2009 Mazda CX-7 Review


2009 Mazda CX-7 on The Auto Channel(select to view enlarged photo)
2009 Mazda CX-7

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2009 Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring All-Wheel Drive

Mazda makes the best-selling sports car ever, the MX-5 Miata, and the only successful series of Wankel rotary-piston powered sports cars, in the RX-7 and RX-8 line. Those are more than mere "halo vehicles" meant to provide an image that may rub off on more pedestrian models, because there is more than a little Miata or RX in every Mazda.

Even Mazda crossovers. Especially if the Mazda crossover in question is the CX-7.

With its sleek, RX-8-inspired lines and well-raked windshield, the CX-7 looks like a cross(over) between a sports coupe and an SUV. The underhood specification -- a turbocharged and intercooled twincam 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection and variable cam phasing for 244 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode -- says "sport" a little more loudly.

Which leaves the chassis to finalize the deal. Here, requirements for a sports coupe (or sedan) and an SUV would seem contradictory. For a sports level of control and road manners, a correctly-tuned suspension, low center of gravity, and light weight are paramount. For utilitarian purposes, a large amount of interior space, reconfigurability of that interior space, and ease of access for passengers and/or cargo are paramount. This means height and, because of the extra material needed for that height, more weight and a higher center of gravity than a sedan or coupe. Mazda has managed the necessary compromises very well. The fully-independent suspension is tuned more firmly than usual for a crossover, but correct matching of spring and damping rates and quality components ensures good ride comfort. Road manners and the driving experience are closer to sports sedan than sport-utility, yet the CX-7s utilitarian aspects are not ignored. The crossover driving experience is most commonly describable as "family wagon", with the emphasis on functionality and practicality, not excitement. While the CX-7 is as functional and practical as any of its competitors, it also offers a driving experience far better than the class average. Family wagon meets sports car.

And because the CX-7 competes in the entry-luxury crossover segment, against a host of more-than-competent machinery from around the world, all of the expected comfort and convenience options should be available, if not standard equipment. Cabin electronics technology is advancing at a quick rate, but Mazda has kept the CX-7 current. All models now have MP3CD-capable audio systems and auxiliary input jacks for personal music player hookup.

That model lineup is Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. Front-wheel drive is the standard drivetrain configuration, with Active Torque-Split all-wheel drive optional for all. I've just spent a week with an all-wheel drive Grand Touring model with a rather comprehensive list of options fitted. It had a fine combination of distinctive styling, a comfortable, stylish, and fully-functional interior, and unique Mazda character in the drivetrain and chassis departments. Sports car meets sport-utility, Zoom-Zoom plus room.

APPEARANCE: If not exactly sports coupe (or even sedan) in looks, neither is the CX-7 a utilitarian box. The 66-degree windshield rake is its defining styling element. The sloping roofline and kick-up of the lower edge of the windows above the rear wheel further suggest a sports intent. The passenger cabin is car, not SUV, in entrance height. The lower body is higher than a car's, for interesting and definitely non-car proportions. With RX-8 influence in its front fascia, headlights, and prominent wheel arches, the CX-7 is also definitely not a traditional truck of an SUV. But it does successfully combine the high eyepoint of an SUV with sporty Mazda styling.

COMFORT: With no pretensions to off-road use, the CX-7 sits little higher than a sedan. Access is, if anything, easier than a sedan or coupe, as the seat cushion height will be near hip level for most people. This also allows a comfortably upright seating position for all occupants. Driver visibility is good, aided by the small front quarter windows that allow vision into what could be serious blind spots. The "double-roof" instrument panel, so-called by Mazda because of the anti-glare hood ("roof") over the instrument cluster and the second "hood" near the base of windshield, is unique, but does not sacrifice function to style. Passenger space is equivalent to a large mid-size sedan, meaning that four adults fit in comfort, with a fifth person possible in the rear for short distances. The seatback folds with a 60/40 split, and liftover to the cargo area is not overly high. With the rear seat in place, there is more room than in a sedan trunk. With the rear seat folded, there is a nearly six-foot long load floor. At the Grand Touring level, the CX-7 is sport-contemporary in style and upper-middle class in basic appointment. Seating surfaces are leather, but trim is metal-look plastic, not aluminum, if that matters. (It doesn't.) The climate system is controlled through twin knobs, but with the Technology Package, the audio and navigation system are interfaced through the LCD touch screen. The interface is reasonably intuitive, and the Bose audio system has a great sound. A mini-jack in the console for an external music player has been added since the car's debut two years ago.

