MAZDA CX-7 DIESEL REVIEW
There was a time when owning an SUV made you stand out from the pack. But now they outrank wagons as the load-lugger of choice.
So, how do you get back that leading-edge feel while firmly seated in an SUV?
Mazda’s answer is the CX-7.
It promises a “zoom-zoom” feel with the practicality of a wagon. Add a liberal dose of coupe-esque proportions to the mix, and you’ve got an SUV that stands apart.
The addition of a diesel engine option earlier this year helps broaden the appeal of an already attractive package.
As part of a 2010 facelift, the CX-7 benefits from a revised interior which adds a multifunction display for trip computer, sat-nav and rear camera.
There’s revised black and silver detailing throughout the interior and door trims receive extra padding.
In Diesel Sports specification, leather trim, CD sound, and climate control air-conditioning are included as standard.
Outside, unique 18-inch alloy wheels join the tweaked exterior styling, complete with gaping five-point grille and massive side-intakes topped by new fog lights.
What’s The Appeal?
From launch, the CX-7 was often criticised for its thirsty turbocharged petrol engine. The frugality of the turbo-diesel takes care of that.
The rest of the appeal lies in a car that handles more like a sedan than a tall wagon, putting the handling prowess of most other SUVs to shame.
What Features Does It Have?
In Diesel Sports trim, the CX-7 comes equipped with leather trim, climate control, a six-disc MP3 compatible CD-changer delivered via nine Bose speakers.
It also features satellite navigation and a reverse park camera displayed on the in-dash 4.1 inch colour screen.
There are rear air-con outlets, cruise control, 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear cargo blind, Bluetooth connectivity and automatic headlights to round out the list.
On the downside there’s no automatic transmission, even as an option. The CX-7 Diesel Sports gets by with manual transmission only.
What’s Under The Bonnet?
In a bid to win a larger market share in European markets, Mazda’s MZR-CD diesel engine targets the performance and refinement of the best Euro-manufactured oilers.
A maximum 127kW of power is available @ 3500 rpm with maximum torque of 400Nm available @ 2000 rpm.
In comparison, Mazda’s turbo-petrol revs much higher, but only produces an extra 48Kw whilst missing out on 50Nm (a good indication of how closely matched these two engines really are).
While it’s a smooth running engine, and diesel clatter is kept to a minimum, it’s still not entirely quiet. But neither is it uncomfortable so the experience is an unusual one.
With a six-speed manual the sole transmission available however, the CX-7 will cheat itself out of sales.
The box itself is easy to row through the gears. The shifter is a little rubbery in feel and the second-third shift of our test car could be a little sticky, but, that noted, the gearshift is well set up for day-to-day liveability.
How Does It Drive?
The look of the CX-7’s exterior promises so much: with a raked front screen and chopped roofline there simply must a sporting heart beating within?
Thankfully, where many cars don’t live up to the promise, the CX-7 does.
While a kerb weight of almost 1930kg isn’t in keeping with Mazda’s usual light-weight philosophy, the nimble CX-7 feels a much lighter car.
The eager, free spinning diesel engine means the CX-7 is never left wanting for urgency. Thanks to the available low-down punch of the diesel engine, the CX-7 Diesel Sports excels.
For verve, for overtaking, or simply loping on a long country drive, the diesel puts the petrol variants well in the shade.
The gearshift, though a little vague at times, is otherwise hard to fault, and the clutch has good feel without becoming too heavy. If anything, the dog-legged gear lever takes the most getting used to, but soon becomes easy to use.
Some may notice the ride is a little firm, but the suspension is well controlled. It does things without crashing through potholes or slamming across high-frequency road imperfections. The firmer ride makes more sense out of town.
While some gusty winds buffeted our test, the CX-7 was unfazed thanks to its slippery shape (some SUVs are prone to wind gusts).
Through the bends, the ride is relatively flat and maintains its composure over mild corrugations.
The CX-7 is tuned for safe and predictable early understeer, typical of vehicles in its class. A well-planted rear makes corner-to-corner work less nerve-wracking than most.
Around town, the steering has good feel, is light and easy to operate.
On the open road there’s a hint of vagueness off-centre at lower speeds but the weighting increases as speed rises
Wind noise is minimal, but isolation from the road surface isn’t quite as good.
