Mazda CX 7

Joe Loriowriter

First introduced for 2007, the Mazda CX-7 was on the vanguard of several trends among crossovers, but one might ask: Where's the payoff?

Certainly we've seen a move toward more overtly stylized shapes, even at the expense of utility. And here's the CX-7, with its steeply raked windshield, hop-up beltline, and pronounced wheel arches in its front fenders; yes, it's compromised a bit in rear-seat room, and more so in maximum cargo space, but its looks are certainly distinctive enough to stand out from the compact crossover herd.

More and more carmakers are attempting to make their crossover entries handle better than the minivans and SUVs those vehicles are often replacing. Again, the CX-7 was there early. Although a high-riding crossover based on a front-wheel-drive chassis is never going to have the nimbleness of a good passenger car (or station wagon), the CX-7's well-weighted steering and lack of body roll—the latter delivered without the cost of a stiff ride—makes it much more lively and agreeable than the norm.

One trend that's just starting to take hold—among vehicles of all types—is to reduce cylinder count but deliver equivalent power through supercharging or turbocharging. Mazda was at the forefront here too, with its rather brave decision to forego a V-6 engine and equip the CX-7 instead with a turbocharged four. (A normally aspirated four has since been added as a base offering.)

In this case, however, the results have been less satisfactory. The 2.3-liter turbo four was borrowed from the (since discontinued) Mazdaspeed6; for crossover duty it was retuned for better low-end response, at a cost of 30 hp (244 hp vs. 274 hp). And while the turbo four's midrange punch and overall acceleration are adequate, stomp on the gas at a dead stop and the delayed reaction immediately tells you this is no V-6.

Worst of all, though, is that the turbo four's promised fuel savings are never delivered. Equipped with four-wheel drive—one of the crossover vehicle's main reasons for being—the CX-7's turbo four at 17/23 mpg actually gets worse gas mileage than the Nissan Murano V-6 (18/23 mpg), the Toyota RAV4 V-6 (19/26 mpg), or the Hyundai Santa Fe V-6 (20/26 mpg). With front-wheel drive, the CX-7 is able to beat the Murano, but still trails the six-cylinder Toyota and Hyundai. (The Mazda's base four-cylinder, at least, is more on a par with its four-cylinder competitors.)

The result of all Mazda's prescience has, unfortunately, been very disappointing sales for the CX-7. In the admittedly grim year of 2009, Mazda moved only 20,000 CX-7s, against more than 50,000 Muranos, some 80,000 Santa Fes, nearly 150,000 RAV4s, and more than 190,000 CR-Vs. So, being at the forefront of the latest trends might be good, but the CX-7 shows that it's no guarantee of popularity.

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