Six days on the road … in a Mazda CX-7
summit daily auto writer
Test drives are funny things. Think about the actual amount of real-world seat time you got to experience (probably with a dealer in the back, chatting your ear off) before you committed to your last car … I’d bet it wasn’t that much.
When I recently had the opportunity to take a six-day, 2,300-mile test drive in the new edition of the Mazda CX-7 crossover-you might call it a road trip, but I call it a long-distance professional evaluation-the result was a level of intimacy with a vehicle that I’ve never had in the last six years.
And while I didn’t quite succumb to sleeping in the back seat (I did on a weekend trip to Vegas in a similar Mazda a few years back and it wasn’t the worst experience ever), I got to see what the CX-7 does on a few 12-hour days and how it handled everything from 100 mph headwinds in Wyoming to endless, road-drenching summer rainstorms, plus a July snow squall in Glacier National Park.
CX-7 got a minor refresh for 2010, with most of the changes being a new and additionally angular and smiley chrome and plastic mesh grille and redesigned seating.
The change I probably would have appreciated the most on the long, long, lonely holiday weekend road was an optional, non-turbo but still 161-HP four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, which raises the highway mileage to about 28 mpg.
The more mountain-friendly AWD model with its turbocharged 2.3-liter four-banger, cranks 244 horses worth of power and means constant, peppy passing abilities and confident cruising, even in those hellacious winds.
But I only got 22.5 mpg, with premium gas recommended as well. I pondered the reality that the Corvette I recently drove gets better gas mileage, as I checked out my bank statements following the trip.
Over the long haul, CX-7’s ride might be interpreted as being a little brisk and noisy, despite 19-inch wheels and a not insubstantial size and stature, but it’s all relative; I did a similar drive last year in a Miata and the CX-7 seemed like a motor home in comparison. The small engine does mean a little extra noise, but … not so bad, really.
The Mazda’s efficient braking and AWD handling, combined with that turbocharged juice, made it a breeze to roll along, and audio and visual blind spot monitors and a rearview camera helped keep things even more safe when passing and parking (though there’s no particular blind spots to speak of, should you opt to turn your head and shoulder check manually).
CX-7’s looks are on par or perhaps even a bit more enticing than the similarly shaped, similarly sized competitors (Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4 and the Nissan Murano); the interior’s a tad austere, but that’s Mazda’s typical understated ways at work.
Red-on-black gauges proved a bit hard to see with sunglasses, though the standard complement of controls are fine and easy to use.
It was my first chance to really test out Mazda’s compact-sized navigation system, controlled by a few buttons and toggles on the wheel and packed into a smallish screen on the dash. And while the basic functions are good, security locking means you can’t program the system while moving, or even scroll ahead to change your route or see where the computer is sending you; the system also totally miscalculated my travel times until the last, consistently 80 mph day of the trip.
Set up your phone with the Bluetooth system and, lo and behold, the streaming audio system will also magically blast your tunes (or, in my case, my ringtone MP3 files) through the nine Bose speakers.
Seating’s pleasant, with good-quality leather in the Grand Touring edition, and your rear passengers get a slightly elevated position for a better view of the road. I found the left and right armrests a little underpadded, especially by day three.
CX-7’s size does mean considerable cargo space, which helped when my parents’ RV engine blew up and I ended up transporting them, the dog and much of their camping equipment back home … comfortably. This weekend, no road trip, I swear.
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