Big car, little engine
Although the CX-7 feels like a big car from the driver's seat, it is surprisingly adroit, thanks to is all-wheel-drive system. We tackled some windy mountain roads, and, while this is no low-slung sports car, we were still able to have some fun. The tires all gripped well as the CX-7 came through corners. And it was in these situations that we discovered the manual mode for the six-speed automatic actually provided some benefit. Coming in to a 15mph corner, we used the manual mode to keep it in second, then push it to third on the way out. Interestingly, the manual mode copies BMW's style, with a forward push causing a downshift and a pull back making the transmission shift up. We find this pattern more suited to sports driving.
During normal city and highway driving, using the transmission's Drive mode, we found the upshifts were programmed to occur surprisingly early. It was not uncommon for us to get up to 40mph on a city street and find the car had put itself into fifth gear. The programming seems designed to keep the engine running at 2,000 to 2,500rpm, probably to keep gas consumption down. Fortunately, the transmission reacts quickly, downshifting when power is needed for climbing hills or passing.
A 2.3-liter transversely mounted four-cylinder turbocharged engine gives the CX-7 adequate, but not overwhelming power. We were very pleased with the behavior of this engine, as it moved the nearly 4,000-pound CX-7 along very well. The turbo also works very subtly, adding its power to the engine without any unexpected bouts of acceleration. Although its 244 horsepower comes at 5,000rpm (an engine speed the automatic transmission would never let us see), 258 pound-feet of torque comes in at nice, low 2,500rpm, and Mazda claims it keeps 99 percent of that torque all the way up to 5,000rpm. From the CX-7's performance, we can believe it.
Unfortunately, this engine magic doesn't deliver four-cylinder fuel economy. The EPA rates the all-wheel-drive CX-7 at 18mpg city and 24mpg highway (a front-wheel-drive version gets 19mpg city and 24mpg highway). In our mixed city and highway driving, we got a dismal 13.7mpg. After watching the fuel gauge drop to half a tank after our first hundred miles of driving, we knew it wasn't going to be good, and an extra hundred miles on the freeway didn't improve matters much. Emissions ratings are better, with the CX-7 receiving California's LEV II rating and BIN 5 from the federal government.
A view of the bumper
For crash protection, the CX-7 surrounds occupants with air bags. It has front and side airbags for the driver and front passenger, along with side curtain airbags for the front and rear seats. Front and rear crumple zones and side-impact door beams also contribute to the car's excellent five-star front- and side-impact ratings. It gets four stars for rollovers.
Other safety technology includes traction control, helped by the all-wheel-drive system, and a stability program. The CX-7 has tire-pressure monitors, although it doesn't display tire pressure for the driver, merely using an idiot light to warn of low pressure. We like its rearview camera, which activates whenever the car is put into reverse. Although it doesn't have any animated layovers, as we've seen on other cars, it includes the rear bumper in its view, letting the driver see exactly when the bumper is about to hit an obstacle. And another unique tech feature on this car are the adjustable headlights--the driver can raise or lower the headlights with a dial in the cabin.
Mazda offers a three-year, 36,000-mile basic warranty on the CX-7, and five years or 60,000 miles on the power train.
Our test car was the 2007 Mazda CX-7 Grand Tourer with all-wheel drive, which comes in at a base price of $28,000. The Technology package, the only option on our CX-7, covered it all, with navigation, stereo, sunroof, and a few other odds and ends. At $4,005 for that option and another $595 for the destination charge, our test car totaled $32,600.
Although the CX-7 felt a little large in city traffic, it moves along well. Our staff generally found it an enjoyable and practical car to drive. The upshifts seemed to come a little early, but the manual gear selection made up for that programming. The navigation and audio system all worked well, although they both fell short of spectacular. We did like the interface to control the car systems. In many ways, the CX-7 compares well with the 2007 Subaru B9 Tribeca, and looks a lot better to boot.