2010 Mazda CX-7 i SportPosted on September 24th, 2009
Five-passenger crossover gains in fuel economy
By Nina Russin
Mazda has a talent for making the most mundane car fun to drive, without sacrificing practicality or value. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the CX-7: the smaller of the automaker’s two crossover vehicles.
This year, the five-passenger CX-7 gets a new four-cylinder engine, available on the front-wheel drive models. While it lacks the power of the 2.3-liter turbo, the new engine delivers exceptional highway fuel economy, while maintaining enough low-end torque to satisfy the average commuter. During the test drive, my highway fuel economy exceeded the 28 mpg EPA estimate.
Drivers will immediately find value in convenience features such as the rear backup camera, digital information display, multiple power points and Bluetooth interface. But greater value lies beneath the car’s surface.
For example, Mazda employs chain rather than belt drives, which are more durable over the long haul. Four-wheel vented disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking provide superior stopping power in a variety of weather conditions. Balance shafts eliminate the vibration and noise that can be the bane of large, four-cylinder engines.
Well-equipped for $25,000
The test car is the i Sport model: one of four available trim levels. Positioned between the base i SV, upscale s Touring and s Grand Touring grades, it adds tinted rear glass over the base model, as well as the Bluetooth interface. Base price is $22,340, not including a $750 destination charge.
Options on the test car include a cargo net, fog lights, retractable cargo cover, satellite radio and scuff plates. A convenience package adds heated front seats, a power moonroof, the rearview camera, power driver’s seat and automatic climate control, bringing the MSRP to $25,990.
I spent a week driving the CX-7 around the Phoenix metro area, on a combination of highways and surface streets. Despite its relatively low horsepower, the car has surprisingly good acceleration in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range, critical for merging into high-speed traffic.
The engine reaches peak torque at 3500 rpm: just above cruising speeds. As a result the driver can accelerate quickly without having to floor the gas pedal.
The CX-7 has a much smaller footprint than the CX-9. Its 108-inch wheelbase is similar to a mid-sized passenger sedan, making the car easy to maneuver through thick traffic, and parallel park. A 37.4-foot turning radius makes the occasional U-turn a non-issue.
Speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering provides more assist at low speeds, while maintaining positive on-center response on the highway. Its high profile and short wheelbase makes the CX-7 slightly less stable than other Mazda models. However steering feedback is more than adequate for an emergency lane change.
Visibility is quite good around the car, thanks to its tall greenhouse. I saw no interference from the B-pillar looking over either shoulder. Nor did I notice large blind spots in the rear corners. A standard rear wiper keeps the back glass clean in rain and snow.
The rearview camera picks up objects to the back that lie below the driver’s line of vision. It’s an important safety feature for parents of small children who may inadvertently wander behind the car.
The standard four-wheel independent suspension is compliant without feeling mushy, thanks to front and rear stabilizer bars. Standard 17-inch wheels are large enough to feel stable on the highway.
Engineers did a good job of isolating the passenger cabin from engine and road noise. There is no obvious wind noise around the windshield or side mirrors.
Despite its small footprint, the CX-7 feels spacious inside. The driver’s and front passenger seats should be comfortable for adults of all sizes. I found the power driver’s seat adjustments easy to use. The seat provides adequate lower lumbar support for drives of several hours.
There are plenty of storage spaces around the front seats, including map pockets and bottle holders in the doors, a large center console bin with two removable trays, a glovebox, cupholders, and several open storage shelves. Two 12-volt power points recharge portable electronic devices.
The steering wheel seems a bit heavy on redundant controls: it resembles a reconfigured keyboard. Standard tilt-and-telescoping functions allow smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view, and a safe distance from the front airbags.
The center stack also has more knobs and buttons than it needs. Some simple mouse controls could combine several buttons into one, creating a cleaner and less confusing design.
Although second-row passengers don’t have quite as much legroom as those up front, the seats should be comfortable for small adults. The CX-7 has a short enough floor tunnel that a center passenger should be comfortable on short trips.
The second-row seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern, using release levers on the outboard edge of the seatbacks. The CX-7 easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards.
Even with the seats in place, the cargo area is surprisingly spacious. The optional cargo net mounts to the floor to keep grocery bags from sliding around. The tonneau cover keeps objects stored in back safe from prying eyes. The undersized spare tire stows under the cargo floor, where it’s easy to reach.
All models come with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock braking, traction and dynamic stability control. Mazda’s warranty includes three years or 36,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage, as well as a 24-hour roadside assistance program.
Mazda builds the CX-7 at its Hiroshima, Japan assembly plant.
Likes: An attractive, spacious cross-utility vehicle with a peppy, fuel-efficient engine and excellent handling. The CX-7 offers surprising cargo versatility for a vehicle of its size.
Dislike: Confusing center stack; too many redundant controls on the steering wheel.
Model: CX-7 i Sport
Base price: $22,340
As tested: $25,990
Horsepower: 161 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 161 lbs.-ft. @ 3500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 20/28 mpg city/highway.
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