2008 Mazda CX-7 Expert Review:Autoblog
click above image to view more pics of the 2007 Mazda CX-7 GT AWD
After a few days of driving the 2007 Mazda CX-7 GT AWD, I was reminded of a college buddy who had broken up with a girl he described as his ultimate dream date. She was good-looking, funny and even pleased his Mom. But my friend was tired of financing her $4-a-glass Zinfandel habit while he drank $2 draft. And that's kind of how we felt about the CX-7. Its beautiful design, high-quality interior, willingness to zoom-zoom all night long and actual usable utility is, unfortunately, totally overshadowed by its $4-a-premium-gallon gas habit.
So it was with mixed feelings we broke up with the copper red mica SUV. We're already missing its buttery-soft black leather seats, the kick-you-in-the-pants turbocharged four and the looks of incredulity from friends and family when they saw it. But we're not missing the costly gas pump visits.
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Let's just go ahead and get that gas issue out of the way so we can focus on the good things in the relationship. The CX-7 had a drinking problem. It really liked to empty a tank. We drove 445 miles during our short time together, covering scenic highway drives as well as mundane commutes in city traffic. We enjoyed those miles, but at the end of the week, the day before the breakup, we realized our beloved car was getting only about 14 mpg. Yikes! And because of the champagne-tastes of its turbocharged heart, that was 14 miles to every gallon of $4 premium. Meaning we spent about $90 on gas for the week, which is not that much worse than the EPA's new rating for the car, 16 city, 22 highway.
But let's move on to happier things, like that high-quality interior we mentioned. Mazda is known for passing on its sporty genes to everything it touches, and the CX-7 inherits them, too. But Mazda should just as well be known for its lux interiors. The CX-7's dash and doors are made of a soft-touch plastic that one admiring friend equated to leather. Seats and steering wheel, however, are wrapped in the real thing. Their soft, black surfaces are a pleasure to touch and the seats are also soft and comfortable. The faux croc print center inserts were a bit gaudy, though. We'd have liked a little more depth to the seat cushion and stiffer side bolsters, but the 8-way power driver's seat eliminated most reasons to complain. Leg and headroom front and rear were ample, and with the child seat installed behind the driver, two adults might have fit beside it.
The lockable center armrest lifts to reveal a gaping storage bin for cabin clutter, and includes a power port for your electronic gadgets. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, the CX-7, a model only a couple of years old, doesn't have an auxiliary input jack. Luckily buyers can choose the iPod integration module for $149. Even though our tester didn't have that option, we found ample auditory entertainment on the in-dash Sirius radio and from the right pedal. Sound output was OK, but more bass would make for a richer audible experience.
Fit and finish were impeccable, as you would expect from a $30,660 car. Something else you expect in this price range, but don't get in the CX-7, is lighted vanity mirrors. Front windows and the sizable sunroof are a one-button operation open and close. The automatic climate control was also a set-it and forget-it luxury. The 6-disc changer, however, was slow to load and unload, but we're betting the satellite radio and (if purchased) iPod controls get way more use.
The instrument lighting can be toggled between red or a redish-purple, and the GT version gets an odd blue LED mounted near the rearview mirror. It dimly shined on the shifter, but did little to actually illuminate.
We are, of course, reviewing this from a family perspective, so the child safety seat went in the day we got the car. NHTSA and other safety organizations strongly suggest child seats be installed in the center of the back seat. Mazda, however, does not make this simple in the CX-7. Most cars, including this Mazda, have the LATCH system, which consists of metal loops buried between the seat cushion and the seat back. Two hooks on the child seat attach there to firmly hold it in place. A third hook is designed to go over the top of the seat and attach at the back to another LATCH loop.
The CX-7 provides center loops on the rear seat, but not a center loop behind the seat. Unless you're willing to perform a bit of origami-like maneuvers on the cargo area floor cover, you'll need to put baby on either the left or right. It's not unsafe, just not the safest position recommended. If you bring home one of these vehicles, either have someone at the dealership demonstrate proper center installation, or, better yet, have them do it.
