It’s a fact that not all crossover vehicles are created equal, not just in terms of quality and appeal but also in their focus and job description. It’s a broad market segment with some crossover’s spinning all four wheels almost equally well on tarmac as on dirt tracks. Others are far more directed at suburban duties relying on looks and ride comfort to build a loyal fan base. Then there’s Mazda’s CX-7 which has been an enigma since its release back in 2007. With curvaceous styling and a focus on performance and dynamics the CX-7 blazed its own trail and built its own niche. Now for 2010, the CX-7 has received a mid-life facelift and is rediscovering its slot in the competitive crossover market. Car and SUV got into the driver’s seat of the reworked CX-7 to find out exactly what makes it tick.
Aesthetically, the CX-7 defies any SUV squareness, instead opting for full-figured curves and swooping lines. The 2010 refresh uses some minor styling changes to bring the CX-7 into line with the rest of Mazda’s current lineup. The most obvious change is the redesigned front end that boasts a larger five-point grille and new fog-light housing. On our lower-spec tested GSX model there were some classy touches like silver trim framing the windows and indicator repeaters in the side mirrors. The GSX has 17-inch alloys that are an attractive design but struggle to fill the arches. The top model CX-7 Limited comes fitted with 19-inch wheels which are better matched to the pumped up sheet metal.
Inside the CX-7 there’s a new high-grade dark cloth trim lining the supportive and well positioned front seats. The instrumentation has also been reworked to include Mazda’s latest display screen that shows fuel usage, audio information and doubles up as a monitor for the onboard reversing camera. All switchgear is sensibly laid out and the orange/blue nighttime illumination is a real feature. Stereo and cruise control buttons are neatly housed in the leather-wrapped steering wheel which will prove handy for shorter drivers who will have to stretch to access the centre control stack. Everything feels well screwed together and while interior quality has improved, the contrasting silver trim may not have the same long-term durability as the main surfaces. In terms of occupant space there is plenty of shoulder and leg room for front passengers, the back seat provides ample head room and leg room is adequate but not class leading. Standard equipment for the CX-7 in GSX trim includes a tilt and rake adjustable steering wheel, remote central locking, climate air-con, one-touch power windows and a 6-disk CD player with aux input. A Bluetooth hands free phone kit is available as a dealer-fitted accessory.
Sitting under the bulging bonnet is Mazda’s 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine that’s shared with both the Mazda3 SP25 and the Mazda6. There are no mechanical changes to the 4-cylinder unit for the facelift and power output remains at 120kW with 205Nm of torque. While it can’t match the 175kW turbocharged motor of its Limited model sibling the GSX is still no slouch. The CX-7 is undeniably one of the most road-focused crossover vehicles in the market. It moves off the line with haste and makes for an engaging drive all round. It’s not gifted with huge amounts of mid-range torque so open road overtaking can require space, but it is a free-revving engine which responds well to being worked hard.
Mated to the engine is a 5-speed activematic auto transmission transfers power exclusively to the front wheels on the CX-7 GSX. It’s a smooth, quick-shifting unit and while the GSX model doesn’t have AWD capability it’s 211kg lighter than it’s more expensive stable mate. The lighter kerb weight and naturally-aspirated engine help the GSX achieve a quoted fuel economy of 9.4l/100km combined, but you’ll need to drive with fair restraint to get it.
Sharp on-road dynamics are a real feature of the CX-7 and even in front-drive-only form this still holds true. There is some body roll but it works hard to disguise its elevated ride height with good balance and predictable handling through tight corners. Press too hard and it will understeer but the limits of the CX-7 are undoubtedly higher than most competitors. The good dynamics aren’t achieved at the cost of ride comfort which is compliant and plush. The steering is lightish but direct and becomes more communicative as you get closer to the vehicle’s limits.
It’s clear the CX-7 is best suited to sealed roads and suburban duties, with the exception of the raised ride height it offers few off road benefits over a standard wagon or hatch. That said, the CX-7 is nicely manageable on gravel roads, tracking around corners with ease and staying settled. The onboard stability control systems are also very good by not being over obtrusive but remaining effective in purpose.
Other safety features on the CX-7 include front, side and curtain airbags, ABS brakes, traction control, 3-point seatbelts for all with a seatbelt warning system, engine immobiliser and a two-stage door unlock function.
While the crossover vehicle segment is already broad and continues growing with new models, there are few competitors that can challenge the CX-7 for its pure road focus. It’s a niche in the crossover market that the CX-7 has created by its sheer pace, progressive styling and solid dynamic ability. The facelift is a good effort that gives the interior a more up market feel and also furthers the unique aesthetic. But the CX-7’s true strength remains in it’s ability to offer the driver a cockpit and overall driving experience that feels lively and spirited while still being a very practical family hauler.
Price: $38,995 (Limited $47,595)
What we like:
- Distinctive styling inside and out
- Strong petrol engines
- Excellent handling for a crossover vehicle
What we don’t like:
- No diesel option in NZ
- Can be thirsty
- Bluetooth not standard
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
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Mazda CX-7 GSX (2010) — Specifications
Engine type 2.5 litre in-line 4‘cylinder 16 valve DOHC S-VT
Engine capacity 2488cc
Bore and stroke 89.0 x 100.0mm
Compression rate 9.7:1 9.5:1
Maximum power 120kW @ 6000rpm
Maximum torque 205Nm @ 2000rpm
Throttle control Electronic port fuel injection
Fuel tank capacity 62 litres
Activematic (auto) transmission 5-speed
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded (91RON)
Fuel consumption — combined 9.4 litres per 100km
Emission standard Euro IV
Brake type Front Ventilated disc Rear Ventilation disc
Brake diameter Front 296mm Rear 302mm
Steering type Hydraulic power assist steering
Suspension Front MacPherson strut Rear Multi-link
Turning circle kerb to kerb 11.4m
Ground clearance laden 147mm
Overall height 1645mm
Overall length 4693mm
Overall width 1872mm
Track Front 1627mm
Cargo room Volume(VDA) 400 litres
Kerb weight 1589 kg
Towing capacity: Braked 1000 kg Unbraked 750 kg