mazda6 we recently reviewed that got around OK on the interstate, but here, that engine is down nine horsepower and is carrying nearly 200 extra pounds. Merging onto highway traffic is best described as leisurely, with the four pulling for all its worth. On a manic I-95 in Connecticut, the CX-7 struggled to keep pace with the ever-changing speeds of traffic, often dropping one or two gears when speeds increased, giving driver and occupants a lot of noise but little in the way of extra speed.
When the road clears, the CX-7 will happily cruise all day at 75-80mph with little drama, as long as no hills come your way. It was some consolation that the gear changes were silky smooth. I should note that the all-wheel driveÃ‚Â GMC Terrain we reviewed, also with a four cylinder engine never seemed out of breath, and delivers even better fuel economy (up to 4mpg on the highway more in the FWD model). Which brings me to another point. If you need all-wheel drive, the turbo CX-7 is your only choice. My guess is Mazda deemed the heavier AWD equipment too much for the already over-burdened 2.5L engine to carry.
Finally, one glaring problem that bears mentioning here. Cruising on the highway, we detect a banging sound coming from outside the car. Concerned, I pull off, checking the wheel wells, under the car, all over. The culprit? The black plastic trim for the roof rails had popped out at the top of the windshield, and the trim was whacking the roof. I was able to pop the trim back into place, but it did not feel all that secure, and during my week with the CX-7, it did manage to pop out again. Isolated incident? Maybe, but not at all what I expect from Mazda.
Despite all this, I do recommend the CX-7 i with some reservations. The CX-7 offers just-right proportions, great steering and handling to make the daily grind somewhat enjoyable. Hauling the kids to school, running errands-what most parents do in the course of a typical day, our CX-7 handled these tasks admirably, and as equipped, even pampers a bit. If all that driving is done in suburbia, the 2.5L engine will suffice. That it does so in such an attractive wrapper is an added bonus.
The inherent sportiness of the CX-7 may instantly turn off buyers seeking more sedate crossovers, but in the end the overwhelming feeling was the CX-7 buyer faces a difficult decision: reasonable fuel economy but lackluster engine performance with the i, or reasonable acceleration Ã‚Â penalized by poor fuel economy with the s. The impression is Mazda spent the engineering budget, and could not come up with an engine offering a mix of decent power and fuel economy (like the VW Tiguan), leaving the consumer to make a compromise, which is quite a liability in the hyper-competitive crossover market.