Editor's note: This review was written in February 2010 about the 2010 Mazda CX-7. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2011, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
Mazda brought its signature "Zoom-Zoom" performance to the small crossover arena with the launch of the turbocharged CX-7 a few years ago. That model is an energetic performer, but the small crossover segment consists mostly of models focused on more practical considerations, like utility and gas mileage. It seems Mazda got that message, as the CX-7 now offers a more efficient, non-turbocharged base engine in addition to the turbo four-cylinder. It also gains some styling tweaks inside and out for 2010.
For better or worse, the new base engine makes the CX-7 behave more similarly to some of its four-cylinder competition, including the Honda CR-V. Its gas mileage is more competitive with the non-turbo engine — the base front-wheel-drive CX-7 is rated 20/28 mpg city/highway — but it lacks the turbo's strong acceleration, leaving drivers with a modestly powered crossover that's quick enough, but not exceptionally so.
The biggest styling difference between the 2010 and 2009 CX-7 is that the 2010 adopts a version of Mazda's grinning grille, which has already shown its face on the redesigned Mazda3 compact car, among other Mazdas. While the design is a little too forceful on the Mazda3, the CX-7's treatment is more subtle and helps keep the design fresh. To see a side-by-side comparison of the 2009 and 2010 CX-7, click here.
Modestly Powered Base Engine
The base 161-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder provides acceptable performance in city and suburban settings. Acceleration is quick enough, letting you keep pace with traffic. Where the engine starts to falter is on the highway; it quickly loses steam when you need to merge or accelerate around a slower-moving car. The bottom line is that you need to plan your moves on the highway, because traffic has a tendency to rapidly get bigger in your rearview mirror. Cruising on the highway is another story, though, as the CX-7 isn't taxed as long as you're just keeping pace with the cars around you. Overall, the base four-cylinder feels quite a bit less powerful than the turbo engine, which offers forceful acceleration.
The base engine works with a five-speed automatic transmission that drives the front wheels. To get all-wheel drive, you have to choose the more powerful, less efficient turbo four-cylinder, which pairs with a six-speed automatic. The five-speed automatic shifts smoothly when accelerating from a stop, but it's slow to react while rolling along in traffic. Overall, the transmission isn't as refined as the continuously variable automatic transmission in the Nissan Rogue.
The new four-cylinder brings the CX-7's gas mileage estimates closer to the competition, and unlike the turbo four-cylinder, which prefers premium gas, the base engine runs on regular. The competition has also been working on fuel economy though, with models like the Chevrolet Equinox and Hyundai Tucson becoming more efficient with recent redesigns.
|Small Crossover Gas Mileage|
|EPA-estimated city/highway mpg for base four-cylinder and automatic transmission|
|2010 Chevrolet Equinox||22/32||20/29|
|2010 Ford Escape||21/28||20/26|
|2010 Honda CR-V||21/28||21/27|
|2010 Hyundai Tucson||23/31||21/28|
|2010 Mazda CX-7||20/28||--|
|2010 Nissan Rogue||22/27||21/26|
|2010 Subaru Forester||--||20/26|
|2010 Toyota RAV4||22/28||21/27|
The CX-7 does have admirable brake-pedal feel. Braking response corresponds naturally with how hard you depress the pedal, which makes smooth stops second nature.
Despite losing much of the performance the turbocharged model offers, the CX-7 with the base four-cylinder still has sporty handling for a small crossover. This has its pros and cons.
On the plus side, the CX-7 has the kind of light-effort, responsive steering that we appreciate in Mazda cars, like the Mazda3. The CX-7 also resists body roll when cornering. On the downside, while the CX-7's firm suspension does transmit pavement imperfections to the cabin, the bigger negative of its suspension tuning is that the ride can become choppy on certain highway surfaces, like concrete interstates.
Even though the CX-7's 37.4-foot turning circle isn't the largest in its class, it feels big when maneuvering in a parking lot or other confined space. What this means is that it might take a few more back-and-forth moves to pull into or out of a tight parking space.
Mild cabin revisions include a newly available dash-top screen that lets you cycle between radio station presets and trip computer information. When you put the CX-7 in Reverse, the screen shows an image of what's behind the crossover courtesy of the backup camera that's included with the screen.
It's easy to cycle through the screen's various functions using the steering-wheel controls, but the positioning of the display — very close to the base of the windshield — makes it a little distracting; you can see it out the corner of your eye when driving. The CX-7's dashboard controls are thoughtfully arranged and easy to use, and the CX-7 has a standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel for enhanced driver comfort and safety.
The driver and front passenger sit on bucket seats with available power adjustments and seat heaters. Mazda says both the standard cloth and available leather upholstery are new, and the cloth seats in my test car featured a premium, flowing design. The cushioning is supportive without being too hard, but the seat itself is a little small; while it might be fine for shorter drivers, I'm a little more than 6 feet tall and could have used a larger seat.
The CX-7's backseat isn't particularly roomy for adults. My knees were touching the back of the driver's seat (which was adjusted to where I'd have it), and the distance from the seat to the floor left me sitting with my knees and legs elevated — and not much thigh support. Unlike the Equinox and Toyota RAV4, the CX-7's backseat doesn't give passengers the ability to slide or recline it to suit their whims.
Mazda has done a nice job arranging the CX-7's cargo area. The space measures 29.9 cubic feet with the backseat up and 58.6 cubic feet when it's folded, but perhaps more importantly, the few intrusions there — like bump-outs along the cargo walls — are mostly tucked out of the way.
Folding the backseat is a simple process you can manage from the cargo area thanks to handles in the walls. Pulling a handle releases a backrest section, or you can release them from the second row by pressing a button on the backrest and folding down. When folded, the backrests are nearly flat with the cargo floor, resting on just a slight incline.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the CX-7 received a Good overall rating — the highest possible score — for its performance in frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests. The IIHS also assesses how well vehicles protect against whiplash injuries in rear-impact collisions, and in this test the Grand Touring trim level of the CX-7 scored Marginal. As of publication, the CX-7 hasn't been subjected to the IIHS' new roof-strength test.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags for both rows, and an electronic stability system. The top-of-the-line Grand Touring trim level has a blind spot warning system.
Check out a full list of safety features on the Standard Equipment & Specs page.
CX-7 in the Market
The CX-7 sells in much smaller numbers than the popular CR-V and RAV4. Up until now, its turbocharged engine has made it a unique offering in the small crossover segment, but the CX-7's appeal now seems poised to grow thanks to its new base engine and improved gas mileage. A new, lower price won't hurt, either, as the CX-7 now starts at $21,550, which is $2,350 less than its base price last year.
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