With a car's hood, an SUV's cabin, and a wagon's hatch, Mazda managed to graft three kinds of car into one with the 2007 Mazda CX-7, and we're happy to report that the operation was a success. Mazda's CX-7 is marketed as a crossover, a vehicle with the comfort of a car and the high-riding position and interior dimensions of an SUV. And being a new generation of vehicle for a new generation of buyers, the CX-7 offers some, if not all, of the current wave of technology features.
The CX-7 feels like an SUV from the first step into the cabin, which is relatively high. And, like many SUVs, it features seating for five and a rear cargo area. Although more mechanical than techie, levers in the cargo area cause the rear seats to fold forward, a very thoughtful addition. Our Grand Touring version came with leather seats, all with a slightly bizarre strip of alligator suede running down the center. The power adjustable driver's seat offers substantial range of motion, especially vertically. Rear-seat legroom is good no matter how far the front seats are pushed back.
The three-spoke steering wheel looks like it belongs in a Mazda Miata or a Mazda3--it's a pretty sporty touch for the CX-7 and serves as a reminder that its underpinnings lean more toward car than SUV. Similarly, the instrument cluster, with electroluminescent gauges, is contained in a pod that also looks like it belongs in a sports car. But the center stack brings us back to SUV land with its broad face and decent-size LCD. A secondary orange monochrome readout sits in an upper tier of the dash over the top of the stack, showing audio and climate control information that wouldn't be visible when the LCD is showing the map. We like this arrangement, as the temperature and time are always visible.
Tech from the key to the stereo
The CX-7 gets right down to business showing off its tech with its smart key, a credit card-size plastic rectangle with an RFID chip. Similar to other smart keys, when it is in proximity to the car, the driver can just pull on the door handle to unlock the car and turn a knob to start the car. Although it's easy to forget to hand the key off to valets and garage attendants, the car will sound a warning beep if the key is carried off while the car is running. The plastic rectangle also conceals a backup mechanical key for use if the RFID chip runs out of power.
The term key doesn't really fit this rectangular piece of plastic, but it does open the doors and allow the driver to start the car.
Although we didn't care for the glossy black bezel, the touch screen is bright and easy to read. Strangely, this touch screen requires a stronger tap than others we've used. Pushing onscreen buttons has an almost mechanical feel. The screen gave us some trouble when we tried to set a destination on the navigation system. After programming in an address, the screen shows the map and a blue button labeled Destination, which would confirm that the address was where we wanted to go. But when we didn't hit the button just right, we ended up choosing a random destination from the map and had to go back a step.
As mentioned above, the navigation system allows selecting destinations from the map, from its points-of-interest database, or from inputting an address. It also very conveniently let us set waypoints along our route merely by choosing another destination and indicating that we wanted to stop there before the final destination. We were only disappointed by the lack of retail stores in the points-of-interest database, although restaurants, gas stations, and other useful stops are included. The map display is good, showing all street names and offering split views, with either two maps or a map and a nice, 3D route guidance screen.
The navigation screen is big and easy to read. The system can also be controlled by voice commands.
Route guidance works well, calculating quickly and recalculating without a fuss when we ignored its directions. The voice prompts do only partial text-to-speech, reading out freeway numbers but not street names. The navigation system also includes a voice-recognition system, although the commands aren't all that intuitive. We recommend reading the manual before using it, and maybe copying out a cheat sheet of commands. It is useful, however. We particularly like the detour function that can be called up from the voice-command system, which will make the route guidance choose a different next turn.
The touch screen also displays information and buttons for the Bose audio system, which came as part of the Technology package on our test car. The screen offers an aesthetically pleasing display of either radio stations or MP3 track information. It makes navigating MP3 CDs particularly easy, with large buttons to move through folders and change tracks. The six-CD changer sits behind the LCD--when loading or ejecting CDs, the LCD flips up to provide access. It plays standard, Redbook CDs and MP3 tracks, but not WMA tracks. Audio controls for volume and skipping tracks are also duplicated on the steering wheel, which is good because the volume knob next to the LCD is unusually small.
The screen displays complete information for MP3 tracks and makes navigating CDs easy.
A Sound button in the display leads to some fine-tuning for adjusting bass and treble and moving the audio sweet spot around the car's cabin. The system also uses Bose's Centerpoint technology, which can be adjusted from the Sound screen. The system blasts 240 watts through nine speakers, with large woofers in each door matched by a tweeter, and a center fill speaker in the dashboard. This system offers nice audio clarity and stereo separation, and a rich sound with good bass. But it doesn't make for a good surround-sound experience--we were always able to hear which speakers the sound was coming from.
The audio system lacks an input for an MP3 player or iPod, a surprising miss on this otherwise high-tech vehicle. Likewise, Bluetooth cell phone integration isn't offered. We would also have liked to see a more substantial trip computer, with stats such as range and average miles per gallon. The CX-7 has only Trip A and Trip B mile meters. It does have a blue LED accent light, which creates an interesting mood during night driving. Further catering to a tech-savvy demographic, the console hatch between the two front seats is deep enough to fit a laptop.
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.
Handling is very nice on the CX-7, but the tachometer likes to stay close to 2,000rpm in normal driving conditions.
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.
As a unique feature, this dial lets the driver raise or lower the headlights.
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.