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Car reviews - Mazda - CX-7 - 5-dr wagon range

Launch Story

Mazda logo17 Nov 2006

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

GET in early, because we predict another chartbuster from Mazda. The CX-7 shows just how far the Japanese company has come in the decade since it clawed back from the abyss under Ford’s control, to become a byword for a provider of affordable, dynamic, stylish and even aspirational cars. We cannot help but wonder if Ford hasn’t somehow forgotten the formula, because there is a very real chance that the CX-7 might shake both Falcon and Territory sales in one hit, while giving competition as diverse as the Volkswagen Golf, Lexus IS250 and Volvo XC90 a real run for their money. Sure it’s not without flaws. But the latest Mazda SUV really is that good.

We like:
Head-turning style, amazing value, practical cabin, standard stability control, smooth turbo performance, reasonable fuel economy if driven carefully

We don't like:
No manual option, some road-noise intrusion, cabin lacks million-dollar looks of CX-7 exterior, no GPS or rear camera or Bluetooth



"IF THE regular SUV is Arnold Schwarzenegger, the CX-7 is Keanu Reeves."

Using the film world to explain his intentions when devising the sinewy new CX-7, its affable program manager, Shunsuke Kawasaki, painted a colourful pop-cultured picture of what this vehicle – intended to be one of Mazda’s best-sellers – is all about.

Is the Keanu connection bodacious, or totally outrageous? Time to find out.

In the flesh, this sleekest of SUVs is actually reminiscent of one of the Mazda’s modern back-catalogue classics, the swoopy second-before-last 323 Astina, from 1994 to 1998 – if only for its equally audacious take on what is usually a very conventional style of car, as the company’s own Tribute shows all too well.

When Mazda says that its RX-8 provided inspiration, you can think of nothing but the rotary engined sports car when assessing the exaggerated wheel arches, V-shaped bonnet and low, broad stance.

That '60s Coke-bottle hip kink may also just as likely evoke an XC Falcon wagon, although the reality is that the CX-7’s meticulous detailing and surfacing are very Mazda-now.

There’s no getting away from this car’s appearance – it looks as sharp as Keanu does in The Matrix.

Mazda claims that the CX-7 is in a class of its own in terms of competition and driveability.

Neither is correct really. Everything costing around $45,000 – from an Audi A3 to a Volvo V50 via a Ford Territory – is game, while BMW’S flawed X3 represents much the same sort of sporty SUV thing.

Yet classlessness and athleticism lay at the very heart of the CX-7’s mass appeal.

Just like the Mazda3 has been for the Hiroshima-based firm, this is another aspirational Mazda, so it will make it on a broad range of sub-$50K shopping lists.

If you require practicality, it will seat five safely and soundly, with enough luggage space to suit most families’ needs.

Speed is easily attained quickly and smoothly, thanks to the lively 2.3-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder petrol engine that will dig deep with the help of an excellent six-speed automatic gearbox, and not sound too strained or breathless doing it.

In manual mode this Activematic transmission will also hold on to any selected gear until the rev limiter is breached. We saw 140km/h in third gear.

On gradients, two-up and with air-con on, maybe a little more punch would have been appreciated, but the fact is, over a 200km stretch, we were always shocked at how much faster we were travelling when the CX-7’s typically-modern-Mazda instruments were consulted.

On the subject of read-outs, the fuel consumption result varied wildly depending on driver attitude – all were seemingly thrashed, yet the tally ranged from high-11s to high-15s in the litre-per-100km stakes.

There is also little doubt that the CX-7 turns and corners much like a well-sorted sedan, with sufficient weighting from the steering, combined with eager direction changes and flat, stable tracking.

Unsealed roads revealed a planted, controllable side to proceedings, as if the CX-7 was right at home flying down a dirt track.

You do hear and/or feel the stability control and rear-wheel traction keeping things neat and tidy here, although that’s not a bad thing since the car still makes you feel like a good driver, and you’re having plenty of fun doing it all the while.

But, ultimately, for all the Mazda’s sorted dynamic aptitude, it will still turn wide if hurried through a series of curves, betrayed by the CX-7’s front-wheel drive bias, significant mass (around 1750kg) and jacked-up height penalties. It’s still great for an SUV though.

On a variety of surfaces, there is probably a tad too much road noise finding its way into the cabin. Mazda must truly be over hearing this criticism by now. Familiar road sampling will reveal if this is the case.

That sexy window line – Mr Kawasaki’s favourite CX-7 feature – does not do much for reverse parking, and the absent rear camera option is arguably more of a pain than the missing satellite navigation and Bluetooth connectivity.

Memo to Mazda: If it wants Lexus, VW, Audi, BMW and Benz buyers to consider a CX-7, then the vehicle must go the whole nine yards and offer all the toys. Heated seats, a sunroof and X5-ripoff wheels just aren’t enough.

The little luxuries are essential in the CX-7 too, since the sporty and stylish cabin does not feel up to the quality standards of the Germans – although there is absolutely nothing missing in the Mazda in terms of comfort and space, while both models are outstandingly well equipped for the money.

Factor in the sensational pricing and excellent driveability, and the latest Mazda SUV seems to have more than enough sex appeal to absolutely devastate the many and varied combatants slugging it out in the mid-$40,000 price bracket.

And, so yes, in the final wash, that Keanu/CX-7 analogy is not really all that bogus at all.

Both are mainstream players, have rugged good looks (making them not heinous at all on the eyes), and surprisingly versatile – if ever so slightly pedestrian – dynamic range.

Indeed, for the budget family SUV buyer, the CX-7 would make an excellent adventure.

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