Less is more. I’m usually the guy who says, "No, more is more. Less is less." But in the case of the 2010 Mazda CX-7 Sport FWD, less really is more. The 2010 Mazda CX-7 Sport FWD arrives with a base price of $22,340 ($26,190 as tested), a 3 year/36,000 mile basic warranty, a 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty and EPA fuel economy estimates of 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway. Let's drive.
CX-7 made its debut as a 2007 model, and represents a pure crossover SUV. Built in Hiroshima, Japan on a unique platform, CX-7 has a unibody design where chassis and body are one unified structural element, as opposed to the truck-like build (body-on-frame) of more robust SUVs. CX-7 shares many drivetrain parts with the Mazda 6 sedan. CX-7 features a steeply-raked (66 degree) windshield that recalls a bullet train (or a minivan), and teardrop-shaped body that looks incredibly aerodynamic for a crossover.
2010 brings a facelift to CX-7, a minor refreshment of design that will have expert Mazda spotters squinting their eyes. They'll have to look carefully to spot the vertically-oriented openings in the front fascia for fog lamp housing -- the 2009 CX-7 had horizontally-oriented openings. They'll bring out their calipers to measure the air intake below the front grille. Indeed, it is bigger for 2010 than it was for 2009. Most of us will notice that CX-7 looks, well, happier for 2010. Its grin is bigger, and there's no mistaking the anthropomorphic face formed by headlights, intakes and winged-M logo on CX-7's front. Other than that, there are few external cues to delineate the 2010 model from the 2009.
In the Driver’s Seat
Inside, it's another story. CX-7's dash is all new, and it's a mixed bag. I'm generally a fan of Mazda's interior designs. Up and down the lineup, Mazda designers have made tasteful, elegant choices, with some bold flourishes thrown in to keep things exciting. You can always count on a funky pattern or surface in a Mazda, where other manufacturers might have gone with a safer (more boring) choice. CX-7 is no exception. Door panels are lined with interesting fabric, and seat fabric is more than just a flat palette. Fit and finish throughout the cabin is superb, almost at luxury levels.
The one misstep in CX-7's interior design, and it's a big one, is the size and placement of the multi-information display. The 3.5" monochrome display sits at the top of the dash, under a small eyebrow. The odd thing is that it sits right next to an LED display that's almost the same size, and sometimes they display the same information -- time, radio station, etc. -- depending on the mode of display that you've selected. If you choose a Touring or Grand Touring trim level CX-7, you can opt for a navigation system, and the 3.5" monochrome display gets replaced with a 4.1" color screen. The problem arises from the dash geometry caused by the windshield's steep rake. The top of the dashboard is so far from your eyes when you're driving that that 3.5" or 4.1" screen might as well be the size of a postage stamp, especially if you're of a certain age (like I am), and you need reading glasses on occasion.
On the Road
This is where the "Less is More" ethos actually pays off. My test vehicle, a Sport model, was equipped with a new powerplant to CX-7, a normally aspirated 2.5 liter inline 4-cylinder engine with a 5-speed automatic transmission. The engine was good for 161 hp and 161 lb-ft of torque. You'd think that I would complain about this engine, especially when a 2.3 liter direct injection turbocharged engine is standard in the Touring and Grand Touring CX-7, and that engine spits out 244 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. But guess what? The Sport costs $3,400 less than the least expensive Touring, and over $10,000 less than a loaded Grand Touring. You give up the option of all-wheel drive for standard front-wheel drive, but you also forgo useless navigation and other features that you may not want or need. And the Sport weighs 3,496 lbs, while a Grand Touring AWD weighs in at 4,001 -- over 500 lbs heavier. I didn't miss the extra power much, because the 2.5 liter engine is so responsive and well matched to the CX-7. Try both before you buy.
Whichever CX-7 you drive, you'll get to feel the improved ride and rigidity that engineers have massaged into the chassis and suspension. Variable assist power steering is precise and sporty. Front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link are each tethered by sway bars, which keeps the CX-7 flat through turns.
Second row passengers are treated to comfortable perches. Luggage capacity (29.9 cubic feet) and cargo room (58.6 cubic feet) are great, unchanged from 2009. You'll have to step up to a CX-9 to get a third row.
Ultimately, it all comes down to bang for the buck. That's when less really is more -- we all want more bang for less buck. CX-7 Sport is a whole lot of crossover for $22,340. And there's even an SV, without tinted glass, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather shift knob and BlueTooth, that starts at $21,550. Considering the performance and luxury features that you get in the Sport, and the fact that it is rated for 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway, CX-7 Sport looks like an incredible bargain.
If you're considering a CX-7 Sport, there are several other vehicles that merit consideration. Nissan's Murano was the pioneer in this mid-size crossover field, and received a healthy freshening for 2009. Ford's Edge and Chevrolet's Equinox are worthy competitors from the domestics. Toyota's Venza takes a slightly more wagon approach on the equation, as does Subaru's Outback and the upcoming Honda Crosstour. Don't overlook the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 either, though each is a little smaller than CX-7.
If you're looking for a crossover that's a little different than the rest, one that will stand out from the crowd, you really should consider the CX-7. Resist the urge to pile on the options, and you'll have a deceptively elegant, delightfully inexpensive crossover that will be the envy of the neighborhood.