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Sunday, May 22, 2011

2011 Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring, an AW Drivers Log Car Review:

the 2011 Mazda CX-7.
The turbo four in the Mazda CX-7 is rated at 244 hp.

NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: The Mazda CX-7 is one of the more handsome midsize crossovers on the market to my eye. The sheetmetal hangs smartly, and the fender flares, curves and piercing headlights create a dashing image for a kiddie hauler.

Inside, it's a bit plain, other than the glowing reddish-orange dials for the tachometer and speed. The seats are comfortable, and the mostly black setting presents well.

The CX-7 drives with a little sportier ethos than most utes in this class, and it channels the spirit of Mazda. That's an accomplishment, since not every vehicle feels like its namesake. The steering has an appropriate feel, with just enough weight at certain times, and the chassis is comfortable at nearly all times. The Mazda CX-7 is well-mannered yet not floaty.

This tester is well-equipped, and it's an easy ute to recommend.

AUTOWEEK.COM EDITOR DALE JEWETT: This is one comfortable cruiser. The exterior has just enough sporty styling cues--such as the beefy wheel-arch flares, the aero-shaped high-intensity discharge headlamps and the slight upward jog of the beltline at the C-pillar--to set it apart from the growing number of boxlike crossovers on the road.

Inside, this well-equipped Mazda CX-7 is comfy. The wide center stack puts all of the controls within easy reach--although the layout contains many buttons and knobs, meaning it can require more than a quick glance from the road to find the function you seek. And the fact that the large knob in the center of the stack handles tuning for the radio--not the traditional knob on the right--fools most passengers for the first few minutes.

The stack is topped by two small screens--a full-color monitor for the navigation and backup-camera functions, and a monochromatic orange readout for HVAC, phone and radio functions.

For me, the navigation/reverse LCD screen is too small--which again can pull your eyes off the road for too long or too frequently to get the information. This is an issue shared with our long-term Mazdaspeed 3, which uses the same system. I'll take my nav data on a bigger screen in the middle of the center stack, please.

From a driving standpoint, the 2011 Mazda CX-7 skews toward the sporty side of the spectrum. There's plenty of pep from the turbocharged four-cylinder engine--I would have guessed it was a six-banger before looking at the specs. The suspension is firm but not too harsh. Pothole season is in full bloom in Michigan. You hear every road imperfection the CX-7 rolls over, but it won't spill your coffee.

The driver's seat is supportive, with a strong heater unit. Steering feel is OK, although given the sports nature of this crossover, more feel and less assist would be welcome.

Rear-seat legroom is decent, even with the front seats at maximum rearward travel--regular adults won't feel as if they've been banished to the penalty box back there. And the cargo area swallowed a sizeable Costco run without the need to lower the rear seatbacks.

This 2011 CX-7 has almost every bell and whistle available from Mazda, which I'm certain pushes its sticker price close to the $40,000 mark. This crossover is luxurious, but you can get the same goodness and save a few thousand if you're careful checking off option boxes on the order sheet.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: The as-tested price is rather shocking. However, this is the range-topping Grand Touring trim with AWD and the upgraded turbocharged engine. Just for the heck of it, I went to the Mazda site and built a fully optioned Grand Touring model, and it came to $37,360!

Besides the powertrain stuff, what does our $34,260 tester come with? Well, there's xenon headlights, fog lights, 19-inch wheels, rain-sensing wipers, moonroof, automatic climate control, power front seats, keyless entry, push-start ignition, Homelink, Bose sound system, navigation and a backup camera. All of that is standard on the Grand Touring. So it's certainly a well-equipped vehicle we have here.

This actually is one of the top midsize crossovers in my book. Being a Mazda, you can expect sharper than average handling, quick-witted steering and ultimately a more entertaining drive. Mazda does a good job of tuning all of its cars for a sportier feel. That equates to a ride that isn't as comfortable, but for the people who are willing to give up a little in the ride-quality department for better handling reflexes, Mazda is your car company. I'm not saying the Mazda CX-7 is overly jarring, because it isn't. It's just rougher than, say, a Ford Edge and a Chevrolet Equinox.

The upgraded engine has good midrange punch and the automatic gearbox is smooth. However, don't bother with the transmission's manual shift mode. It's slow and will just enrage you. The brakes offer strong grab with good pedal feel.

The cabin is OK. The overall design is nice with attractive trim pieces and an intuitive layout for all the controls on the center stack. The seats are comfortable, too. One common complaint from CX-7 owners I've talked to is the inexpensive-looking carpet. One person described it as a step above felt and said it's impossible to vacuum out dirt particles.

Again, this is one of my favorite midsize crossovers overall. If you can do without some of the bells and whistles on the Grand Touring, you can get a Touring model in AWD which starts at $28,750. That's certainly a lot easier on the old wallet.

EDITOR WES RAYNAL: The Mazda CX-7 is one of my favorite small utes. It's good-looking inside and out and has ample power (but no more, and it's a little noisy), a smooth transmission and zippy handling for a ute. It's a pretty nice vehicle.

It could be better, though. The ride is a bit too firm with Detroit's potholes sending small shivers and shakes into the steering column. I thought it was noisy, especially on the freeway. It's noisier than, say, a Ford Edge.

The interior is a bit of mishmash to me, with multiple textures, hard and soft plastics, etc.

I don't know that I'd want one over an Edge, but I definitely would take it over something like a Dodge Journey, though.

A couple of years ago, I was in Switzerland driving one of these with Mazda's Sky diesel four-cylinder, which didn't have nearly the power this four does, but it had quite a bit more torque. That car had a six-speed manual transmission, the diesel was torquey and the CX-7 was fun to toss around in the Swiss hills. Supposedly that combo is coming here in 2012. We'll see. It could be good.

2011 Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring

Base Price: $34,135

As-Tested Price: $34,260

Drivetrain: 2.3-liter turbocharged I4; AWD, six-speed automatic

Output: 244 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm

Curb Weight: 3,787 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 19/16.9 mpg

Options: Rear bumper guard ($125)

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