It's getting hard to pin an SUV badge on the vehicles occupying most of the attention of American buyers these days. It used to be easy when all SUVs were modified body-on-frame pickup trucks with adventurous, outdoorsy names like Tahoe, Expedition and Durango. So what the heck does X5, FX45, CX-7 or RAV4 say?
We've gathered three such vehicles for this comparison: the all-new 2006 Toyota RAV4, the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe and the 2007 Mazda CX-7. It'd be uncomplicated to call these three "mini SUVs," but when they're loosely based on midsize sedans Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata and Mazda 6, it'd be more correct to call them midsize crossovers.
Product planners and marketers are scrambling to come up with ever more specific categories, names and features for what many people, Inside Line included, have simply resigned themselves to calling "crossovers." Call them what you will — recreational activity vehicles, urban activity vehicles, sport activity vehicles — they're all based on the idea that a responsibly sized unit-body car is a better platform on which to build a vehicle for urban buyers who go to work five days a week, but who also aspire to be an active bunch that occasionally goes places and does things where all-wheel-drive traction and added ground clearance will come in handy.
Within this segment, the specific attitude and attributes of a vehicle boil down to sport, luxury, style, capability or some combination thereof. This comparison brings together the RAV4 Sport AWD, Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD and the Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring AWD. Each possesses all-weather all-wheel drive, a peppy engine, clever features and comparably affordable pricing hovering around $30,000 in as-tested configurations.
We lived with these three vehicles for two weeks: driving them to and from work in stop-and-go freeway traffic as well as loading them up for the weekend with car seats and family gear. Then, we subjected each participant to our normal battery of instrumented track testing.
Finally, as a test to see if each one could fulfill the promise of a minimum of off-highway use, we followed an 18.5-mile route (37 miles roundtrip) from a paved road to a barely discernible rock-strewn trail arriving at a shady campground above 6,000 feet elevation. This scenic mountain drive is rated "easy" in several off-road guides.
The moving target
Toyota takes credit for pioneering the car-based crossover with its RAV4, introduced a decade ago. Fair enough. Over the years, the amiable RAV4 has earned respect and sales success while it has increased in size and capability. For 2006, it's newly available with a sophisticated and powerful 3.5-liter V6.
Our tester combines this fresh engine and a revised "Sport" grade with its model-specific equipment and styling, plus automatically adjusting all-wheel drive. The RAV4 has come a long way from its cute and quirky beginnings and if you haven't driven one recently, you'd be shocked at how grown up it has become.
That's a Hyundai?
Hyundai joins the fray with a completely (and thankfully) redesigned and reengineered Santa Fe for 2007. Gone is the frumpy-faced styling and pre-dented plastic side cladding. The reinvented Santa Fe also finds some much needed motivation with a new 3.3-liter V6. And as is the Hyundai way, our Limited AWD tester was loaded with standard equipment and an impressive warranty. Where the RAV4 puts emphasis on sport, the Santa Fe follows a more luxurious path from the way it drives to its interior amenities.
A novel approach
Mazda announced there will be no Ford Escape-doppelgänger Tribute for the 2007-model year, taking a year off until the '08 model Tribute debuts, and frankly we don't mind a bit. In its place, the slightly more expensive but far more interesting CX-7 comes out swinging with an all-new rakish design and innovative driveline.
Resisting the temptation to wedge a V6 under its hood, Mazda instead looked to the turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and AWD making news and earning accolades in the Mazdaspeed 6 sedan. You might criticize the CX-7 for being neither fish nor fowl, but this identity crisis mirrors what we believe the public is now seeking — whether you realize it or not.
The artful dodger
As we discovered, each of these vehicles excels in a specific category or two, but one follows the straightest path that we believe is the shortest distance between what you need from an SUV and what you want in a car. In other words, the Mazda CX-7 more artfully and more repeatedly hits that sweet spot at the intersection of essential and aspirational qualities. More than a jambalaya with some of this and some of that, the CX-7 effectively crosses over categories with the expert agility seen from very few vehicles.
The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.
First Place: 2007 Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring AWD
More than "just another" car-based sport-utility, Mazda is, indeed, fulfilling its zoom-zoomy promises with the 2007 CX-7. Most manufacturers have read the oil-stained tea leaves and decided to offer either this year or next a sport-utility-something that is based on existing car architecture. Have a look at our Future Vehicles section for proof of the emergent category.