One more note on the child seat. Those heated, buttery-soft leather seats were made to coddle your back side in near-luxury comfort, not a hard plastic child seat. The night before we returned the car, the child seat came out. Left behind was the distinct impression of a hard plastic child seat. By morning, the leather had somewhat returned to its intended state, but it wasn't perfect. Parents should keep this in mind when deciding between leather and cloth options. There are tricks out there you can use to protect your seats, but most of them increase the leather's protection while reducing the child's.
Overall, safety is taken care of. Air bags surround all occupants, and Mazda engineers created a vehicle that passed NHTSA crash tests with no problem. The NHTSA gave the CX-7 five stars in all its crash tests, and four for rollover, indicating a 14% chance of tipping. Those numbers are for the two- and all-wheel-drive models. Standard safety features include stability control, four-wheel ABS, traction control and tire pressure monitors.
The stroller test was also no trouble for this SUV. Shoved in the back, our Graco didn't even fill up half the space either sideways or longways, leaving room for groceries, luggage, kegs, etc. Leave baby at home, fold the rear seats, and you've got huge room for cargo. Tie-downs in back keep things from shifting around and a sliding cover hides your valuables. The spare tire and jack are beneath the reversible rear floor cover, which is carpeted on one side and hard plastic on the other.
Being a typical guy, I like gadgets. The gadget I like most on the CX-7 fit in my pocket. Keyless entry is offered from Mazda, but was not installed on our tester. However, the switchblade key fob did offer a nice surprise. Push the door open button twice and hold it to see the car's windows lower and the sunroof slide open, which lets out hot air while you walk across the smoldering desert of your local mall's parking lot Unlike remote starters, no gas is wasted, which is appreciated in this vehicle. When you park, insert the key into the driver's lock, turn and hold, and all windows and sunroof close. Nice and simple.
Driving the CX-7 is mostly pleasurable. The CUV rides smoothly on open highways and handles itself very well around town. My wife complained that in stop and go traffic, she was bothered by a slight hesitation when starting from a stop. I felt it, too, but was bothered less by that than by the nasty turbo lag. Pulling into traffic, or switching lanes is no problem with this vehicle's 244-hp motor sourced from the MazdaSpeed6, but you need to time it just right. The first time I goaded the CX-7, the kick in the butt took me by surprise. To minimize the delay and the lurch of the turbo lag, we found using the manumatic to drop down a gear or two ahead of making our passing manuevers helped spool up the turbo. It's something a manual-transmission driver would know to do, but something anyone who grew up with only automatics would have to learn.
Speaking of the manumatic, it's better than some we've driven, but still a bit on the nannyish side. It forces upshifts too soon to be sporty and wouldn't allow 6th gear until too late to help with fuel economy. The system was presumably programmed to protect the all-aluminum four-cylinder, but the best use of the manumatic is when you need that lower gear in traffic, which is something that could just as easily have been accomplished with a simple PRNDL.
Our tester had the AWD option, which, due to 90-degree weather and an extended regional drought, we were pretty much unable to test in any meaningful way.
Everyone who saw the CX-7 loved the look, the feel, the ride, the sound, the way the sun glinted off her curves and reflected in her shiny, crystal-like headlights. But mention the premium gas, and the admiring gazes quickly turned to looks of dismay and emotional betrayal. Mazda had a potentially huge hit in the CX-7, until premium gas started costing more than milk. We think the turbo-four is unnecessary, and would be better replaced with a smoother, less hungry, larger displacement 4-cylinder or a small V-6. A hybrid four would be even more welcome, and would complement the car's sleek, modern design very well.
If you can afford to feed it, the CX-7 could be the family man's Miata. If baby formula and diapers already have the family budget stretched thin, wait until the CX-7 gets a powertrain that doesn't swill the Dom like there's no tomorrow. Until then, we'll look wistfully at our photos and wonder what could have been.
New Car Test Drive
Zoomy crossover SUV competes with CR-V.
