A second look at the sporty Mazda CX-7 | VailDaily.com

A second look at the sporty Mazda CX-7

by Andy Stonehouse
Photo special to the Vail Trail

There are plenty of times in life when you’d like a do-over. And when it comes to a very subjective field like automotive reviewing, I occasionally pine for the opportunity to reconsider some of the observations I’ve made about vehicles I get to test, often for too short a time, and not always in High Country circumstances.

After a very long drive ” a much more realistic chance to fully absorb the essence of a car ” I realized I need to make amends to one make and model in particular. That’s the Mazda CX-7 crossover, the slightly shorter, non-third-row-equipped version of the CX-9 (which Motor Trend magazine recently picked as its sports utility of the year), a vehicle that turns out to be much more enticing than I’d originally suggested it was.

I had a CX-7 for a more typical weekend test drive earlier this year, and while I used plenty of glowing praise to describe the comfortable people-hauler (“offering the solidity and crispness of a sports car and the adaptability and functionality of a small SUV”), I was unnecessarily harsh on the CX-7’s engine.

Using my regular leadfooted methodology, it seemed to me that the 244-horsepower 2.3 liter 16-valve DOHC four-cylinder turbocharged engine was great at jumpy, aggressive starts and cruising power ” but gave up the ghost way too early while flooring it up a dry Floyd Hill, not to mention being burdened by excessive turbo lag.

However (and here’s where the revisionist history comes in), when Mazda was nice enough to loan me a similar all-wheel drive CX-7 to make a largely inexplicable Halloween weekend road trip to the Vegoose music festival in Las Vegas, the CX-7 never let me down.

Fifteen-hundred miles of highway driving melted away, and unlike my last time behind the Mazda’s wheel, I never felt at a loss for power, nor did the turbo lag really seem like that big of an issue.

Actually, the only issue I really had was the one facing all of you who normally drive SUVs: the reality that 18 to 19 miles a gallon, on turbo-friendly premium fuel, makes long trips a very pricey experience.

All totaled, my wallet would have been happier if I had actually flown to Vegas rather than making the jaunt in the 3,900 pound CX-7, which only generated the higher 22 mpg highway figure advertised on the window sticker when I was going downhill.

Maintaining 75 mph+ freeway speeds certainly inflated the tab, even when occasionally substituting not-exactly-premium fuel, which is permissible (the engine won’t stop operating, for instance) but didn’t produce the same power and efficiency.

The trade-off was that the CX-7’s back seat was large enough to sleep in, fetal style, which I did at the rest stop east of Green River and pondered doing on the way back – every hotel room in Southern Nevada being spontaneously sold out that weekend. But my fear of meeting up with latter-day members of the Manson Family, or, more frighteningly, Utah Highway Patrolmen and their tasers, caused me to think otherwise and I lodged indoors in St. George.

Fold down the back seats (a less comfortable sleeping option, I decided, at 4 a.m.) and you’ll get 59 total cubic feet of storage, for those of you traveling in more normal circumstances.

Mazdas are known for being relatively austere in their interior adornment, but it’s a welcome break from the overly gaudy style employed by other manufacturers. Piano black plastic surfaces, simple red-lit instruments and controls (including an ingenious Sirius satellite radio readout which can scroll to spell out band names as lengthy as …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead) are all a nice break from the gaudier information overload of many vehicles.

The Mazda’s audio and air control layout is just a little peculiar, with large, shiny socket wrench-styled knobs operating volume, fan speed and temperature, but it’s easily learnable.

Leather seating (heated, up front) was, as I say, comfortable enough for roadtrip napping, and featured the CX-7’s only concession to vanity ” weird crocodile skin-inspired highlight strips.

All-wheel-drive lends itself to a particularly intuitive steering feel, the independent front MacPherson struts, and front and rear stabilizer bars imbue the CX-7 with a ride that’s crisp and solid. It’s also parked on some nicely designed 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels and comes to easy stops with four-wheel disc brakes.

I thought the six-speed automatic transmission did a great job of making intelligent shifts but was also fully self-adjustable in the SportShift mode.

Exterior design is excellent, with a broad, sweeping, sculpted look that makes it seem much larger than it really is (wheelbase is 108 inches). From the large honeycomb-patterned grilles and sporty nose to the athletically arched wheel wells, it’s cutting-edge cool without being off-putting. Very crossover-ish, but a much more attractive, angular variation on that theme than competitors such as the Ford Edge or the Nissan Murano.

Chrome-edged windows, including small aircraft-style micro-windows in the A-pillars, chrome door handles and chromed dual exhaust ports contribute to the classiness.

Well-designed and nicely sloped, nearly rectangular third tier windows allow interior visibility that’s not at all claustrophobic; a dynamic set of wraparound brake lamps (the interior lamps kind of shaped like MasterCard symbols) offer an almost tuner level of detail.

So it goes. Sometimes things seem better the second time around. I will, however, be calling Southwest Airlines the next time I get a hankering for a weekend in Sin City.

Price as tested: $31,250

Powertrain: 2.3 liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine, six-speed transmission

Includes: 18-inch wheels, xenon headlights with manually adjustable fog lamps, leather-trimmed seating, heated front seats, power driver’s seat, automatic climate control, power moonroof, 240-watt Bose Surround Sound stereo with Sirius satellite radio

EPA mileage: 16 mpg city, 22 highway

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