By Steven Cole Smith, SENTINEL AUTOMOTIVE EDITOR
12:00 PM PDT, May 26, 2010
There's a long, long list of very competent sport utility vehicles in the $25,000 range, and really not that much to differentiate them.
So what makes the 2010 Mazda CX-7 unique? Styling, I guess — it's sleek and reasonably contemporary, updated considerably for this model year, but those swoopy lines cost the CX-7 some cargo space and rear-seat room. If a lot of rear space is your central concern, you might be better with something more, well, angular, such as a Toyota Highlander.
Indeed, with the five-passenger CX-7, and its larger seven-passenger sibling, the CX-9, Mazda has tried hard to position itself as emphasizing "sport" over "utility" in its bigger SUVs. Just as important as styling is the CX family's stiffer-than-usual suspension and, with the CX-7, at least the option of a powerful engine.
That suspension and larger-than-average tires and wheels also mean a mildly rougher ride, especially on uneven pavement, and quite a bit of tire noise on coarse concrete. Even so, I'll happily take the rougher ride to get the CX-7's crisp handling. It doesn't feel like an SUV, and that's a compliment.
In a straight line, though, the thrill is gone if you have this 2.5-liter, 161-horsepower four-cylinder engine, mated to a plucky five-speed automatic transmission that tries hard to help the slightly coarse engine motivate the 3,500-pound sport-ute. At least mileage isn't bad, with an EPA-rated 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, on regular-grade gas. This engine, shared with the Mazda6 and Mazda3, is new to the CX-7 this year. Previously, you could only get the now-optional turbocharged engine, which gave the CX-7 an abnormally high base price.
You can, of course, get that 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that pumps out 244 horsepower, and rides on 18- or 19-inch tires and wheels, instead of the standard 17-inchers. That model is also offered in all-wheel-drive, as well as the standard front-wheel-drive. With all the options, the turbo version of the CX-7 can hit almost $33,000, pricey in this class.
Inside, the test CX-7, called the Sport model, had all we needed: There's little evidence of cost-cutting and it has a lot of standard equipment, including plenty of safety features such as stability control, traction control and side and side-curtain airbags. The test model had options that included a $1,750 "convenience package" that added heated front seats, a power driver's seat, a power sunroof and a rear-view camera. With a few other smaller options, plus shipping, the list price was a reasonable $25,540.
The 2.5-liter four-cylinder had more than adequate power with two aboard, but I have to suspect that with five passengers and some luggage in the back, acceleration would be pretty leisurely.
All things considered, the CX-7 is one of the most appealing mid-sized SUVs. If you like your SUVs particularly sporty — or sporty-looking, at least — the CX-7 remains near the head of the pack.
2010 Mazda CX-7
Base price: $22,340
Price as tested: $25,540
EPA rating: 20 miles per gallon city driving, 28 mpg highway
Details: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive SUV with a 2.5-liter, 161-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a five-speed automatic transmission.
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Length: 184.3 inches
Width: 73.7 inches
Overall impression: Stylish, sensible people mover, so long as you don't need to move more than five people.
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