The Mazda CX-7 fits neatly into the zoom-zoom mold: sporty but functional; roomy but svelte; snappy but comfortable. It has a surprisingly powerful, and fairly frugal, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with a state-of-the-art six-speed automatic transmission, motivating a sporty-looking and sporty-handling five-passenger vehicle that will haul nearly as much stuff as it does people.
The Mazda CX-7 offers seating for five people, decent cargo space, a comprehensive set of standard safety features and distinctive looks. We found it fun to drive, with responsive handling and good high-speed stability.
Mazda introduced the CX-7 for 2007 as a totally new crossover utility vehicle to compete against the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, among others. Crossovers, as they're called, have become the hottest segment in the auto industry. They combine the high seating position and cargo capacity of a truck-based sport utility vehicle with the agility, smoothness and fuel economy of a car. And many folks who find a minivan or station wagon just to ego-bruising seem okay with a crossover.
As the CX-7 was all-new for 2007, very little has changed for the 2008 model year. There has been some fiddling with the option list and, thanks to some reprogramming of the engine management, premium fuel is now recommended rather than required, so it will run on regular gas. The CX-7 still starts at less than $24,000 for the front-wheel-drive version. A well-equipped, nicely featured, all-wheel-drive model goes for less than $30,000; and the top model with every option box checked comes in just around $35,000. Though a bit pricier than the prime opposition, the CX-7 excels in ride and handling.
The 2008 Mazda CX-7 comes in three trim levels, all with the same engine, a 244-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder. The transmission is a six-speed automatic with a Sport shift feature. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is optional ($1700).
The least expensive CX-7 is the Sport model ($23,750). Air conditioning and cloth upholstery are standard, as are cruise control and the usual complement of power windows, mirrors and locks. A six-way, manually adjustable driver's seat is standard, along with a tilt steering wheel hosting cruise and secondary audio controls, four-speaker stereo, satellite radio pre-wiring, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks and carpeted floor mats. A power driver's seat with manual lumbar support is available ($350), and must be ordered with most other major options. A Preferred Equipment Package ($315) adds a cargo net, cargo tray, retractable cargo cover, rear bumper guard, and wheel locks.
The Touring model ($25,500) features leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel; an eight-way power driver's seat; heated outside mirrors; and a retractable cargo cover.
The Grand Touring model ($26,300) upgrades with automatic climate control, auto-on/off xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, fog lamps, foldable outside mirrors, specially trimmed seats, and electroluminescent gauges with indirect blue lighting and an outside temperature readout.
Another Preferred Equipment Package ($445) for Touring and Grand Touring adds a cargo net, cargo tray, rear bumper guard, and wheel locks. Two more factory-configured packages are available on all three models: The Moonroof/Bose Audio/6CD Changer Package ($1585) includes a tilt-and-slide power moonroof and a nine-speaker Bose sound system with vehicle speed-sensitive AudioPilot and a six-CD, in-dash changer. The Technology Package ($4005) comprises the moonroof/Bose/CD Changer Package plus a DVD-based navigation system with touch-screen LCD and voice command, Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry and Start System, rearview camera, and perimeter alarm.
Stand-alone options include a six-disc CD changer ($500), Sirius Satellite Radio with six month's pre-paid subscription ($430), cargo net ($50), cargo tray ($50), retractable cargo cover ($125), remote engine start ($350), auto-dim inside mirror with compass and programmable garage-door remote ($275), auto-dim inside mirror with just the compass ($200), moonroof wind deflector ($60), fog lamps ($250), all-weather floor mats ($78), front and rear mudguards ($95), Class II trailer receiver hitch with ($350) or without ($335) wiring harness, wheel locks ($50), and a DVD entertainment system ($1200).
Safety features on all models include frontal airbags, front seat-mounted side-impact airbags (to minimize upper body injuries), front and rear side air curtains (to minimize head injuries) with extended inflation (for added protection in the event of a rollover) and a fold-away brake pedal assembly (to reduce threat of injury to the driver's feet in frontal crashes). All CX-7 models come with three-point seatbelts (so be sure to use them), adjustable head restraints at all outboard seating positions, and rear-seat child safety seat anchors (LATCH). To help drivers avoid accidents, the CX-7 comes standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes (to permit steering the car under hard braking) with electronic brake-force distribution (to maximize stopping power in emergencies), and electronic stability control (to correct for driver error in evasive maneuvers) with traction control (to improve traction and stability on slippery surfaces).
