Mazda CX-7:

Nissan Rogue Adds to Crossover Count

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The Nissan Rogue is a small Crossover SUV derived from the Nissan/Renault global C-Class platform – i.e. Nissan Sentra, Nissan Qashqai, Renault Megane. VehicleVoice was given the chance to drive several Rogues in the desert East of San Diego. Here’s the scoop.

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Justification for Rogue – It Was Easy to Do
The 4-cylinder-only Rogue begs the question, “Why?” Did Nissan feel they HAD TO add a small Crossover SUV to their lineup to compete with the Honda CR-V? Yes. Is there anything particularly intriguing about Rogue? No. It is another is a plethora of conveniently sized, pleasant to drive, reasonably priced small wagons available with all wheel drive. So, I guess it is OK to call it a “Crossover SUV” because definitions in the segment are very broad.
Rogue’s styling does not turn heads. Its target market is the same one as all the other small wagons – married male in early 30s just starting a family and needing more utility than his previous sporty coupe (or more likely Chevrolet Silverado or Dodge Ram full size pickup) gave him. Not that we are down on the Rogue. It’s just that it doesn’t answer questions much differently from any other small Crossover SUV.
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Nissan North America Vice President of Product Planning, Larry Dominique, gives walkaround of new Rogue in San Diego

Conclusion: Nissan had a competent, flexible global platform that could be efficiently stretched from a sedan (Sentra) to a small Crossover. It couldn’t carry a V6, but that’s OK because the class leading Honda CR-V doesn’t have a V6 either. So here we have a low cost program, assembled in Kyushu, Japan that can fill a niche in the broad Nissan lineup.


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Mazda CX-9 – Flagship from Hiroshima

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VehicleVoice staffers had been looking forward to the Mazda CX-9 to see how the new Mazda flagship stacks up against competition. One of a plethora of new Crossover SUVs, Mazda is venturing into uncharted, for them, territory.
Mid-Size or Large Crossover SUV… a Tweener?
The CX-9 is a “large” Crossover SUV – not the size of the Tahoe-sized GM Lambda Crossover SUVs like the GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave, but still big enough to have a relatively comfortable 3rd row seat. AutoPacific carries CX-9 in our Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV segment (what a mouthful). It may actually deserve to be categorized in the Large Crossover Segment. We’re taking a look at it.
Styling is Modern, but Blends in With Other Contemporary Crossover SUVs
The styling of the CX-9 is modern without being overdone like its lower priced stablemate the CX-7. There are no wheel arch accents over the front wheel like the CX-7, RX-8 and Miata, but I don’t know if this is good. I was kinda getting into the more blatant Mazda front end look. The CX-9 doesn’t offend, it just blends. So from an overall styling standpoint, it seems to “blend” rather than turn heads. Some folks wondered if it was a new Lexus RX, so I guess being mistaken for an RX (like the Hyundai Veracruz is) ain’t too bad.


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Playboy Awards 2007 Cars of the Year

You could tell from the smiles on the faces of the suits from Cadillac that they had just come from something special. The Cadillac Escalade had just won the Playboy 2007 Car of the Year Award. Jim Taylor, Cadillac General Manager was lugging around a golden trophy with a totally blinged-out Playboy bunny glued to it and a discreet plaque proclaiming Escalade’s win.

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Playboy Magazine has just named their 2007 Cars of the Year. Included in this year’s list were:
Playboy 2007 Car of the Year – BMW Z4 M
Best SUV – Cadillac Escalade
Best Sports Coupe – Porsche 911 Carrera
Best Bang for the Buck – Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500
The Al Gore Special – Lexus GS450h
Best Two-Way Player – Volkswagen Eos
Best Pickup – Toyota Tundra
Best Cross Dresser – Mazda CX-7
Best Roadster – Saturn Sky Red Line
Oh yeah, about the presentations. Apparently, a hostess Playmate gave the executives a tour around the Playboy Mansion. A former Playmate, the young lady was extremely well spoken, knew her stuff and presented Playboy in a very favorable light. What I’m saying is that she wasn’t the airhead blonde bimbette that may have been expected at Playboy.


