Review and photos by
Peter Bleakney, Autos.ca
With the mid-sized crossover segment hotter than a two-dollar pistol, it’s pretty easy for vehicles to get lost in the shuffle as the latest offerings get all the media attention and advertising dollars. The hot commodities for 2011 are the new Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento and refreshed Ford Edge. Last year the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain basked in the limelight.
And way back in 2006 (introduced as a 2007) it was the radical Mazda CX-7 with its steeply raked windscreen and sculpted front fenders that had the tongues a-waggin’.
A recent stint behind the wheel of the front-wheel-drive 2011 CX-7 GX drove home the fact that shoppers should not simply default to what they spy in the glossiest ads. This Mazda holds up as one of the better crossovers on the market, especially if style, build quality and driving dynamics are high on your priority list.
For 2010, the CX-7 underwent a mid-life makeover, getting Mazda’s leering corporate visage, interior upgrades, structural strengthening and improved sound insulation. Of more significance was the availability of an entry-level GX front-wheel-drive-only model powered by a naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre four putting out 161 hp and 161 lb.-ft. of torque.
My GX tester was fitted with the $2,995 Luxury Package that added power moonroof, leather upholstery and door trims, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated seats (eight-way power driver’s with manual lumbar support and four-way power passenger), Bluetooth and automatic climate control.Priced at $27,995, this got the CX-7 under the 30 grand threshold, as the only model pervious was the pricier all-wheel-drive turbo version.
For 2011, the GX’s price drops by $1,500 to $26,495. To get into all-wheel-drive, the GS starts at $29,995.
This is on top of the GX’s standard 17-inch alloys, rain-sensing wipers, telescopic steering wheel, traction and stability control, brake assist and Multi Information Display (MID).
First impressions of the CX-7 GX are favourable. The interior is stylish and well screwed together featuring soft-touch plastics and nicely padded arm rests on the doors (one can’t overstate the importance of the tactile experience), a multi-function steering wheel and some tasteful dark-chrome accents.
It’s a handsome and airy cabin with excellent forward vision, coming across as a couple of steps up in quality from most rivals. It looked especially rich with this tester’s tan leather.
There is a plethora of buttons on the centre console, but they are logically arranged and well marked, so learning your way around doesn’t take much time. The upper dash houses the LCD Multi Information Display that offers trip computer functions and maintenance info.
Demerits include deeply recessed major gauges that are hard to read in bright sunlight, single-setting seat heaters that are too toasty, and the MID which oddly has a crisp white readout on the left side, and contrasting red and dated digits on the right. Nothing serious, but a transgression that would have a designer unceremoniously booted out of the back door at Audi.
This DOHC 2.5-litre four that generates 161 hp and 161 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,500 rpm also does duty in a number of other vehicles, including the Mazda6, Mazda3, Mazda5 and Ford Escape. Mated to a smooth five-speed manumatic (no manual transmission is offered), it provides sufficient urge and doesn’t get thrashy when pushed like many large displacement fours – thanks in part to its integrated balance shafts and the six rubber isolators that support the powertrain.
On the highway, the GX settles into a relaxed and stable cruise, showing 2,000 rpm at 100 km/h. It was remarkably free of wind and road noise.
Structurally, it is very solid yet feels light on its feet. And yes, at 1,588 kg, it’s a relative lightweight. The ride leans towards the firm side, but this pays off in sporty handling.Over twisty blacktop this entry-level CX-7 shows the typical attributes of a Mazda: fine steering feel, good body control and a general dynamic cohesiveness that suggests the development engineers do enjoy driving.
Back seat room is typical for this class, but cargo area falls behind the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Hyundai Santa Fe, offering 848 litres behind the rear seats (Toyota and Honda are just over 1,000 litres, the Santa Fe at 968) and 1,658 litres with the back seats folded. This is about 400 litres shy of that trio, and in line with the Nissan Rogue.
Official fuel consumption figures are 10.4 L/100 km city and 7.2 L/100 km highway on regular fuel. I came in at around 9.5 L/100 km.
The CX-7 may be into its fifth year, but it still looks crisp and modern and delivers a satisfying driving experience. The fact that this entry level GX has come down $1,500 in price for 2011 is good news – except for those who purchased one last year.
Pricing: 2011 Mazda CX-7 GX
Base price: $26,495
Options: $2,995 (Luxury Package of power moonroof, leather upholstery and door trims, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated seats (eight-way power driver’s with manual lumbar support and four-way power passenger), Bluetooth and automatic climate control)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $31,185
Buyer’s Guide: 2011 Mazda CX-7
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)