Whether you have a growing family and are stepping up from a small, sporty car or looking to downsize a little bit, either from a minivan, or from a truck-like SUV, it's likely you'll have vehicles such as the 2010 Mazda CX-7 on your list. Really tall station wagons with cargo-friendly configurations and touches of rugged styling, these vehicles have become immensely popular in just a few years and are looking like the future middle of the market.
Since its introduction for 2007, the CX-7 has been a little sportier-and a little pricier and less fuel-efficient-than most of the other choices. So Mazda often lost out in the last round due to practical-minded shoppers.
With new, less expensive base models of the CX-7, powered by a more fuel-efficient non-turbo four-cylinder engine-and priced more than $2,000 below last year's base CX-7-Mazda
is hoping to attract those more frugal shoppers to this sporty crossover, while still appealing to the performance-oriented crowd that originally flocked to the CX-7.
The new base engine for the 2010 CX-7-offered on new ‘i' models-is a familiar one; it's the same 2.5-liter in-line four-cylinder that goes into the Mazda6 and Mazda3. And except for manufacturing location, it's also the same engine that's installed in the Ford Fusion, as well as the Ford Escape, along with other Ford
and Mercury products-including the Mazda-badged Tribute.
The 2.5-liter makes 161 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque, delivered only through a five-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. Those who want all-wheel drive will still have to step up to the Touring or Grand Touring turbocharged models.
In the CX-7, the 2.5-liter is vibration-free (thanks to balance shafts) and quite smooth-sounding.
It's not quite as vocal as the turbo engine and some might say it sounds more refined. With the 2.5, Mazda resorted to the old trick of giving it a very aggressive throttle tip-in, which makes it feel perkier than it is. That's unnecessary here though as the 2.5 seems to have plenty of torque off the line-full-throttle starts break the front tires loose for a moment. The automatic transmission is responsive and smooth, even on downshifts, while shifting over to the manual gate allows you to control each shift (forward
down, back up, as it should be).
For those who want to go with the more powerful 2.3-liter DISI (direct-injection) turbocharged engine (on ‘s' models), Mazda has improved fuel economy by introducing several minor changes to the DISI engine that allow it to reach efficient operating temperatures faster and use less fuel under light load. EPA ratings now stand at 18 mpg city, 25 highway (up 2 on the highway) with front-wheel drive and 17/23 with all-wheel drive. More costly premium fuel is recommended for
the more powerful engine, however it's now tuned to run on regular.
With the 2.5-liter, EPA ratings stand at 20 mpg city, 28 highway, and based on what we saw in our preliminary drive, that's reasonable. We averaged about 18 miles per gallon on a twisty 20-mile driving loop that involved about 1200 feet of elevation gain and very aggressive driving, then nearly 23 mpg over a gentler 25-mile loop over the same terrain.
Overall, shoppers are going to find the 2.5 adequate for most needs, but for those who buy the 2010 Mazda CX-7 with its sporty image in mind the turbo engine still better fits the appearance. During normal driving, the 2.3-liter turbo engine accelerates the CX-7 almost effortlessly; downshifts aren't always necessary as 90 percent of peak torque is achieved from 2000 all the way up to 5000 rpm. However, the tradeoff is a slightly coarser sound versus the 2.5.
There's another reason why the 2.5-liter models move just fine: they're not as portly. They weigh just under 3500 pounds-considerably less than the turbo models' curb weight of 3,767 with front-wheel drive and 4,001 with all-wheel drive. We drove a 2.5-liter i Sport model back to back with an s Grand Touring AWD, and the latter didn't bring the huge increase in performance we expected.
Across the board, the CX-7 isn't going to disappoint those who enjoy driving; and most will be surprised at how well such a tall vehicle can handle. The CX-7 is hard to fluster, even around tight corners, and although its steering feel isn't quite as nicely weighted and direct as the Mazda5 (a minivan!), it's a joy to hustle through the curves.
Mazda has also made some minor improvements aimed at reducing noise and vibration in the CX-7. All models get additional insulation materials in the lower door panels and windshield pillar moldings-aimed at reducing wind and road noise-while models with the turbocharged engine now get additional hood insulation along with insulating materials around the top of the front struts.
For 2010 there are some appearance improvements, but honestly they're quite minor. All CX-7 models get a revised front fascia with a grille design that looks a little more flared and aggressive, also including a larger Mazda logo. Foglamp bezels and the rear bumper have also been retouched.
Inside the changes are a little more noticeable and noteworthy. Seating surfaces have been redesigned. Cloth or leather is offered in the turbocharged models but base 2.5 models have just cloth. The cloth upholstery is what most automakers are moving to nowadays-a coarse and grippy yet soft-feeling weave that's very comfortable and breathable but looks like it might attract lint and fuzz.
The lower-priced 2010 Mazda CX-7 models really don't look much different from the turbocharged ones. Wheels are one of the most noticeable differences; the base SV and Sport get 17-inch alloys instead of 18- and 19-inch designs, and turbocharged Touring and Grand Touring models get other detail extras like turn-signal-integrated mirrors and chrome-finish door handles. All models now have a redesigned information display, mounted top and center, that's a lot easier to read than the one in last year's model; models with navigation get color.
Touring models add leather upholstery, while Grand Touring trims get automatic climate control, a SmartKey entry system, a moonroof, heated mirrors, the nav system, rain-sensing sipwer, and xenon HID headlamps. All models but the base SV get a Bluetooth hands-free interface-Bluetooth streaming audio is also offered-and for the first time the top-of-the-line Grand Touring gets a Blind Spot Monitoring System. Mazda says that the latter is the first in its competitive set. Bose Centerpoint audio is optional.
What the new base CX-7 does in our estimation, curiously, is render the four-cylinder Tribute stillborn. The CX-7 is now in the same price range as the more affordable Tribute models, which are essentially rebadged Ford Escapes; but the Tribute just doesn't keep with Mazda's zoom-zoom image. The automaker only sells a few thousand a year, and we'd guess most of them are sold at the back of the lot.
The 2010 Mazda CX-7 now effectively has two sets of rivals. Competing with the 2.5-liter models are the Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V, and new four-cylinder Chevrolet Equinox, among others, while the turbo CX-7 takes on the Subaru Tribeca, Ford Edge, Volkswagen Tiguan, and perhaps even Acura RDX.
If you loved the look of the CX-7 last time around but crossed it off the list, you shouldn't hesitate to check it out again for 2010. The numbers might make the right sense this time.