Large gas-guzzling SUVs have been on the wane the past few years. Higher gas prices, (or the threat of increasing gas prices in the future), and the soft economy have taken their toll on that segment. More buyers have been turning to mid size SUVs and crossover vehicles as a logical replacement. Apparently, folks are eager to retain the higher seating position and increase cargo carrying capacity, but do it in a smaller and more fuel efficient package.
|1. New for 2010, Mazda has introduced a 2.5L naturally aspirated engine aimed more at fuel economy than performance.
2. Two new trim levels are available with the 2.5L engine and FWD.
3. Horsepower is rated at 161-hp and 161 ft-lbs of torque.
4. Fuel economy is set at 20/28 mpg (city/hwy).
In 2006 Mazda introduced the CX-7 crossover as a sensibly sized vehicle with good power, excellent road manners, and high build quality. That vehicle was powered by a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, which gave it the famous Mazda zoom-zoom, as well as a price tag that scared many shoppers away.
For 2010 Mazda decided to keep the turbo engine, giving it a bit more muscle and fuel efficiency, while adding two new trim levels and a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder to make the CX-7 more price friendly to buy, as well as more economical to operate.
Now there are two new base models called the 2.5 i SV, and the i Sport, and they are front wheel drive only. The i SV is nicely equipped with standard features such as keyless-entry, stability and traction controls, ABS brakes, air-conditioning, cruise control, a power driver’s seat, 4-speaker stereo system with auxiliary jack, power locks, windows, mirrors, tilt and telescope steering wheel, and 17-inch wheels. The i Sport adds Bluetooth connectivity, a leather wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob as well as tinted rear windows. Both base models come with the same 2.5-liter inline-four making 161-hp and 161 ft-lbs of torque.
The s Touring and s Grand Touring models, which are available in all-wheel drive, come with the turbocharged 2.3-liter engine and other luxury upgrades and cabin amenities. The turbo engine puts out 244-hp and 258 ft-lbs of torque.
The 2.5-liter engine works hard to move the 3,500-pound car at anything more than a leisurely pace. And under hard acceleration, you may want to crank up the radio to drown out the noise that the engine produces. Still, you won’t be beaten off the line by Vespa scooters and merging with traffic on highway ramps isn’t a real issue, even with a 0-60 mph time around the 10 second mark.
The upside to the sluggish performance is 20-mpg city and 28-mpg highway fuel economy. With a 16.4 gallon fuel tank, you will be able to spend long hours on the highway between fuel stops. I experienced 28-mpg on the highway at an average speed of 68 miles per hour, and just under the 20-mpg in suburban traffic.
We have to admit that this isn’t exactly class-leading fuel economy, more middling. And while the 7 is large for its class, you don’t get the added cargo room you might expect.
PREMIUM LOOK, INSIDE AND OUT
Long hours behind the wheel will not be a chore as the cabin has been upgraded for 2010. The look and feel of the curvaceous interior appointments is top notch, with soft touch materials on the door armrests, and dash, and comfortable wide seats for the front passengers that are covered in a handsome cloth. And with the $1,750 Convenience Package, those front cloth seats are also heated, which was a welcomed treat in the cold Chicago winter. Also included in that package are a power tilt and slide moonroof, a back-up camera system, 6-way power driver’s seat and automatic climate controls.
The cabin is roomy up front and offers plenty of headroom for tall drivers. The three-across rear seat is best for two passengers, and there is ample headroom and legroom, as long as the front seats are not pushed all the way back in their tracks. The rear seats fold forward courtesy of two convenient spring loaded releases located in the cargo area, opening up the space to a nicely finished flat carpeted floor and without needing to remove the rear seat headrests. You will find that most vehicles in the compact crossover class have more room for your gear than the Mazda, with 29.9 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 58.6 cu.-ft. with the seats folded flat.
Plenty of additional storage space is included, however, with a lockable and cavernous center console. The glove box is also large, and the door packets are generous as well.
The dash and center stack look very much like that on the stylish Mazdaspeed3, with controls that are well laid out for easy use. All the switches and gauges are brightly lit at night, including the control laden 3-spoke steering wheel. Like that on the Mazdaspeed3, controls for the optional navigation system are located on the steering wheel. The test car lacked the nav system, but those same controls operate the tiny 4.1-inch color information screen on the top of the dash, which gives you your fuel economy readouts and other system information. This screen also serves double-duty for the back-up camera.
The exterior styling has also been refreshed for 2010. The RX-8 inspired front end has received much larger side air intakes, revised fog light treatments and a larger five-point front grill that gives the CX-7 the same smiley face look that other Mazda models share. The rear bumper has also been restyled, and some character lines running along the side of the vehicle and the rising belt line and flared fenders make the whole vehicle look more sporty and aggressive, and give it a family resemblance to the rest of the Mazda line-up.
A NIMBLE HANDLER, EVEN WITHOUT THE ZOOM
It isn’t easy giving a vehicle of this size sporty handling characteristics, especially at this price, but Mazda has it figured out rather well. The suspension soaks up bumps and bad pavement quite nicely, yet can still provide good cornering characteristics. There is some body lean, but it’s well controlled. Steering response is quick and light, and steering effort increases with cornering forces. The brakes have a nice feel and provide good feedback. Overall, the cabin is quiet, but I did have an issue at highway speeds with a wind noise that seemed like it was coming off the windshield wipers.
The 2010 Mazda CX-7 i Sport has a base sticker price of only $22,340, and offers a lot of value at that price. If more power is necessary for you, take a look at the turbo models, as this one is no runner. As mentioned, fuel economy is much improved, but still not a strong point.
With the options on my test car, and delivery, the bottom line on the window sticker was still only $25,990. Other vehicles in this class will give you more cargo space, but this Mazda offers a more engaging drive, a more premium interior and a sportier look.
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