WHAT IT IS
The CX-7 is a medium-small five-passenger hatchback sportwagon available in either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive versions and with or without turbocharged engine.
Prices start at $21,700 for the base i SV with front-wheel-drive and 2.5 liter (non-turbo) engine and run up to $33,035 for an AWD-equipped s Grand Touring with 2.3 liter turbocharged engine.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2010
Significant tweaks for 2010 include a new nose piece, updated interior and improved fuel-efficiency from the optional turbocharged engine.
Looks as sharp as an RDX - for $10k less. Handles more like a sports car than a heavy-footed crossover SUV. Really scoots when equipped with optional 2.3 liter turbo engine.
WHAT'S NOT SO GOOD
Isn't as practical as something like a RAV4, CR-V or Equinox. Base 2.5 liter engine underpowered for the weight of this vehicle. No manual transmission available; no V-6 offered.
UNDER THE HOOD
Base model CX-7s come equipped with a 2.5 liter, 161 hp four-cylinder and five-speed automatic. This engine comes only with a five-speed automatic - and only with front-wheel-drive. The optional engine is a turbocharged 2.3 liter four rated at 244 hp. It, too, comes only with an automatic but you do get a six-speed unit. All-wheel-drive is available optionally with the 2.3 liter engine.
When so equipped, up to 50 percent of the engine's power is kicked back to the rear wheels for improved grip in low traction snowy and wet weather driving conditions. Otherwise, close to 100 percent of the engine's output goes to the front wheels. The non-turbo CX-7 takes about 10 seconds to reach 60; the turbo-equipped model is much quicker, getting there in about 7.5 seconds (with FWD; the slightly heavier AWD-equipped model gets to 60 in about 7.7 seconds).
Fuel economy with the base engine is 20 city, 28 highway; with the turbo engine and FWD, it's 18 city, 25 highway. With AWD, that drops slightly to 17 city, 23 highway. Max tow rating is 2,000 lbs. (with turbo engine).
ON THE ROAD
The CX-7 is a typical Mazda product; it looks fun - and it is fun. Think of it as an RX-8 wagon rather than a "crossover" - let alone an "SUV." Higher-speed handling is pretty tight for a vehicle with 8.1 inches of ground clearance, which ought to make it feel top-heavy but doesn't. There's give for potholes but grip, too. Excellent steering - direct, no lag time, not too boosted, not to heavy.
Mazda's supension tuning is just excellent. Among the best available, even when you don't take price into account. Which is why it'd be nice if a manual six-speed were available - and really ought to be, given the CX-7's let's go! personality. An available manual transmission would also go a long way toward improving the base car's less-than-inspiring straight-line feel. There is adequate power for normal driving but the CX-7 is such a sporting vehicle that "adequate power" is less than ideal. 161 hp and a five-speed automatic - that's it - doesn't fit rest of the car's demeanor, or its handling capabilities. A six-speed would also help mask the power deficit (161 hp is marginal in a 3,496 lb. vehicle) and make an already very appealing car even more so.
Of course, there's always the optional 2.3 liter turbo. No worries here, as far as power or performance goes. In fact, the Mazda's 2.3 liter engine is 4 hp stronger than the 2.3 liter, 240 hp turbo four found in the otherwise very similar - but bucketloads of cash more expensive - Acura RDX. A manual transmission option would be nice with the turbo engine, too - but the 83 hp bump in output makes up for many things, including the absence of a clutch pedal.
AT THE CURB
Appearance-wise, the CX-7 is closer to the RDX, Crosstour, Venza and other sporty wagons than SUV-esque competitors in its price class like the RAV4, Equinox and CR-V. It is sleek where they are boxy; lithe where they are chunky. There's nothing wrong with either look, of course. It's just a question of which you prefer. To Mazda's credit, they tried something different rather than produce a Mazda knock-off of the SUV/crossover template. Some reviewers have critiqued the CX-7 for sacrificing practicality (in the form of roominess and cargo capacity) to style, but this is only partially fair.
Yes, the interior is cozier than in something like the Equinox. Realistically, the CX-7 is a four-person vehicle. You can carry five (adults) if absolutely necessary, but not very comfortably. But this is also a True Fact about most if not all "five passenger" compact and mid-sized crossover wagons and light-duty AWD-equipped SUVs.
On the other hand, the Mazda has almost as much cargo room (59 cubic feet) as the seemingly more sizable Equinox (64 cubic feet), almost exactly as much as the luxury-priced RDX (61 cubic feet) and more than the Honda Crosstour (51 cubic feet). The Venza (70 cubic feet), CR-V (73 cubic feet) and RAV4 (also 73 cubic feet) do have considerably more cargo room, but (to turn things around a bit) sacrifice looks/sportiness to deliver it. So, again, it comes down to which look you prefer - and what your needs are.
Some worthwhile mentions about the CX-7's design/layout include a nearly foot-deep center console well that will swallow a standard laptop computer, the multiple tie-down points in the rear cargo area - and an amazingly spacious engine compartment, at least in 2.5 liter equipped models, that should make basic DIY service such as oil and filter changes a snap.
If you go by the stats - general layout/available power/performance/features - as well as subjectives such as styling and driving zip, the CX-7 should be compared to cars like the RDX, Crosstour, Venza and other sporty wagons like that -rather than models like the CR-V, RAV4 and Equinox. But most reviewers don't make that comparison because of the huge price difference between the $21k to start CX-7 and the pushing $30k to start (and more) RDX, Crosstour and Venza. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't look at it this way. Because on so many important points, the CX-7 is very arguably the best "entry luxury" sport wagon on the market - even if its not official.
The only area where I found a slight cheap-out that betrayed some cost-cutting efforts was the jamb area that's exposed when the rear liftgate is opened. It wasn't clear-coated (though the door jambs were). It's a very, very small thing in my opinion - and nothing I'd worry much about given the thousands of dollars in your pocket if you bought the CX-7 over an RDX or Crosstour, etc.
All major current safety features (front seat side-impact air bags, curtain air bags for both rows, ABS, traction and stability control) are standard. A back-up camera is available optionally. The standard comprehensive warranty is three years or 36,000 miles; five years or 60,000 miles on the powertrain. No great shakes there.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Despite a few small flaws - including the not-so-great warranty (a consideration for potential buyers of the turbo version, especially) the CX-7 is still a breath of fresh air in a pretty stodgy segment - and a great value-priced alternative to a pricey (and arguably, overpriced) Crosstour, Venza or RDX.