For forays off the beaten track however the CX-7 is mostly limited to gravel driveways and the like, with a lack of ground clearance destroying any off-road pretentions.
Should the surface turn loose or sandy though, Mazda’s all-wheel-drive is always waiting in the wings to help out.
Hardest to live with is the impediment to vision offered by the rising rear quarter panels and almost mail-slot like glasshouse at the rear.
Too much second-guessing during lane-changes made driving the CX-7 a little hairy at times. For reverse parking the rear-view camera is a welcome addition.
What Did Our Passengers Think?
Some of our passengers loved the CX-7, others were not so keen on the driving experience.
The issue was where in the car they sat versus their height. While space front and rear is plentiful, the high belt-line in the rear is a big visibility blocker for kids (and for shorter passengers).
Up front there’s great visibility thanks to the sweeping windscreen.
Unfortunately, getting in and out occasionally involved a bit of head bumping on a windscreen pillar that doesn’t flatten out until somewhere behind the occupant’s heads.
Seat comfort was praised despite fairly flat cushions thanks to adequate padding and support in the right spots for both front and rear seats.
Interior Quality and Feel?
There is a classy look to the dash and door trims in an appealingly designed interior. Certainly the interior style conveys the same highly stylised aesthetic that the CX-7 is all about.
The plastics however, while sturdy enough, don’t quite have the same appeal to the touch. (There was also an intermittent rattle from the left front door of our test car that sounded like two hard surfaces touching.)
While the official measurement of the CX-7 boot is only 400 litres (and therefore bettered by some small hatchbacks and sedans) the space within is generously useable.
Even with a high floor, the cargo area is broad and can be extended thanks to rear seats, which can be folded from the boot.
There’s also a decent amount of stowage space for smaller items in the door pockets, centre console and glovebox.
How Safe Is It?
ANCAP test results from 2006 awarded the CX-7 a five-star score for occupant safety.
Safety equipment includes dual front, side and curtain airbags, height adjustable front seat-belts with load-limiting pretensioners and three-point seat-belts in all seats.
It also comes with Dynamic Stability Control with ABS brakes, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist.
How Does It Compare?
It’s hard to turn around without running into a competitor that lines up squarely against the CX-7.
Toyota would like you to consider its seven-seat Kluger KX-R 2WD. There’s the lure of better visibility, more interior space, an automatic transmission and two extra seats.
But the 3.5 litre V6 engine is thirstier and the handling not nearly as sharp.
Holden has Diesel variants of the Captiva 7 available at either two thousand dollars above or below the CX-7.
Each also offers seven seats, and interior space in the first two rows feels similar. There’s an auto available but the Captiva’s engine can’t match the power, torque or refinement of the Mazda unit.
Both come with lavish equipment lists; the Sorento offers modern, if boxier styling and there’s a more powerful turbo diesel engine shared between the two.
Neither quite matches the style or handling of the CX-7 although both provide slightly more commodious interiors with seating for seven and generous cargo space.
Mazda’s factory warranty covers new vehicles for three years with unlimited kilometres.
Exterior choices include Radiant Ebony mica, Sparkling Black mica, Galaxy Grey mica, Stormy Blue mica, Aluminium metallic (silver) and Crystal White Pearl mica. Interior trim for the Diesel Sports is in black leather.
How Much Is It?
The Mazda CX-7 comes in a single diesel-powered variant, available with a manual transmission only and starting at $43,460 before on road costs.
When TMR tested the turbocharged petrol version of the CX-7 back in April we couldn’t help but love the “SUV practicality meets future-wagon” styling appeal of this mould-breaking SUV.
The only thing standing in our way then was an engine prone to heavy drinking.
With the addition of a smooth and quiet modern diesel the economy issue is solved.
Sadly however, for families, the lack of an automatic transmission blunts the appeal, and not everyone enjoys the CX-7’s limited view from the rear seats.
However, the CX-7’s ability to handle the open road, and not just a boot full of groceries and school bags, is where the real appeal lies.
If you need the practicality of a wagon but don’t want to sacrifice the enjoyment of the drive, Mazda’s CX-7 diesel should be high on your list.