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2007 Chicago Auto Show: 2008 Toyota Highlander

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Highlander Evolves with More Size and Power
Ahead of sales in July 2007, Toyota used its traditional opening press conference of the 2007 Chicago auto show to launch the 2008 Highlander. Toyota’s new Highlander keeps its personality as a car-based crossover SUV, updated to the latest Camry/Avalon platform. The new Highlander is bigger and heavier, but Toyota gives it more power, with both the Hybrid and new standard 3.5L V6 estimated to deliver 270HP. The Hybrid goes on sale shortly after the standard model.

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Highlander already offered a third-row seat, but the extra three inches in wheelbase and four inches in length should make for a more comfortable interior. The new size is a bit bigger than the Honda Pilot and the same length as the Chevrolet Equinox. It is bigger than the Mazda CX-7 and Ford Edge, but smaller than Mazda’s CX-9 or the newly renamed Ford Taurus X (the XSUV formerly known as the Ford Freestyle). Highlander is better sized for those using the third row as occasional-use seating, instead of emergency seats.
So, the question is whether or not the new 2008 out-Pilots the excellent Honda Pilot?
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Hyundai Veracruz: Soon to Arrive in the States

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Hyundai has developed a new SUV/crossover to go up against the likes of the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, and Mitsubishi Endeavor. In size terms, it falls neatly between the Pilot and Explorer, or between Mazda’s new CX-7 and upcoming CX-9. On sale in the States in December 2006 and being formally introduced to U.S. buyers at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in January, Veracruz has already arrived in the home market. Here are some photos of the Korean-specification model, from VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents, along with some speculation and fact about what we think we’ll see here in three month’s time.

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At first glance, the Veracruz styling is attractive and the expected equipment level looks to be competitive. We’re looking forward to seeing it in the tin, the real measure. As Hyundai product executions make solid strides in quality and overall look with each successive product, the Veracruz has potential to be one of the best Hyundai offerings yet.


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BEWARE – Cougar Ace Mazdas

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On Tuesday September 12, the Cougar Ace finally made it to the Port of Portland (Oregon) after having rolled 60-degrees in the Pacific on July 23 while shifting ballast. Operator error, you see.

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The Cougar Ace, owned by Japan’s Mitsui OSK and flying the Singapore flag, is a gargantuan car carrier. On its fateful voyage, it was carrying about 4,800 cars. Most of these cars were Mazda3s and Mazda CX-7s. There were a few RX-8 and MX-5 Miatas on board as well. The Mazda3 is Mazda’s hottest model at the moment and the newly-introduced CX-7 SUV is just beginning to catch on.
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While the ship did not sink, and the vehicles were lashed to the deck, the 60-degree list made a shake-and-bake bag out of the fourteen decks on which the cars were strapped.
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Mazda says that the cars will be evaluated for damage. Our guess is that the condition of vehicles in transit will range from totalled to being saleable units. The cars won’t be sold as new, but will be repaired if possible and carry full new car warranties.
Warning from Your Friends at VehicleVoice
The caution here is, be sure where your new Mazda3 or CX-7 has come from and verify if it was on the Cougar Ace or not.


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Driving the Mazda CX-7 – Driving Zooms, Package Compromises

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Metropolitan Hawk
We’ve reported on the CX-7 several times previously. In fact Mazda’s Jeremy Barnes was featured in a walkaround of the CX-7 in our second-ever video cast. Now AutoPacific has driven it in the rolling Virginia countryside outside Washington DC.
Mazda compares the CX-7 with the likes of the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. They also mention vehicles like the Nissan Murano. Certainly, CX-7 may have some similarities, but it is a very different type of vehicle.

