The Mazda CX-7 is sporty, svelte, and distinctive, while still being functional, roomy, and comfortable, with decent interior space and all the right safety equipment. It's available with a snappy four-cylinder turbo like the Kia Sportage SX or the Acura RDX, or a naturally aspirated four-cylinder like the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4.
We find the Mazda CX-7 fun to drive, with excellent high-speed stability and responsive handling. The CX-7 excels in cornering, something Mazdas are known for.
The CX-7 is in its fifth year, introduced for 2007 when crossovers (SUVs with the chassis of a car, not truck) were a new idea. They offer the SUV high seating position and cargo capacity, with the more agile steering and smoother ride of a car. Also, fuel mileage is better than with a heavier and boxier truck-based SUV. The CX-7 was revised for 2010, with increased body rigidity, stiffened dampers, and reduced noise, vibration and harshness. Inside, it got a new dashboard with electronic equipment upgrades. The biggest change for 2011 is a new model, the i Touring, which adds equipment to the base model with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder.
Under the hood is 2.5-liter engine making 161 horsepower and using a 5-speed automatic transmission. A 244-horsepower 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is also available, using a 6-speed automatic.
The base 2.5-liter engine is well matched to the CX-7, providing adequate acceleration from a stop, though it lacks a bit in midrange punch. It's smooth and works well with the 5-speed automatic transmission, well enough that the costlier and more complex 6-speed isn't needed, reserved instead for the sportier turbo.
The turbocharged engine has more midrange power than the base engine, making passing a much easier prospect. Power builds smoothly from a standstill. The 6-speed automatic transmission shifts well and adapts well to different driving situations with impressive torque at low engine speeds.
The base engine is EPA rated at 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway. You pay for the extra power in the 2.3-liter turbo, with fuel mileage of 17/24 mpg with FWD and a lackluster 15/21 mpg with AWD.
Even though it's been around since 2007, the Mazda CX-7 sports the latest version of Mazda's styling theme, and it still looks sleek and fresh. The interior makes no less of a statement than the exterior. Some design features work well, others not so well. Overall, the CX-7 interior seems chunky and a bit complicated, not as friendly and functional as the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4.
In interior space, the Mazda falls between CR-V and RAV4 in front-seat legroom and rear-seat headroom, but has the least rear-seat legroom by a substantial two inches, with 36.4 inches. The Kia Sportage beats the CX-7 too, with 37.9 inches. In cargo space with the rear seat folded, the CX-7 is a distant third behind the Honda and Toyota, but it beats the Kia.
Over rough pavement, the suspension is firm while not being stiff, but sharp bumps can be harsh. And despite good engine compartment and underbody insulation, the tires transmit road noise into the cabin, which otherwise is fairly quiet. We discovered the CX-7 AWD worked reasonably well on unpaved roads.