The Mazda CX-7 is sporty, svelte, and distinctive, while still being functional, roomy, and comfortable, with decent interior space and all the right safety equipment. It's available with a snappy four-cylinder turbo like the Kia Sportage SX or the Acura RDX, or a naturally aspirated four-cylinder like the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4.
We find the Mazda CX-7 fun to drive, with excellent high-speed stability and responsive handling. The CX-7 excels in cornering, something Mazdas are known for.
The CX-7 is in its fifth year, introduced for 2007 when crossovers (SUVs with the chassis of a car, not truck) were a new idea. They offer the SUV high seating position and cargo capacity, with the more agile steering and smoother ride of a car. Also, fuel mileage is better than with a heavier and boxier truck-based SUV. The CX-7 was revised for 2010, with increased body rigidity, stiffened dampers, and reduced noise, vibration and harshness. Inside, it got a new dashboard with electronic equipment upgrades. The biggest change for 2011 is a new model, the i Touring, which adds equipment to the base model with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder.
Under the hood is 2.5-liter engine making 161 horsepower and using a 5-speed automatic transmission. A 244-horsepower 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is also available, using a 6-speed automatic.
The base 2.5-liter engine is well matched to the CX-7, providing adequate acceleration from a stop, though it lacks a bit in midrange punch. It's smooth and works well with the 5-speed automatic transmission, well enough that the costlier and more complex 6-speed isn't needed, reserved instead for the sportier turbo.
The turbocharged engine has more midrange power than the base engine, making passing a much easier prospect. Power builds smoothly from a standstill. The 6-speed automatic transmission shifts well and adapts well to different driving situations with impressive torque at low engine speeds.
The base engine is EPA rated at 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway. You pay for the extra power in the 2.3-liter turbo, with fuel mileage of 17/24 mpg with FWD and a lackluster 15/21 mpg with AWD.
Even though it's been around since 2007, the Mazda CX-7 sports the latest version of Mazda's styling theme, and it still looks sleek and fresh. The interior makes no less of a statement than the exterior. Some design features work well, others not so well. Overall, the CX-7 interior seems chunky and a bit complicated, not as friendly and functional as the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4.
In interior space, the Mazda falls between CR-V and RAV4 in front-seat legroom and rear-seat headroom, but has the least rear-seat legroom by a substantial two inches, with 36.4 inches. The Kia Sportage beats the CX-7 too, with 37.9 inches. In cargo space with the rear seat folded, the CX-7 is a distant third behind the Honda and Toyota, but it beats the Kia.
Over rough pavement, the suspension is firm while not being stiff, but sharp bumps can be harsh. And despite good engine compartment and underbody insulation, the tires transmit road noise into the cabin, which otherwise is fairly quiet. We discovered the CX-7 AWD worked reasonably well on unpaved roads.
The 2011 Mazda CX-7 comes in five models, i SV, i Sport, i Touring, s Touring and s Grand Touring. The i models, which are offered only with front-wheel drive, use the 161-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a 5-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability. The s models have the 244-horsepower, turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, also with manual shift capability.
Front-wheel-drive is standard with all models, and all-wheel-drive is available with the s models for $1700 more. However the lowest-cost AWD is $6000 more than the entry-level i SV, because you can't get awd with the non-turbo engine.
The Mazda CX-7 i SV ($21,990) comes well-equipped with rugged cloth upholstery, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, remote keyless entry, six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with automatic volume control and auxiliary input jack, Multi-Information Display with trip computer, outside temperature indicator, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, theft deterrent system, and P215/70R17 tires on alloy wheels.
The CX-7 i Sport ($22,795) adds a Bluetooth wireless cell phone and streaming audio link, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and rear privacy glass. (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
The new i Touring model ($26,390) adds leather upholstery, heated front seats with 8-way power adjustment and lumbar support for driver, color multi-information display with rearview camera, Bose sound system with Sirius satellite radio and 6CD changer, automatic climate control, and power glass moonroof.
The s Touring ($26,255) and AWD s Touring ($27,955) are equipped like the i touring, but with the 2.3-liter turbo engine and 6-speed automatic, with P235/60R18 tires on alloy wheels.
Mazda CX-7 s Grand Touring ($31,640) and AWD s Grand Touring ($33,340) upgrade with automatic climate control, unique silver and piano black trim, driver's seat memory, four-way power passenger seat, keyless access and starting, electroluminescent gauges with indirect blue lighting, auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage-door opener, navigation system, Bose Center Point surround sound with six-disc CD changer and nine speakers, Sirius satellite radio with six-month subscription, full-color Multi-Information Display with rearview camera display, rain-sensing wipers, fog lamps, automatic xenon high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, Blind Spot Monitoring System, heated outside mirrors with integrated turn-signals, and P235/55R19 tires.
Options include a rearview camera ($665), foglamps ($425), DVD rear entertainment system ($1200), rear spoiler ($400), remote engine starting ($350), and Class II trailer receiver hitch with wiring harness ($350). Equipment available on higher line models is optional on lower line models.
Safety features on all models include dual frontal airbags, front seat-mounted side-impact airbags (to minimize upper body injuries), front and rear side air curtains (to minimize head injuries) with extended inflation (for added protection in the event of a rollover) and a fold-away brake pedal assembly (to reduce threat of injury to the driver's feet in frontal crashes). All CX-7 models come with three-point seatbelts (so be sure to use them), tire-pressure monitor, and rear-seat child safety seat anchors (LATCH). To help drivers avoid accidents, the CX-7 comes standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes (to permit steering the car under hard braking) with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist (to maximize stopping power in emergencies); plus electronic stability control (to correct for driver error in evasive maneuvers) and traction control (to improve traction and stability on slippery surfaces).