One thing about the current Mazda look: it's unmistakable, even if it doesn't necessarily fit the proportions of every vehicle to which it's applied. Which is much the case with the CX-7, especially the front end.
For starters, the fenders are seemingly transplanted directly to the CX-7 from the company's sports car, the RX-8. To fit those bulbous wheel housings to a sedan-like body required pinching the nose and squeezing headlights into the tops of the fenders. This leaves substantial mass below the bumper line that's only slightly lightened by a massive mouth braced by large intake-like recesses that double as housings for the optional fog lamps. The way the CX-7's bulk is suspended across its exceptionally wide track (distance between the tires side to side) leaves it looking almost as if it's drooping, or sagging, from the weight.
The side view appeals more, with wheels pushed to the corners and a super-fast windshield sweeping back over tautly drawn side glass. Side mirrors separate the front door glass from an odd-looking, wind-wing-like, but fixed, tiny piece of glass at the base of the A-pillar. The beltline rises as it moves rearward, peaking just aft of the severely blistered rear wheelwell before tucking in between the steeply sloped backlight and the sculpted back end. Full-round, easy-to-grab door handles ride the crest of a soft bulge connecting the tops of the fenders. An understated crease highlights the lower door panels, skipping over the rear tires to continue around the bottom fold of the rear bumper.
The rear aspect is somewhat plain, with a modest spoiler sitting atop the backlight, itself resting in a gentle dip in the liftgate. A rather large, seamless bumper stretches the width of the back end, above a widespread pair of exhaust tips, this last a feature that's beginning to wear. It works on a vehicle boasting a robust powerplant under the hood, preferably a V8 or some other V-configuration, where each pipe nominally runs directly back from its individual bank of cylinders. But for draining burnt gases from an inline engine, especially an inline-4, and one sitting transversely, to boot, it's a bit overdone. A single pipe, or maybe two running tightly parallel and exiting out one side, seems more fitting.
The interior makes no less of a statement than the exterior, and with much the same result. Some parts seem to work, others not so well. Importing styling elements and even components from other Mazdas no doubt makes sense in terms of cost savings and even consistency of so-called DNA but doesn't always yield the desired harmony in look, feel, and function.
The dash is a prime example. Some parts look right, while others come across almost as an exercise in Design 101, and not much of it looks of a piece with the rest. For starters there's what Mazda calls the double-roof instrument panel. Translated, this constitutes, first, a ridge stretching across the top of the dash that's supposed to make the front seat passenger feel included in the interior's dynamic. Below this floating lip is the second part, a more traditional dash construct comprising three elements: the instrument cluster, the center stack and the section holding the passenger airbag and housing the glove box. This lower part, the designers say, is intended to play to the driver, concentrating on the interfaces necessary for managing the car. All the pieces for this are there, so the job is doable, but the way everything is put together doesn't make it all that easy or appear that seamlessly integrated.
Beyond the quirky design, the instrument cluster is deeply hooded, stylishly compartmentalized and softly lit to the point where it's not a quick and easy scan. The steering wheel, borrowed directly from the sporty MX-5 Miata with its much more confined cockpit, feels undersized in the more expansive interior of the CX-7.
Large buttons and knobs populate the stack of air conditioning and sound system controls in the center, but their arrangement and assigned functions are far from intuitive. The optional navigation system only adds complexity, as it incorporates many of those functions into one of the menus accessed only through the touch-screen LCD and, for example, allows switching preset radio stations by exchanging the map display for the audio display. And although the Sport shift slot is properly placed on the driver's side of the primary shift gate, gear selection feels backwards (to some of us), as you push up to shift down and pull down to shift up.
This isn't to say the dash/driver interface is dysfunctional, but only that it's not as good as Mazda has done. Where other car makers are trending toward simplicity and sleekness, the CX-7 has gone chunky and choppy. Overall, the cabin doesn't seem as friendly and as functional as its primary competition, the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4.