The Mazda CX-7 epitomizes this new crop of crossover vehicles that is smaller, nimbler and more fuel-efficient than that ubiquitous high-profile hiking-boots-on-lugged-tires SUV of the not-so-distant past. The new archetypal sport-utility is evolving before our eyes, and although the CX-7 is not the first to embody these new-era SUV values, it is at the forefront of the sea change at this sub-$30K price point. We'd credit BMW's X5 and Infiniti's FX series as the progenitors of the car-based performance-minded sport-utility, but at a higher buy-in.
Papa's got a brand-new bag
Unlike the other markets where families have long understood the relative merits of hatchbacks and wagons in terms of packaging, performance, safety and economy versus sport-utilities, we Americans have been slow to relinquish our "commanding view" of the road behind the wheel of high-output SUVs. And because it is assumed that high mass equals high family safety, you've probably heard or even said, "I can afford to stay out of a tin-can minivan, and I'll be damned if I let my family go out there in anything smaller than a full-size SUV."
It seems hard to argue with that logic, but some sources indicate that 90 percent of all rollovers occur after an SUV leaves the road. The 2007 Mazda CX-7 is determined to change that. Stability and traction control systems (to keep you on the road), as well as rollover detection (wherein side curtains are deployed in anticipation of a roll) are all standard on the CX-7. Additionally, the new Mazda has earned five-star crash test ratings across the board from the NHTSA (NHTSA rollover and IIHS offset tests have yet to be performed) thanks in large part to a standard airbag assemblage once offered on only high-end sedans and wagons.
To be fair, the Santa Fe in this test also offers the same standard airbag collection (though not rollover detection), and side (torso) and curtain (head) airbags, plus rollover detection are optionally available in the RAV4. If safety is one of your fundamental concerns, the CX-7's got you covered.
OK, so the CX-7 is relatively safe, but is it fun to drive? In a word, yes. Of these three crossovers, the CX-7 is the most entertaining and most satisfying to drive on a variety of roads — and even off-road. It isn't baffled by some common surfaces like the Hyundai is, and it features far more communicative steering than the RAV4. The Mazda's MacPherson-front and multilink-rear suspension tuning is the firmest setup here, but it follows in lockstep the ripples and irregularities of the real world with the precision and isolation of a BMW.
Despite a stability control system that cannot be fully shut off, the CX-7 gripped our skid pad with a 0.79g lateral load and blazed through the slalom at 63.6 mph. Both of those numbers set a new standard in the segment, especially at this price. The CX-7's sport-tuned chassis translates directly into an enthusiastic and athletic driving experience lacking in the other two.
New wave motivation
The CX-7 is nearly as quick as the raging V6-powered RAV4, but the way it provides its power is more attuned to the scope and mission of the vehicle. Thanks to the combination of clever turbocharger tuning and direct-injection fuel delivery to exploit it, the CX-7's test-topping torque peaks at a mere 2500 rpm (versus 4500 or 4700 rpm in the others). This means there's more shove-you-back-in-the-seat motivation earlier in the CX-7's turbo-four rev range than in either the RAV4 V6 or Santa Fe V6, both of which are naturally aspirated.
Besides, the CX-7's transmission is calibrated far more competently than either of the other two. Shifts are intuitively timed and kick-downs are near instantaneous. The fact that it's a six-speed automatic (to the others' five-speeds) had us worried the CX-7 would be feverishly hunting for just the right ratio for every incline or lane change. Not so. And if you'd prefer to manage shifting yourself, the manual mode operates with equal exactness.
Our instrumented brake testing backed up what we suspected from driving all three back-to-back. Although fitted with essentially the same-size tires (and thus contact patch) across the board, the Mazda proved to be the best at bringing the scenery to a standstill, as well. At just 123 feet to stop from 60 mph, the CX-7 is again in a league of its own, and outdoes the worst-performing Santa Fe by some 17 feet.
All four of the Mazda's brake rotors are vented, while in the other two only the fronts are so constructed. This would indicate (correctly) that the CX-7's brakes would resist fading. We confirmed this with the Mazda's "worst" stop (fourth and last consecutive run) being shorter than the RAV4's 130-foot best on its first attempt.
All this on-pavement prowess had us concerned that the CX-7 would feel like a fish outta water on the dusty trail to the camp site. Would "the crafty chassis with Mazda sports car DNA" knock our fillings out? Might we shear off an oil drain plug in the first mile? Would the lack of grip confound either the all-wheel-drive or stability control systems? No other automotive journalist outlet had taken a CX-7 off-road (to our knowledge), and Mazda's press materials make no claim of off-highway capability. That's what we're here for.