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On the plus side, CX-7 has very distinctive styling. Mazda describes it as a combination of sports car and SUV. They say it has the image and driving performance of a sports car – or maybe a sports coupe – and the utilty and capability of an SUV. CX-7 certainly looks different from SUVs and sedans. And it is a useful piece – functional.
Shinsuke Kawasaki, head of the Mazda product development team for CX-7 used the descriptive term “Metropolitan Hawk” to convey the sense of what he wanted to his colleagues. Yes, CX-7 is an SUV, but an SUV for the city. CX-7’s targets were to 1) have advanced emotional styling, 2) have exceptional driving performance, and 3) to suport a user’s urban lifestyle. It is an SUV for a person wanting individualistic transportation, not necessarily a joiner.
Its off-road pretentions are mild (using essentially the same AWD system as on the MazdaSpeed6) and Mazda did not provide any opportunity for off-roading. Darn.
CX-7 Powered by Turbo 4-cylinder
Mazda’s conclusion going into development of the CX-7 is that SUVs over-deliver on family and under-deliver on performance. Matching Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom image, Mazda set out to make the CX-7 a different type of performer. Surprisingly, it is powered by a turbocharged 2.3L 4-cylinder with 244-horsepower. Now, a turbo four is not what is expected in an SUV (except that Acura is launching the RDX SUV with a turbo 4 at about the same time), but this engine does pretty well. Little turbo lag, spritely performance, little torque steer. At high RPMs it gets a bit raucous – does not have the sophistication and finesse of a Volkswagen 2.0L Turbo 4-cylinder for instance. We would have opted for a V6, but Mazda’s 2007 CX-9 7-passenger SUV gets Ford’s 3.5L DOHC V6 with 265-horsepower. The CX-7’s turbo four is a clear differentiator. Not bad, but unexpected.
But there are negatives. These are not killing points, but if Mazda had really heeded the input from folks who want a more useful sporty car and might consider an SUV, they wouldn’t have missed on some important points.


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Mazda CX-9 – When Room for Five is Not Enough

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Mazda’s Five-Passenger CX-7 Gets Seven-Passenger Sibling, CX-9
Mazda has floundered with its MPV never being quite right for a minivan and the Tribute a decent, but undermarketed, SUV offering. The brand may be in a better position for 2007MY, with two new crossover SUV products that seem to be just what customers want these days. The Tribute goes on a break, scheduled to return as a 2008 model year vehicle.
Mazda’s CX-7 spring 2006 launch provides a glimpse of what Mazda’s SUV lineup will look like over the next year, but the CX-7 isn’t the only new thing for 2007MY. Mazda is adding a second, larger SUV product for its 2007 model year lineup.
The CX-9 is being prepped quickly, with an introduction at the 2006 New York auto show in April and a sales launch in early 2007. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were on hand for the introduction. Mazda is pitching its two new SUVs as offering an alternative for those looking for SUV attributes, like more space and all-weather capability, but also insistent on keeping a zoom-zoom sporting driver. As the launch release says, the CX-9 intends to “blend sporty driving spirit with seven-passenger SUV practicality.”
In discussions with Mazda North American Operations design management, the CX-9 is the attitudinal successor to the old Mazda 929 and Milenia four-door sedans. As those products withered away over the years, Mazda wondered what types of vehicles they really wanted to buy. Well, the CX-7 and CX-9 are the result of that navel gazing, and are much better choices today than me-too sedans.

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According to Mazda, the CX-9 is on its own platform. It is its own product, and most certainly not a long version of the CX-7. And the CX-7 is certainly not a shorter version of the CX-9. In any case, the two do share styling cues, with the larger CX-9 taking on a more grown-up and sophisticated look, with its longer proportions and wider stance. Mazda is building both CX-7 and CX-9 in Japan and making a big deal about these vehicles being designed primarily for North America.
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Mazda Adds a New Post-Modern SUV: Mazda CX-7

Mazda expands its lineup with a car-based SUV in spring 2006 called the CX-7. While the entry was previewed by the 2005 MX-Cross Sport concept, the production car was unveiled at Los Angeles and Detroit auto shows in January 2006. As with other car-based, post-modern SUVs, or crossovers, the five-seater CX-7 comes standard in front-drive form with an optional AWD system available. The CX-7 will be built in Japan, and is not directly related to the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX new-for-2007MY entries also being introduced to at the Detroit auto show.
VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) will showcase the CX-7 at the Los Angeles Auto Show in an upcoming videocast.


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