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2007 Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring AWD Review

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2007 Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring AWD

I have seen the future, and it can be described in one word: crossover.

A crossover, in an automotive sense, is a vehicle that combines properties of two or more pre-existing vehicular types to make something new. The now-standard crossover, call it "first generation", is SUV plus car, to make something with the style, space, and interior versatility of an SUV but with car-like construction to make it lighter in weight, for better economy. Mazda entered that market in model year 2001 with its Tribute.

Nearly every automaker has at least one first-generation crossover in its lineup. Beyond that, to distinguish products in an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace, life gets interesting. Product development thinking must go something like this: "People like SUV space and versatility, but SUVs are getting old. They're not cutting-edge trendy anymore. We need something new, something different. Why don't we combine SUV space and versatility with...(fill in the blank here)?"

Mazda also makes sports cars, in the form of the best-selling sports car ever, the MX-5 Miata, and the Wankel rotary-piston powered RX-8. So, crossover as SUV plus sports car is a natural for Mazda. The sports car part, obviously, would be in vehicle dynamics and styling cues, as a convertible two-seater is limited in space and versatility. So consider the concept a cross between a sports coupe and an SUV.

And such a vehicle is the 2007 Mazda CX-7. It combines five-passenger SUV space and cargo/passenger versatility and an available all-weather oriented all-wheel drive system with coupe-like styling and a chassis and drivetrain worthy of a sports coupe. Three trim levels are offered - standard, Touring, and near-luxury Grand Touring.

I've just spent a week with an all-wheel drive Grand Touring CX-7 with the Technology Package option group. The combination of the Grand Touring model's high comfort equipment level and the Technology Package's upgraded audio system, DVD navigation system, and backup camera made for a vehicle very close to the established luxury crossovers in comfort, convenience, and gee-whiz gadget levels. But the CX-7 outshines its competitors on the road. The high-tech engine offers first-rate performance, and that is not diminished by the six-speed automatic. As good as that driveline is, the chassis is even better. The CX-7 comes as close to sports coupe handling as I've ever experienced in a crossover SUV. It combines style with substance, and room with zoom.

APPEARANCE: At first thought, combining sports coupe and SUV styling cues would seem to be unlikely. The two genres are as similar as chalk and cheese. Sports coupes are low and sleek; SUVs are tall and boxy. But Mazda has done the job successfully. While the CX-7 won't be thought of as a sports coupe, neither is it tall and boxy. There is nothing tall and boxy about this vehicle - the 66-degree rake of the windshield 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, 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 rugged off-road use, the CX-7 sits only a 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. Passenger space is equivalent to a 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, with a stylish dark strip down the center, but trim is metal-look plastic, not aluminum, if that matters. (It doesn't.) 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. The small front quarter windows provide vision through what would otherwise be serious blind spots. 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.

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, may help 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" presumably means Crossover, larger than Mazda6, and 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 Mazdaspeed6, but features a different turbocharger and other modifications to develop horsepower and torque at lower revs. With maxima 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 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.

CONCLUSIONS: Mazda Zoom-Zoom melds with utility in the CX-7.

2007 Mazda Grand Touring AWD

Base Price			$ 28,000
Price As Tested			$ 32,600
Engine Type			Turbocharged 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
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		18 / 24 / 20
0 to 60 mph				7.9  sec

Technology Package - includes:
  power sunroof, Bose(r) surround-sound audio
  system, in-dash 6-CD changer, touch-screen
  DVD-based navigation system, rear-view camera		$ 4005

Destination charge					$  595