SAFETY: Mazda's Advanced Impact energy Distribution and Absorption System (MAIDAS) helps the CX-7 to receive a five-star safety rating for frontal and side-impact crashworthiness, and four stars for rollover protection from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The fuel tank is surrounded by major structural components, to minimize the chance of leakage in a rear impact. Six airbags, dual front, front side, and head curtain, are standard.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The CX-7's rigid unibody also helps its decidedly sporty ride and handling characteristics by providing a solid mount for its sport-tuned MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension. It has a firm but comfortable ride, with moderately stiff springs and shocks offset by relatively high-profile 60-series tires on 18-inch wheels. Steering is direct and appropriately weighted, and there is no noticeable torque steer despite the engine's strong torque output. The Active Torque Split all-wheel drive system, which can divert up to 50 percent of the engine's torque to the rear wheels, definitely helps there. It also helps in slippery conditions. Large antilock ventilated disc brakes all around, with twin-piston front and conventional single-piston rear calipers, ensure quick stops. Standard traction control and dynamic stability control systems help keep the CX-7 stable.

PERFORMANCE: "CX-7" has nothing to do with the late rotary-powered RX-7. Which doesn't mean that there is nothing interesting under the hood. There most definitely is, in the form of a direct fuel-injection, turbocharged and intercooled version of Mazda's 2.3-liter twincam, 16-valve four-cylinder engine. Direct injection allows a higher compression ratio, for greater power, lower emissions and fuel consumption, and minimal turbo lag. Forged connecting rods and crankshaft ensure longevity. The engine is similar to that used in the recent Mazdaspeed6 and Mazdaspeed3, but features a different turbocharger and other modifications to develop horsepower and torque at lower revs, as befits the CX-7's mission. With a maximum of 244 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque at a low 2500 rpm, response to throttle input is fast and strong. There is no need to keep the revs up. Despite its weight, the CX-7 can get up and move quickly. The six-speed automatic is a key player in its performance, with smooth, quick shifts and a wide gear ratio spread. For most normal use it works perfectly well in D, but it can be manually shifted for optimum performance and enjoyment on country roads or in traffic. Even then D works surprisingly well, as the transmission control logic holds gears and even downshifts descending hills.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2009 Mazda CX-7 combines Zoom-Zoom with room-room and comfort.

SPECIFICATIONS
2009 Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring All-Wheel Drive

Base Price			$ 28,400
Price As Tested			$ 34,175
Engine Type			Turbocharged, intercooled
				  dual overhead cam,
				  16-valve,aluminum alloy inline
				  4-cylinder with direct fuel injection
				  and variable cam phasing
Engine Size			2.3 liters / 138 cu. in.
Horsepower			244 @ 5000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			258 @ 2500 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic with manual-shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		108.3 in. / 184.0 in.
Curb Weight			3927 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		16.1
Fuel Capacity			18.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane premium unleaded gasoline
Tires				P235/60 HR 18 Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc all around,
				 double-piston front and single-piston
				 rear calipers, ABS, EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multi-link
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 part-time all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		16 / 22 / 19
0 to 60 mph				7.9  sec


OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Rear Bumper Guard			$     50
Scuff Plates				$    145
Technology Package - includes:
  240-watt Bose surround-sound audio system,
  DVD touch-screen navigation system with
  voice activation, rearview camera, in-dash
  6CD changer, power moonroof, keyless
  entry and starting, perimeter alarm	$ 4,485
Underguard package - includes:
  front and read underguards		$   445
Destination charge			$   650

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