This 2010 review is representative of model years 2010 to 2012.
2010 Mazda CX-7 Sport
When Mazda introduced the CX-7 in 2006, it existed in a class by itself. It was sportier and more powerful than fast-selling, entry-level utility vehicles like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. But it was also more expensive, and therefore failed to attract as many buyers. For 2010, Mazda hopes to remedy this problem by adding a new base engine and tagging it with a lower sticker price. The CX-7 is now priced in line with the best-sellers in the category, and its sporty driving character gives it a competitive advantage over similarly equipped rivals.
The 2010 Mazda CX-7 is offered in four trims: i SV, i Sport, s Touring and s Grand Touring. A new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder base engine is standard in the i trim, while the s gets the carryover 2.3-liter turbocharged four. The i SV comes standard with cloth upholstery, cruise control, air conditioning, power windows, remote keyless entry, Multi-Information Display, AM/FM/CD stereo, auxiliary input jack and 17-inch alloy wheels. The i Sport adds leather to the steering wheel and shift knob and comes with Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. The s Touring gets a power driver's seat, heated front seats, leather upholstery and 18-inch alloy wheels. Among the standard features on the loaded s Grand Touring are automatic climate control, keyless access and starting, a navigation system with a rearview camera, a blind-spot monitoring system, a Bose Centerpoint surround sound audio system, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, a sunroof, automatic xenon headlights and 19-inch alloy wheels. Select features of the s Grand Touring are optional on s Touring and i Sport versions.
Standard safety equipment on all trims includes dual front airbags, front side airbags and side-curtain airbags with rollover deployment, a tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, traction control and electronic stability control.
Under the Hood
The 2010 Mazda CX-7's new base engine is the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that is also used in the Mazda3 and Mazda6. In the CX-7 it produces 161 horsepower and 161 lb-ft of torque. Buyers can also opt for the carryover turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 244 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Both engines come with an automatic transmission: the 2.5 with a 5-speed and the 2.3 with a 6-speed with manual shift capability. EPA fuel-economy ratings are 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway for the base engine, which is offered only with front-wheel drive, 18/25 mpg for front-drive turbo engine and 17/23 mpg for all-wheel-drive turbo iterations.
Mazda's Active Torque-Split All-Wheel-Drive system delivers 100 percent of the power to the front wheels on dry roads in normal driving condition. During aggressive acceleration or when the front wheels begin to slip, up to 50 percent of the torque goes to the rear axle.
Mazda has reworked the interior of the CX-7 for 2010 based on a new, two-tier dashboard philosophy. The controls for the radio and climate system are grouped on the center stack where drivers are used to accessing them. A hooded black screen with orange characters below the windshield shows the displays for these controls, meaning the driver has to look back and forth when making adjustments. A black-and-white (standard) or optional color (with navigation system) Multi-Information Display is also placed at the top of the dash. It shows a second set of readouts for the vehicle information center, trip computer and the available navigation system. Mazda says it chose this location because drivers won't have to take their eyes off the road for long to check those readouts. A cluster of buttons on the right side of the steering wheel controls the second-tier functions, and we found they work intuitively after some familiarization. At only 4.1 inches diagonally, however, the navigation and rearview camera screen is quite small and harder to see than most systems.
While most Mazdas have an upscale look and feel, the CX-7's interior is largely plastic. There are some chrome trim pieces that impart a nice look, and the door panels and center console are well-padded. However, in terms of materials quality, the CX-7's plastic bits and pieces feel hollow and are no better than most entry SUVs.
One of the draws of crossovers is the high seating position that provides a commanding view of the road. The CX-7 manages to balance this with a sporty character. Thanks to a standard tilt/telescoping steering column and plenty of seat travel, most drivers will find a comfortable driving position. The rear seat is roomy, but might be tight when the front seats are moved way back. Comfort in the rear seat is aided by a fold-down center armrest.
The rear seat is split 60/40 and it folds fairly flat to open up 58.6 cubic feet of cargo space. With the rear seats up, there is still a useful 29.9 cubic feet of space in back — plenty for a weekend getaway or trip to the market.
On the Road
Most entry-level SUVs and crossovers offer a dull driving experience. Not so for the CX-7. Mazda says it puts the "soul of a sports car" into everything it builds. In the CX-7 that translates to a fun driving character. Because of the high seating position, drivers will feel more lean or roll in turns than in a sport sedan. However, the CX-7 stays fairly flat and remains composed in most driving situations. Steering is more direct and responsive than in any competitor, and the brakes feel natural and solid.
We found the 2010's ride to be more forgiving than that of previous models. The base CX-7 handled most bumps well. We even found the Grand Touring to ride smoothly, though it might pound over potholes on cold days.
The CX-7's new base engine is well-matched to this vehicle. Mazda wouldn't give a zero-to-60 mph time, but it's probably in the low to mid nine-second range, which is about average for the class. It gets the CX-7 moving admirably from a stop, but lacks the midrange punch to make highway passing a breeze.
By comparison, the s trims' turbocharged engine feels a bit weaker off the line before the turbo spools up. Then it delivers more useful power for passing and highway merging, and motivates the CX-7 to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds. While this engine is shared with the MAZDASPEED3's 263-horsepower version, it isn't as high-strung as that engine, and therefore doesn't build power as suddenly. It's tuned for more comfortable, everyday driving — not sportier or aggressive maneuvering.
Right for You?
Entry-level SUVs and crossovers are popular because they offer wagonlike cargo space with the ride of a sedan. The CX-7 goes a step further by also offering nimble moves. If you're looking for basic transportation, the new base engine makes the CX-7 competitive with the class leaders in terms of price and power. But if you want more fun and amenities, the turbocharged 4-cylinder versions are the right choice.
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.