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2008 Mazda CX 7 Grand Touring AWD

The 2008 Mazda CX-7 stands out as one of the most convincingly car-like of its crossover ilk, but ultimately, one wonders: why not just get a car instead? The Mazda's chassis dynamics are its chief attribute. The steering is nicely weighted and CX-7 is agile without resorting to an ultra-stiff suspension, the plague of so many high-riding crossovers with sporting pretensions.; I suspect the credit goes to the CX-7's relatively light curb weight (under 2 tons!)-even the doors and rear hatch feel lightweight. The lack of fat perhaps is what gave Mazda the courage to install a turbocharged four-cylinder where others would use a V-6. That once seemed an odd choice, but now it looks wise, what with buyers turning toward smaller engines. Unfortunately, while the turbo four is to be commended for mustering the brio to move this crossover along-albeit, perhaps not with the same ease as a torquey V-6-it really doesn't pay the expected dividends at the pump. EPA ratings of only 16/22 mpg for the all-wheel-drive version, and even the two-wheel-drive model's 17/23 mpg, can't match the fuel economy of the V-6-powered Mazda 6 wagon (17/25 mpg, adjusted to reflect current EPA test procedures). Nor can the crossover equal the wagon's cargo space or rear-seat room (the latter admittedly a close call). Unfortunately, Mazda dropped the 6 wagon for 2008, after a lackluster sales effort resulted in lackluster sales. The new, redesigned Mazda 6 is offered as a sedan only.

So those who need some measure of utility are shunted into the crossover chute. The CX-7 isn't a bad way to go, but even in Grand Touring trim, it can't approach the interior plushness of the CX-9. This example's optional technology package ($4485 for an upgraded 6-disc sound system by Bose, a rearview camera, navigation, a sunroof, and keyless ignition) was a mixed bag. The rearview camera is a virtual necessity, as the CX-7, like so many crossovers, is styled without the least regard for rearward visibility. The keyless ignition, on the other hand, had the annoying habit of beeping repeatedly at you upon entering or leaving the car. Overall, the CX-7 is not an unpleasant car substitute, but even here, it's hard to see the progress it's made over an actual car.

Price: $29,050/$34,175 (base/as tested)