Updated, greener, happier and still a winner
- 2010 Mazda CX-7 Diesel Sports; 2.2-litre, four cylinder, turbo-diesel; six speed manual; five-door SUV - $43,640*
If ever there was a major criticism of Mazda's extremely popular soft-roader, the Mazda CX-7, it was how much fuel it used. Being a turbo-charged 2.3 litre petrol, it had the tendency to gulp down the 95RON. The solution? Whacking in Mazda's brilliant MZR-CD 2.2-litre turbo-diesel. With an ADR tested fuel consumption of 7.6 litres/100km, it looks to quell any concerns a prospective buyer may have had. We grabbed one for a week to see if it made the CX-7 any better.
The CX-7's appeal lies largely in its styling. Even with the new "happy Mazda" corporate face, it's arguably one of the best looking soft-roaders out there. Sure, the basic styling may be a few years old now, but it's aged well, and doesn't yet look dated. It's evidenced by the fact that there were more CX-7s sold last year than the year previous. Angular lines, sharply creased wheel arches and a kinked glasshouse certainly lend visual appeal.
When painted in Stormy Blue, as was the test car, the silver accents which frame the windows and front intake contrast beautifully. The front wheel arches harmonise with the Mazda2, Mazda3 and Mazda RX-8. The 2010 model receives new fog lamp surrounds, as well as what Mazda calls its "five point design" - smiley mouth as we know it. The rear also receives a newly designed, larger roof spoiler.
There are also changes to the interior. There's a newly designed steering wheel, similar to the new Mazda3's unit. The instruments now have a blue ring around them as well as white needles. The centre stack now has metallic edges (or piano black, dependent on spec), the door trims have been redesigned for more comfort, the dash-top display is reshaped and larger, and on the Diesel Sports, incorporates Satellite Navigation with a reversing camera.
The leather seats are beautifully padded, with good grip and size. There's plenty of leg room in the back, with generous width, too. The centre rear seat's backrest is very hard, though it does double as a flip-down cup holder. The rear seat backs are also spring loaded, which means that they're a sinch to lay flat. The other thing that contributes is the release handles found in the boot. If you want to load something large, there's no need to open several doors, or climb through the car. Just open the boot, pull on the handle and the rear seats instantly transform to a huge load area.
Child seats are fitted very easily, except for the centre seat which needs the child-seat strap to be fed through the false floor before it can be attached to the hook; a pain if you're changing your baby seat over quite often. However the boot's high load height and wide opening make putting a pram in a breeze. The Bose stereo also gives excellent clarity and bass. Really, the CX-7's interior is not just functional, but also elegant. You can see why it's the choice of many families.
But if the family budget is constrained due to economic uncertainty, then the diesel version should be at the top of your shopping list. The 2.2-litre engine is not just economical (we almost matched the ADR figure, with 8.2-litres/100km on test), but it's so quiet and smooth, you'd be forgiven for thinking it wasn't an oil-burner.
There's a hint of lag, but the engine is so tractable and torquey you'll overlook it. Peak torque of 400Nm is made at 2,000rpm, but it will happily pull from 1,500rpm, getting much more urgent by 1,800rpm, with the real push coming from 2,000rpm. It does get a bit breathless above 4,000rpm (power of 127kW peaks at 3,500rpm), so you'll be rowing the gearbox to keep your momentum up, but this reveals a chink in the armour of the CX-7 Diesel Sport.
The gearbox is not the easiest unit in the world to throw between changes. It's a bit notchy, and second to third can be missed if you're trying to change quickly. It may be a solid feeling unit, with a sports-like focus, but given who this car is aimed at, something a bit smoother would be nice. Even better would be a six-speed automatic, sadly, there won't be one; manual is your only option.
Thankfully the clutch is light and progressive, the brakes are brilliant, handling is very sharp and steering feel is excellent. Dynamically, the CX-7 sets the bar for other compact SUVs. Even the ride on its 18-inch wheels is comfortable and absorbent, despite being on the firm end of the scale.
Its traction in amazing too. So many other SUVs rely on sensors to determine if the front wheels have lost grip, responding by sending some drive rearward. The effect is a front wheel scrabble for a split second, with forward momentum following. However the CX-7s all-wheel-drive system is nothing short of perfect. It doesn't even for a millisecond chirp the front wheels before the rears kick in to help out. It just grips from the get go, and on loose surfaces, that is very reassuring.
Combine that with a responsive stability control system and the CX-7's ability is even broader than it makes out. We took it for a brief stint on sand, grass and gravel - none of it proved a challenge.
It's not hard to see why the CX-7's appeal is universal. Its virtues stack up well - space, quality, practicality, styling - and that's before you get to the motor. Adding this excellent diesel to the line-up has been a smart move by Mazda. It's frugal, torquey and puts out less CO2 than some of its German and Japanese rivals.
The price differential between the diesel and turbocharged petrol models might not be so appealing, though. With some diesels only adding a couple of thousand dollars to a car's sticker price, Mazda's ask of $4,650 over its AWD petrol model is perhaps a little high. But if you can live that and with a manual gearbox, then this is a serious contender in the compact SUV market.
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go: