2011 Mazda CX-7 GT Review

2011 Mazda CX-7

I’ve talked previously about the importance of first impressions and how significantly they influence whether the chequebook is pulled or the potential purchase is pulled. By “first impressions”, I’m not talking about a salesman’s penchant for polyester but rather what the vehicle in question communicates at first sight, followed by first drive.

In the case of this week’s tester, I drew some fairly positive first impressions within moments of espying the 2011 Mazda CX-7 GT, and settling behind its wheel.

Front fenders and grille add flair

The nose of the CX-7 is eye-catching, thanks to the vehicle’s sharply defined front fenders and its gaping lower grille. I like the arrangement for the most part, particularly the pronounced fenders. The remainder of this crossover SUV is pleasant enough but fairly typical of the segment.

On the practical side, the CX-7 is a nice size. It’s sufficiently large to comfortably carry four adults – maybe five in a pinch – while not feeling like a blimp in the Costco lot. Personally, I wouldn’t go any smaller in the crossover segment, and unless there was a defined need, larger would be out of the question too.

A generously sized cargo bay of 1,658 litres appears when the rear seat of the CX-7 is dropped, which nearly doubles the 848 available litres when the seatback is raised. These figures provide realistic room for camping gear and recreational goods – or perhaps a large Fido. Beyond sufficient room and plenty of practicality, the interior environs look and feel good.

Attractive cabin noted in first impressions

Outside of premium marques, I’m not sure anyone in the compact crossover segment supplies a better-designed or more visually appealing cabin. Mazda’s definitely got an edge here. The clean, uncluttered yet simple functionality of my tester’s instrument panel and switchgear really appealed to me.

Checkout the heat/ventilation/air-conditioning controls – does it get any better or easier? The basic audio controls were located on the steering wheel but secondary adjustments, such as bass and treble, required some paging through the touch-screen of my navigation-equipped GT tester. Not ideal, but the standard it seems these days.

2011 Mazda CX-7 Interior

Interior comfort is commendable for the most part. I found adequate head and legroom in all seating positions, but felt that the seat cushions up front were on the short side. I have long legs and really notice when I’ve been short-changed under the thighs; overall though, the seats were notably supportive and more than suitable for long durations behind the wheel.

All-wheel drive or not

As with many crossovers in this segment, the CX-7 can be equipped with all-wheel drive or basic front-wheel drive. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of AWD, despite the small fuel penalty that grip at all four corners inflicts. My tester was of the AWD variety, which meant that in addition to its superior traction, it also benefited from an increase in power.

A normally aspirated, 2.5-litre I4 supplies 161 horsepower to the front wheels of the base CX-7. Move up to the AWD configuration and a direct-injection, turbocharged 2.3-litre DOHC four-banger swirls up 244 horsepower @ 5,000 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque @ 2,500 rpm.

This is the same powerful mill that gave credibility to the Mazdaspeed6 not so long ago. Without going into detail on how it does it, let’s just agree that it is an enjoyable engine to harness. Thanks to turbocharging, the small but powerful mill imbues the CX-7 with plenty of torque-induced performance.

Not only is this engine surprisingly stout and ready to push ahead with nothing more than a breath on the accelerator, it does so without imparting undue harshness. Overall, the turbo’d mill is smooth, quiet and refined. Apart from some minimal initial turbo lag, power is delivered on a well-proportioned, linear basis that’s not always the case with small boosted engines.

Whether opting for AWD or FWD, the CX-7 will arrive with an automatic transmission. In the case of my AWD tester, the autobox was a 6-speed affair, which included a manual mode that I found quite helpful in generating engine braking on long descents.

Uphill, the transmission quickly found the appropriate gear to keep the CX-7 moving without it becoming bogged down or losing momentum. The transmission’s willingness to slot the best cog without belabouring the process adds to enjoyment on the road, which is where Mazda’s crossover is equally adept at managing bumps.

Smooth ride and nimble cornering

Some AWD crossovers tend to deliver a hard ride in favour of agility and handling prowess. Mazda has struck a realistic balance between the two adversaries; both dynamics – ride and handling – are sure to satisfy the typical crossover driver.

Brake performance is well balanced and easy to apportion, and serves as the final dynamic in making the CX-7 a highly pleasurable vehicle to operate.

The last words

I’ve had the opportunity to road test quite a number of small and mid-size crossovers in the last few years. Within its price range, which starts at $26,495 for the FWD version and $29,995 for AWD configuration, it’s my view that the AWD CX-7 is one of the more satisfying within its category.

2011 Mazda CX-7

My top-line GT tester was pegged at $36,690, but that coin included navigation, leather upholstery, heated seats, premium audio, Bluetooth connectivity and many other features.

Fuel economy for the AWD CX-7 with the turbocharged engine is rated at 12.2 L/100km and 8.7 L/100km, city and highway driving respectively. I never achieved that level of efficiency, averaging in the 12 to 13 L/100km range in the city and 10 to 11 L/100km on the highway.

This was a disappointing result but not unexpected given the horsepower and torque of the engine and the AWD format of my tester. It should also be noted though that this engine operates optimally on premium fuel, so therein is another wallet penalty, although it is ok to use regular unleaded.

Despite the fuel penance, there’s plenty to like about the Mazda CX-7 GT – especially its turbocharged mill.