Sporty Mazda CX-7 falls short during the uphill battle
special to the daily
A totally decent, stylish, functional, sporty and fun machine that offers the solidity and crispness of a sports car and the adaptability and functionality of a small SUV – well, the Mazda CX-7 comes up positive on all fronts.
Comfortable, well-built, great to drive and look at, the CX-7 suffers only one minor flaw, especially for those who’d like to use it in the High Country: its 2.3 liter 16-valve DOHC four-cylinder turbo engine.
In flatland situations, the 244-horsepower engine produces jumpy, aggressive starts from stoplights and provides loads of comfortable cruising power, despite a turbo lag that’s kind of like the satellite delay you get when you’re watching sportscasts from Australia – pound the pedal, wait about a half second, and then you’re nailed into your seat.
But during the crucial part of my standard test of any car destined for the Summit County or Central Rockies region – that being a full-blast shot up the inside, eastbound lane of I-70 going up the very steep Floyd Hill – the CX-7 faltered.
In my estimation, a turbo-powered vehicle ought to be able, like the Energizer Bunny, to keep going and going and going, passing everything on the road.
The CX-7’s power builds to a certain point and then simply flattens out, and whether or not that’s a result of the small aluminum engine block itself, altitude or the CX-7’s weight (about 3,900 pounds), the results were a little disappointing.
Mostly because in every other aspect, the Mazda CX-7 is a true champion, its only other marginal drawback being fuel consumption (18 city, 24 highway rating, somewhere closer to the lower number in real-world driving conditions).
Those power vs. fuel consumption issues are too bad because Mazda is legendary for impressive fit and finish, crisp handling and distinctive design, not to mention interior finishes just as classy as other Japanese competitors – with the CX-7 being no slouch in any of these departments.
All-wheel-drive lends itself to a particularly intuitive steering feel and the independent front MacPherson struts and front and rear stabilizer bars imbue the CX-7 with a ride that’s crisp and solid. It’s also parked on some nicely designed 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels and comes to easy stops with four-wheel disc brakes.
Exterior design is excellent, with a broad, sweeping, sculpted look that makes it seem much larger than it really is (wheelbase is 108 inches). From the large honeycomb-patterned grilles and sporty nose to the athletically arched wheel wells, it’s cutting-edge cool without being off-putting (think Subaru Tribeca-styled design overkill).
Chrome-edged windows, including small aircraft-style micro-windows in the A-pillars, chrome door handles and chromed dual exhaust ports contribute to the classiness.
Well-designed and nicely sloped, nearly rectangular third tier windows allow interior visibility that’s not at all claustrophobic; a dynamic set of wraparound brake lamps (the interior lamps kind of shaped like MasterCard symbols) offer an almost tuner level of detail.
The CX-7’s interior is up to Mazda’s regular standards with a clean, functional layout, including comfortable, heated leather seating, accented by interesting crocodile skin-styled highlight strips right down the middle of each seat. Front seating is heated and the driver’s seat power adjusts eight ways.
Well-organized, orange-lit instruments complement an array of wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls – the leather-wrapped steering wheel looks like it was lifted straight from the Miata.
A multi-leveled dash offers a digital readout which combines audio and air control displays. That audio system (in the case of my tester) included a 240 watt Bose nine-speaker Centerpoint Surround Sound system with an in-dash six-CD changer, producing excellent sound reproduction and quite impressive interaction with the Sirius satellite radio setup.
Audio and air control design is just a little peculiar, with large, shiny socket wrench-styled knobs operating volume, fan speed and temperature, setting off the black plastic background.
I thought the six-speed automatic transmission did a great job of making intelligent shifts, and it is, of course, fully self-adjustable in the SportShift mode.
You’ll also get almost 59 cubic feet of cargo storage with the rear seats folded down.
Again … a great effort, just a bit challenged on particularly pedal-heavy hill climbs. Drive it with some restraint and you probably won’t even notice.
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