|2008 Mazda CX-7
- Soul of a sports car
- Gutsy turbocharged four cylinder
- Inspired design inside and out
- Thirst of a sports car
- Low rear visibility
- No illumination on manumatic shifter indicator
Ruling: A stylish, practical family vehicle that appeals to the driving enthusiast.
For a lot of people, growing up means getting a real job, finding that special someone, purchasing a house, getting a dog and then the real life changer – rugrats. Along this path of maturity, the youthful joys of swim trunks, slacking on rent with your roommates, a beer fund and your sports car have been long replaced with suits, a mortgage, a college fund and of course, the family vehicle. Unfortunately, for many folks, the family vehicle is forever linked with words like stodgy, slow, asexual, big, and according to your kids, like totally embarrassing.
Fortunately for us, one too many designers and engineers at Mazda got tired of driving around an MPV, so came the birth of the CX-7. Crossover vehicles are quickly replacing minivans, station wagons and even SUVs as the preferred family vehicle due to their versatility, truck-like cargo room and car-like handling.
Our 2.3 liter turbocharged four-cylinder CX-7 came with the Grand Touring package and front wheel drive, which hit the register at an extremely reasonable $26,000. With additional options like a Bose stereo system with Sirius and a sunroof, it still came in under $30,000.
Although the crossover vehicle segment is still relatively new, there are already a plethora of options out there. However, the CX-7 brings something to the asphalt that no other $30,000 CUV in its class can touch – handling. Steering is linear much like a sports car, the turn-in is crisp and the taut suspension prevents jiggly Jell-O body roll so common on bigger SUVs. The CX-7 handles as well as or even better than some cars, with skid pad numbers of over .80-g.
The turbocharged 2.3 liter direct injection four-cylinder is the same motor that is used in the fire-breathing Mazdaspeed 3 and 6. For this application, Mazda engineers reigned in the boost a bit and tuned it so the majority of boost is delivered down low at 2500 RPMs, where power in a CUV is needed most. This gives the CX-7 terrific grunt and provides 244 horsepower along with 258 lb. ft. of torque. And at a reasonable 3700 lbs. for the FWD model, the CX-7 has enough huevos to power through the 0-60 in under 8 seconds.
However, the engine’s performance also had its drawbacks, namely in fuel economy, which, for a four-cylinder was quite disappointing. 17 MPG in the city with 22 on the highway ranks 5-10 MPG lower than competitors like the RAV4 and CR-V. And don’t forget, due to the turbo, the CX-7 must run on premium grade fuel. But hey, like we said, the CX-7 has the soul of a sports car – for better or worse.
The six speed transmission shifted smoothly, and we noticed it really liked to keep the revs right around the peak powerband of 2500 RPMs, which meant rolling in fifth gear at speeds as low as 40 MPH. But once throttle stomping commenced, the tranny downshifted two gears without delay. But if you like delayed shifting, then we recommend you try the manumatic mode, which we gave up on after only a few minutes. One other thing to note is that Mazda reversed its manumatic to be like BMW so the downshifts are away from you and the upshifts are towards you. That’s all well and good until nightfall comes and you forget, shifting the wrong direction because neither the + nor the – are illuminated.
Mazda doesn’t have the impeccable quality build reputation of Toyota or even Honda for that matter, but with every new model that Mazda releases – like the CX-7 – build quality gets better. Panel gaps are even and tight, the doors close with precision, and interior materials appear more expensive than Ford equivalents. However, we’ve driven some newer Mazda models to the 40,000 mile marker, and notice that normal wear and tear on the interior takes it toll on lower-quality plastic components. We’ll see how the CX-7 fares as it ages.
For the safety-minded buyer, the CX-7 is a standout. It attained a 5-star frontal and side impact rating from the NHTSA, and the standard anti-lock brakes, Electronic Stability System, traction control and optional all-wheel drive put its rollover prevention performance at 4-stars.
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