2011 Mazda CX-7 i Touring FWD Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Mazda CX-7i

Knowledge Base: Mazda Buyers Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2011 Mazda CX-7i Touring FWD

As manufacturer of the most popular sports car ever, the MX-5 Miata, and the only successful Wankel rotary-piston powered sports cars in the RX-7 and RX-8 series, Mazda likes to claim that there's at least a little sports car in all of its vehicles. Applied to sedans and coupes, this can be believable. But crossovers?

Absolutely, if the crossover in question a Mazda CX-7. The CX-7 made its debut as an early-release 2007 model in 2006, back when "crossover" meant "cross between car and truck" and "sport" was something you drove to. The CX-7's introductory ad campaign positioned it as a cross between a crossover and a sports car -- something that seemed like pure ad hype.

Until I first drove a CX-7. Mazda's designers and engineers had successfully overcome the potential handicap of its higher stance and had given it better handling characteristics than other crossovers of the day, without any comfort compromises. It felt and acted like a good sports sedan, albeit a high one. Its drivetrain helped there, too -- power to the front or all wheels from a direct fuel-injected, turbocharged, and intercooled 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine with 244 horsepower. Sport met utility, and room met zoom-zoom. CX-7s are used as safety cars at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. I've been around that challenging track in one. It got around quite quickly, and in a composed manner not expected of a crossover.

When the CX-7 got its first freshening for the 2010 model year, there was an unusual addition to the lineup -- a new model series with a naturally-aspirated 161-horsepower 2.5-liter engine and front-wheel drive only. Brand dilution?

Not even. Greater sales potential, a lower price, and lower cost of ownership are more likely. Not everyone wants turbo power, and insurance costs are lower without that turbo. With the same freshened styling, structural reinforcement, and interior refinements as the turbo versions, the naturally-aspirated CX-7 models have all of their comfort, versatility, and handling advantages. And, as I discovered during a week with one, horsepower is not lacking.

Mazda's naming convention is "i" for regular models and "s" for sport, and that is now applied to the CX-7. i models are SV, Sport, and, new for 2011, Touring. The more upscale s is offered in Touring and Grand Touring trim.

A CX-7i Touring has been my daily driver for the past week. Its combination of substance and style should appeal to anyone looking for a near-luxury crossover but not needing the high level of performance of the turbocharged s models.

APPEARANCE: To bring it in line with newer Mazdas, the CX-7 was given a new front bumper fascia with the larger version of the company's signature five-point grille that characterizes the latest Mazda3, RX-8, and MX-5. The rear bumper has also been restyled. The signature 66-degree rake of the windshield remains, as does the roofline and shape and proportions of the side windows and fenders. It's a successful combination of high-eyepoint crossover with sports design cues.

COMFORT: Inside, the CX-7 is roomy, stylish but not over-styled, and useful. Interior space is comparable to a large midsize car, but the CX-7 is higher than a car, giving a good view of the road and surroundings, even (head turned) to the rear quarters. Touring trim level means standard leather-trimmed seating, steering wheel, and shift knob, a tilt-and-slide sunroof, automatic climate control with filtration, a 9-speaker Bose AM/FM/6CD(including MP3 and WMA)/Sirius/auxiliary jack audio system, Bluetooth® phone connectivity, and an information display including rearview camera mounted in the top center of the restyled "double roof" instrument panel for easy visibility with minimal eye refocusing. Front seat comfort is first-rate, and driver comfort and attention are enhanced by a power-adjustable driver's seat and manual tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel. A large, lockable, console box provides secure storage space and attachment for any external audio player. The rear seat offers more than ample space for two or even three passengers, helped by a flat floor. A 60/40 folding seatback and center armrest with cupholders give the usual crossover versatility. The ceiling is higher than in a car, for both excellent headroom and luggage capacity. With the rear seat folded, a bicycle is an easy fit, fully assembled.

SAFETY: Mazda's Advanced Impact energy Distribution and Absorption System (MAIDAS) helps the CX-7 to receive high ratings for crashworthiness 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. Ventilated antilock disc brakes at all four wheels, with standard traction and stability control ensure the the CX-7 goes where it's pointed and stops securely.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Attention to details pays off. Unibody rigidity has been improved further by computer-aided engineering analysis of the CX-7's structure. That showed that thicker materials, reinforcement of existing material, and bonding and welding instead of merely welding in key areas could improve handling response and decrease noise. So that was done, as was fitting of improved insulation materials and redesign of the windshield area moldings to further reduce noise. The result is a quiet, comfortable ride. Add a sporty but still supple tuning to the fully-independent MacPherson strut/multilink suspension and just the right amount of assist for the engine speed-sensitive power steering and the CX-7 is much more enjoyable to drive than the average midsize crossover.

PERFORMANCE: No turbo? No problem for most people, and those who need can get. Those who don't need the extra power get the 2.5-liter twincam alloy four also found in the Mazda3 and Mazda6 under the hood. Here it has 161 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 161 lb-ft of torque (at 3500 rpm) and is matched with a five-speed automatic with manual-shift mode. It's lighter in weight than the 2.3-liter turbo engine in the s models, and features twin counter-rotating balance shafts for smooth running. It has very good low- and mid-range torque, just what is needed to deal with everyday traffic. Yes, it's a second or so slower to 60 mph than the turbo -- which is not a major difference for most people. Trade that for better fuel economy. EPA ratings are 20mpg city, 28 highway, with 21 during my week of mostly city driving in wet weather. The last turbo CX-7 I drove was good for 16/22/19. The 2.5 is quick enough, and quiet and smooth in operation.

CONCLUSIONS: With the addition of a naturally-aspirated 161-horsepower 2.5-liter engine, the Mazda CX-7 will appeal to more people.

SPECIFICATIONS
2011 Mazda CX-7i Touring FWD


Base Price			$ 26,390
Price As Tested 		$ 27,935
Engine Type			dohc 16-valve aluminum alloy inline
				 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing
Engine Size			2.5 liters / 152 cu. in.
Horsepower			161 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			161 @ 3500 rpm
Transmission			5-speed automatic with manual mode
Wheelbase / Length		108.3 in. / 184.3 in.
Curb Weight			3496 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		21.7
Fuel Capacity			16.4 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P215/70 HR17 Bridgestone Dueler
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc all around,
				  ABS, DSC, TCS standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 28 / 22
0 to 60 mph				est 9  sec
Towing capacity 			1500 lbs.

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
fog lights				$ 425
Pearl paint				$ 200
Rear bumper guard			$ 125
Destination charge			$ 795

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