In interior accommodations, the CX-7 splits the difference between the Honda and Toyota in front-seat legroom, rear-seat headroom, and in hip room, front and rear. The Mazda finishes last in front-seat headroom and rear-seat legroom, the latter a true dead last by a substantial two inches.
As for how those seats fit, the bottom cushions offer slightly more thigh support than, say, economy class airline seats, which is to say more would definitely be better. Substantial front-seat side bolsters are fitting for a vehicle with sporty aspirations. And the nicely padded, front seat center armrest sits about the same height as the front door armrests, promising comfortable postures for long drives.
The rear seats favor two passengers over three, an impression reinforced by the decently contoured seatback and the absence of a head restraint for the center seating position. The CX-7's competitiveness in rear seat headroom is no doubt facilitated by the shallowness of the rear seat bottom cushion and by the closeness of that cushion to the floor, the latter evidenced by the proximity of the rear seat passenger's knees to chin.
Visibility is best out the front, as the kicked-up beltline and tapered cabin constrict vision toward the rear. Even with the driver's seat at its highest adjustment, however, the h.
Befitting its Zoom-Zoom marketing catchphrase, the Mazda CX-7 is more fun to drive than it is to sit in.
Directional stability at speed, even into the low three digits, is comforting. The brake pedal returns a solid, firm feel, and the vented discs all 'round deliver reassuring, controlled stops when called upon. Driven fast on winding, two-lane roads, the CX-7 tracks cleanly, with minimal body lean despite its somewhat upright stature. Yes, its design default mode when carrying too much speed into a corner is understeer (where it wants to go straight instead of turn), but the electronic stability control system shields all but the most lead-footed driver from ever experiencing this. There is some head toss in quick left-right-left transitions, not a lot, but it's notable.
The steering wheel, brake and accelerator pedals and shift lever are properly juxtaposed for spirited driving, or at least as spirited as is comfortable in the CX-7. In support of which, Mazda points out that the wheel/shifter geometric replicates that in the RX-8 sports car. Over rough pavement, the suspension tends more to stiff than firm, with a hint of harshness. This no doubt contributes to the disappointing amount of road noise the tires transmit into the cabin, which otherwise was fairly quiet, even over poorly graded railroad crossings.
Power from the turbocharged four-banger builds smoothly, with impressive torque at a very usably low engine speed. It's worth noting here that the CX-7 develops more torque (258 pound-feet) at significantly lower engine speed (2500 rpm) than the Toyota RAV4 (246 pound-feet at 4700 rpm) or Honda CR-V (161 pound-feet at 4200 rpm). That's worth noting because it's torque, not horsepower, that propels you from intersections and up steep hills.
However, the CX-7 pays a price with the poorest EPA fuel economy estimates of the group.
Underway, the mechanical tones from the Mazda's engine compartment are decidedly low-key, more buzzy than throaty.
The transmission shifts well and adapts well to different driving situations, quickly learning a driver's preferences and holding lower gears longer and adjusting shift points to match. That's in Drive. Shift into the Sport mode and it executes manually directed shifts smoothly, up or down.
There's some torque steer (where the front tires pull one way or the other, most commonly to the right) under hard acceleration, and we've noticed it in both the front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models. It's somewhat less in the latter, which redirects up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels in extreme conditions.
The Mazda CX-7 is a competent crossover utility vehicle when measured against the competition. It's a bit smaller inside than some of the competition, but not everybody needs or wants room for seven passengers. What it does have is the sporty Mazda look and a good measure of the marque's sporty handling characteristics. The CX-7 has a remarkably energetic engine and an equally accommodating transmission, and it's available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. That easily makes it worth a look.
Tom Lankard filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive the CX-7 in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Mazda CX-7 Sport ($23,750); Touring ($25.500); Grand Touring ($26,300).
Options As Tested
all-wheel drive ($1700); Moonroof/Bose Audio/6-CD Changer package ($1585).
Mazda CX-7 Touring ($25,500).
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