March 27, 2006
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Review and photos by Michael La Fave
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Mazda wants you to know that this is a new kind of SUV: a vehicle with the utility of a compact SUV and the soul of a sports car: an SUV you will want to drive as much as need to, maybe even more. Obviously, there are a few other such vehicles on the market though. The Nissan Murano is probably the closest thing to the CX-7 in price, design and appearance. Other than that, there’s really only the Cayenne and the Infiniti FX – both better than many so called sport sedans and justifiably much more expensive than the new Mazda.
Even though the CX-7 is similar to the Murano, it undercuts it significantly in price. The base CX-7 starts at $31,995 – some $5000 less than the Nissan. Option it all the way up with all-wheel drive, moonroof, NAVI and the high-end stereo, and it barely busts 40-grand. Value is a major part of the CX-7′s proposition to young yuppies and wannabes alike.
But the CX-7 isn’t only about value. It’s not like a Corolla or something made by Sanyo. No, the CX-7 is willing to sell you its body as well. The designers and engineers placed priority on the driver, both in terms of space and performance, above all other considerations.
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After the front seat occupants, they turned their attention to the cargo hold, and when they finally got around to it they squeezed in a second row of seats. The tertiary attention on the second row shows: it’s damn tight, but Mazda figures that probably doesn’t matter as their target customers don’t have kids yet, are just about to make some, or have only recently popped out some little ones. When their kids do become long and lanky, the as-yet unconfirmed CX-9 with three rows of seats should be out as well as an all-new MPV. Smart guys these Mazda folks.
The front seat area is very commodious – my 6’5″ self was more than comfortable – the GT’s luminescent gauges and instruments are easy to read while the standard orange marking of the GS is a bit harder to see. The optional 9-speaker Bose stereo is simply stunning. Loud, clean sound with deep bass – it would actually be a shame to play MP3s on this high-fidelity system. The Nav screen can be adjusted to compensate for glare which is good because you probably want to actually see the image from the optional back-up camera.
Driving the CX-7 is quite similar to the Murano – which places it worlds ahead of its price competitors; the RAV4 and the CR-V. The turbocharged engine might seem an odd choice at first but it’s what gives the CX-7 a different personality from its V6-powered competitors. Mazda’s new so called DISI four is smooth, dead-silent at a cruise, yet it has a voice under acceleration and offers gentle swells of torque that allow the CX-7 to cruise effortlessly at speeds well above our national limit.
Although lag is not an issue, leaving gently from a stop can be a bit tricky. But once underway, this is a truly satisfying drivetrain. The 6-speed automatic ensures plenty of ratio choices should you wish to shift it manually. It’s always smooth and on the highway the tall 6th gear provides for excellent fuel economy of around 9 L/100km. In the city you’ll fair a bit worse at 12.7 L/100 km. The AWD version is 0.2 L/100km more consumptive in both cases – about forty bucks per year.
The steering is clean and direct, the ride smooth but perfectly controlled. I wouldn’t describe the experience as sports car-like, but the CX-7 glides over winding roads staying flat and easy to pilot – far more satisfying to drive than a Tribute or CR-V. The suspension tuning is very much like that of a BMW 3 Series – firm but comfortable and the standard 18-inch 235-section tires no doubt help in the grip department.
The base interior is a bit morose all clad in black but silver accents help spice it up. With the full option load the CX-7 has some really cool interior touches such as lacquer trim and a neat pleat with contrasting fabric down the centre of the leather seats front and back. The back seats have an especially trick spring-loaded folding mechanism that lets you tip them completely flat with the pull of a lever on their backs or at the very back of the cargo hold. Kind of a head-slapper if you ask us but Mazda is the first.
Obviously the CX-7 is intended as a family vehicle,or a soon-to-be family vehicle, so Mazda made safety a priority. All CX-7s come with standard stability control, front, side and curtain airbags, adjustable head restraints and adjustable front seat belt anchors not to mention anti-theft immobilizer and alarm – your car should be safe too, no?
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The model breakdown for Canada is pretty simple; GS or GT. You can add AWD to both for $2000. The GS has an optional sunroof for $1000, and there are Luxury (9-speaker stereo, keyless start) and Navigation (satellite navigation and MP3 playback) packages for the GT priced at $2000 and $3150 respectively. The GT ads electro-luminescent gauges to the dashboard and an exterior temperature gauge as well as a retractable cargo cover. Although most people will probably choose a model right in the middle, such as a GT with AWD and the Luxury package, I’m inclined to recommend either the well equipped base car or the fully optioned GT. Go big or go home!
More of a sports wagon than anything the CX-7 heralds a new generation of crossover SUVs – flashy, easy and enjoyable to drive, affordable, sustainable and here now.