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First drive: Mazda CX-7 will rock the SUV world

Sleek: Edgy styling is just one of CX-7's trumpcards.

Mazda's slick new CX-7 crossover undercuts Territory, Murano, Tribeca and Kluger

17 Nov 2006

SENSATIONAL pricing, sleek styling, a high equipment level including stability control, and a four-cylinder 4WD drivetrain form the foundations of Mazda’s CX-7 assault.

On sale from December 1, the four-door, five-seater SUV starts at $39,910 (plus on-roads). Most pundits predicted a $45,000 kick-off. Interestingly, Australia is only the second market in the world to see this Mazda, after America, beating even Japan. New Zealand and Singapore are next.

The CX-7 significantly undercuts the cheapest five-seater all-wheel drive versions of the Ford Territory (by $4080), Toyota Kluger (by $2080), Nissan Murano (by $12,080) and Subaru Tribeca (by $14,080).

However, it isn’t quite in the South Korean price league, with the new Holden Captiva SX and Hyundai’s Santa Fe 2.7-litre V6 equivalent showing a $3920 and $1920 advantage over the Japanese-made SUV respectively.

Two CX-7 versions are available – base and Luxury, with the latter coming in at $45,560.

Both feature DSC, plus ABS anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, front, front side and side curtain airbags, air-conditioning, powered windows and mirrors, remote central locking and audio controls, a trip computer, cruise control, auto-on/off headlights, a six-stacker CD/MP3 player and fog lights.

The CX-7 Luxury adds leather upholstery, a sunroof, heated front seats, a powered driver’s seat, a Bose premium audio unit, climate control air-conditioning, minor exterior trim embellishments and hated side mirrors.

Currently no GPS satellite-navigation system, or Bluetooth connectivity, is available, while an Apple iPod MP3 interface costs around $220 extra.

Unique in the SUV segment is the CX-7’s 2.3-litre, turbo-charged and intercooled, Direct Injection Spark Ignition (DISI) 16-valve twin-cam four-cylinder petrol engine.

Derived from the unit utilised in the Mazda3 and Mazda6 MPS models, it delivers 175kW of power at 5000rpm and 350Nm of torque at 2500rpm.

These figures are down on the MPS’ 15kW and 30Nm figures respectively, but the reduction, says Mazda, was deemed necessary as part of the CX-7’s Mazda-first, Aisin-supplied, six-speed automatic ‘Activematic’ gearbox application.

A six-speed manual version may arrive later if sufficient demand exists for it. Developed specifically for Europe, it uses the ‘Full Monty’ 190kW/380Nm version of the 2.3-litre DISI engine, along with a sportier suspension set-up.

Other key engine specifications for the local CX-7 include a 9.5:1 compression ratio, a Hitachi-Warner turbo-charger that is different to the one found in the MPS models, a 15.6psi maximum boost pressure, and a 95 RON minimum premium unleaded petrol requirement. Speaking of fuel, the CX-7’s 11.5L/100km ADR 81/01 fuel-consumption average equals the Holden Captiva’s and betters the Kluger and Murano (12.3), Tribeca (12.4) and Territory (12.8), but trails the Santa Fe V6’s 10.6 result.

Drive is delivered to the front wheels, until sensors detect slippage or a loss of traction, based on engine information, wheel speeds, and whether the ABS and DSC are in operation. Then the “Active Torque Split” all-wheel drive system, brought in from the 6MPS, apportions up to 50 per cent of torque to the rear wheels.

Mazda does not include the 6 MPS’ limited slip differential, but a computer-controlled coupling is fitted within the rear differential.

The monocoque construction CX-7’s platform architecture has plenty more Mazda 6 componentry, including a redevelopment of its MacPherson strut front suspension design.

The new-generation MPV people mover, launched this year in Japan but not destined for Australia, also uses this set-up.

Out back, the CX-7 boasts a revised, widened and reinforced version of the independent, multi-link rear suspension found in the Mazda5/Premacy II, another non-starter for Australia. Ventilated disc brakes feature all round, sizing up at 296mm in the front and 302mm behind.

22 center imageA speed-sensitive rack and pinion power steering system is employed, requiring 2.9 turns lock-to-lock and presenting an 11.4-metre turning circle.

Mazda Australia has specified 18-inch alloy wheels shod with 235/60 R18 tyres on both models, backed up by a 16-inch temporary spare wheel.

However a skinnier spare will be fitted until about February next year. Early CX-7 owners will be offered a replacement – which also involves a slightly redesigned casing – at no charge in due course.

Towing capacity is 1600kg braked, and 750kg unbraked, for the 1745kg to 1771kg CX-7.

According to Shunsuke Kawasaki – program manager for the CX-7 – the aim was to develop a ‘sport crossover’ SUV, with the theme ‘Metropolitan Hawk’ adopted, to conjure up the high-tech imagery of a modern society like New York City, combined with the powerful, sleek beauty of the bird of prey.

The body was designed by the same team responsible for the Mazda6, and clothes a wheelbase that, at 2750mm, is 130mm longer than that found on the CX-7’s continuing smaller sibling, the Tribute.

At 4680mm, it is also 280mm longer than the latter, as well as 47mm wider while, at 125mm lower, the CX-7 is a far sleeker design, as evidenced by the 66-degree windscreen rake – when most SUVs’ are set at around 58 degrees.

The upshot here is best-in-class aerodynamics, with careful attention paid to airflow underneath the body.

In contrast to the boxy Tribute, the company sought to inject sports car styling cues into its second-only passenger-car based SUV, as evidenced by the Mazda RX-8-like front wheel arches, tapered window line and aggressive overall stance.

The rotary-engined sports car also provided inspiration for the CX-7’s interior, with red-lit, three-dialled instrumentation, a high central console divider and a liberal use of metallic trim employed to emphasise a driver-focussed environment.

At 1758mm, the total load area exceeds many rivals’ efforts, aided by split/fold rear seats that drop with a flick of a lever, and a reversible, toughened plastic floor cover.

Mazda expects about 30 per cent of 550-monthly CX-7 customers will be ex-Tribute owners searching to move up, with up to 80 per cent of initial sales made up of the Luxury model, before that figure settles down to approximately 60 per cent.

So why is there no seven-seat CX-7? That’s the domain of the larger, conceptually similar CX-9, due early in 2008. Plus, Mazda is keen to court childless urban couples or small families with this one.

In the future, we might see a larger variation of the 105kW/360Nm 2.0-litre MZR-CD four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that recently arrived in the Mazda6 range to debut in the CX-7 sometime in 2008. Expect it to be of around 2.2 litres in size.

The odds are high that Mazda Australia is awaiting the availability of an automatic gearbox with the MZR-CD engine first before it commits to such an engine for its sleek SUV.

Mazda CX-7 pricing:
CX-7 (a) $39,910
CX-7 Luxury (a) $45,560

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