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The 2007 Mazda CX-7 is a totally new crossover utility vehicle. Mazda's CUV 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. Zoom-zoom-zoom.
Crossovers, as they're called, have become the hottest segment in the auto industry. They combine the practicality of a truck-based sport utility vehicle with the agility, smoothness and fuel economy of a car. Just as important, they avoid the stigma that comes with a minivan or station wagon. The CX-7 competes with the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, among others.
The CX-7 fits into Mazda's zoom-zoom mold: sporty but functional; roomy but svelte; snappy but comfortable. It has a surprisingly powerful, 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 CX-7 starts at less than $24,000 for a 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 under $35,000. Though a bit pricier than the prime opposition, the CX-7 excels in ride and handling and offers a navigation system.
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, including over poorly graded railroad crossings.
Power from the turbocharged four-banger builds smoothly, with impressive torque at a very usable low engine speed. It's worth noting here the RAV4 V6's lesser torque peaking at a much higher engine speed. (The RAV4's V6 generates 246 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm vs. the CX-7's 258 at 2500; torque is that force that propels you from intersections and up steep hills.) However, the Toyota offers better EPA fuel-economy ratings (20/28 mpg city/highway vs. the Mazda's 18/24). But betraying their origins in an inline-4, the mechanical tones from the Mazda's engine compartment are decidedly low-key, more buzzy than throaty.
Left in Drive, the transmission adapts very well, quickly learning a driver's preferences and holding lower gears longer and adjusting shift points to match. 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) 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 2007 Mazda CX-7 is a competent crossover utility vehicle when measured against the competition. It may be a bit behind the curve in interior styling and roominess, but not everybody needs or wants room for seven passengers. What is 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.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Tom Lankard test drove the CX-7 in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.