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

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.

Nice Sporty Styling Compromises Package
CX-7 has very sporty styling. While this gives it head-turning differentiation, it also causes some problems. Mazda is proud that CX-7 has a very fast windshield. They claim the windshield angle is nearly the same as their sports cars. They moved the windshield touch-down point forward on the hood so the resulting A-Pillar angle would not infringe much on getting into the front seats. Nice try, but CX-7 is relatively difficult to get into if you are 5-feet, 8-inches or more tall. Visibility forward is pretty good. Step-in height is great. But the fast windshield compromises function.
The beltline has a rising hip to the rear that obstructs rearward visibility. Guess you would get used to it after driving the CX-7 for awhile. The roof slopes downward at the rear and this obstructs visibility through the rear window. In fact, only about 50% of the rearview mirror is useable.
Quibble, quibble, quibble, but visibility is one of the more important characteristics people are looking for when they look for an SUV.
Seating Flexibility OK, but Not Optimized. Cost-Reduction Impact?

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For SUV folks wanting Swiss Army Knife function in their vehicle, CX-7 meets the design benchmarks of a past generation. Its interior flexibility and configuration miss the mark… probably due to meeting strict cost targets. For instance, the second row seat does not fold flat. It folds with a slight upward ramp towards the front of the vehicle. Nor does the front passenger seat back fold flat. This prevents CX-7 from having the ultimate function now expected in a smaller SUV. Can’t put a ladder inside. Can’t carry skis inside. This is an example of saving $50 or $100 in cost and losing function for 100% of the customers. VehicleVoice research indicates that folks would pay a substantial amount for interior flexibility in a vehicle like the CX-7.
Can CX-7 be a Winner?
CX-7 is nice, but not perfect. It is a good addition to Mazda’s admittedly thin SUV lineup and is certainly is no clone of any other SUV on the road today. Now, if it can just gain the following the Mazda3 has achieved, Mazda has a winner. Mazda claims it wants to sell 40,000 units per year in the USA. This may be possible.

1 Comment

  • Speed42| June 26, 2006 at 9:21 pm

    The other major quibble (major quibble?) I’d add is no iPod support. Not even a line-in jack on the stereo. That’s unforgivable in a new car.

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