All of our apprehension turned to admiration at the base of the mountain where we set the minimum level of competency before heading up. There, we tested suspension articulation, hill-climbing capability and washboard surface isolation on a purpose-built off-road course. To our amusement, the CX-7 performed at least as well as the RAV4 and Santa Fe. In fact, the CX-7 offers one-half-inch better ground clearance than the RAV4's 7.5 inches. Also, on the loosely packed hill climb where we purposely stopped in each SUV (in an attempt to get stuck), the CX-7's low-rpm torque showed itself to be an asset a second time by effortlessly resuming its slippery ascent.
Once we committed to the 18-mile drive up the mountain, the only criticism we had for the CX-7 was that it was reluctant to "play." It felt so sure-footed and powerful (turbocharged engines better compensate for the debilitating effects of increased elevation) that it began to feel like a rally car. The problem was that the non-defeat stability control discouraged anything but safe and sane rates of progress and responsibly acute yaw angles. In other words, there's no sliding it around corners like WRC star Sebastien Loeb. Buzzkill. The CX-7 felt so confident that it was almost worth finding the nanny fuse and pulling it out.
The sum of its talents
In the final tally, we found the Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring AWD package to be a delightful blend of sport sedan, hot hatch and sport-utility. There's ample room in the cargo bay for a week's worth of getaway luggage. There's plenty of power to keep the other guys guessing what's under that bulging hood. There's enough personality and ability in the chassis to keep you guessing how hard you can push it — and a stability control system if you overestimate it.
Combined, the CX-7 represents decidedly untrucklike styling and dynamics that we feel indicate the direction where sport-utilities will inevitably go. Even the category of sport-utility will need to be rethought from here out. The CX-7 isn't the first, nor will it be the last. However, for the time being, it is the best crossover out there for the money.
Second Place: 2006 Toyota RAV4 Sport 4x4
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the RAV4 should be blushing like a 12-year-old girl at her surprise birthday party. Back in 1994, Toyota must've polished its crystal ball to perfection, because nearly every automotive manufacturer has already or is about to introduce a personal-sized car-based sport-utility crossover thingy.
Here, in the U.S. market, we didn't get our first Recreational Activity Vehicle with four-wheel drive (RAV4) until the 1996 model year, but once we did, we ran with it. As of June 2006, 685,844 RAV4s have been sold in the States, contributing to more than 2.2 million RAV4s sold worldwide since its introduction in 1994. It's no wonder everybody wants a piece of that pie.
Now in its third generation, the 2006 RAV4 is poised for its greatest sales success ever. The new platform is longer, wider and more sophisticated than the one it replaced. Construction techniques have made it stiffer, safer, quieter and more capable. The base powertrain consists of a 2.4-liter 166-horsepower four-cylinder engine, four-speed automatic and front-wheel drive, but for this test we chose a Sport variant with the all-new 3.5-liter 269-hp V6, five-speed auto and all-wheel drive. The Sport grade adds, among other things, 18-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension, fender flares, foglamps, roof rails, unique trim and color-keyed door handles, side mirrors, and spare-tire cover.
Items not included but optioned on our test vehicle include an upgraded audio system, front-occupant side and front/second-row roll-sensing curtain airbags and a power moonroof. Stability and traction control are standard, as is ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution. What you won't even find on the option list (at least for the Sport) are leather seating surfaces, third-row seating, auto climate control or second-row air vents for guests.
While this RAV4 walked into the ring with the lowest base and as-tested price, we found it scored disappointingly low in several ways regarding standard, optional and unavailable features. See the "Top 10 Features" page for a detailed accounting.
Quick but excitable
With 269 horses on tap, you'd suppose the RAV4 was quick and you'd be right. Rumor has it that a 2WD RAV4 V6 is the quickest model in the entire Toyota lineup right now. Some complained that the initial throttle tip-in was a little too aggressive for an urban errand runner, but our AWD Sport ran to 60 mph in just 7.2 seconds; the next closest was the Mazda with an 8.4-second time. The problem here is that despite utilizing variable valve timing to balance power and efficiency, most of the RAV4's power lives in the upper rev range; horsepower peaks at 6200 rpm and torque peaks at 4700.
What this means is that the RAV4, even with the largest engine with the highest horsepower rating in the test (the Mazda's turbo four makes more torque with 258 lb-ft at just 2500 rpm), the RAV4 prefers to rev rather than pushing a tall gear.
Cruising on the highway at 50 mph in 5th gear, squeezing (not mashing) the throttle to pick up the pace causes the transmission to eagerly downshift to 4th or even 3rd gear, sending the revs sky high. As soon as the pressure is released on the gas, the transmission instantly goes back to the gas-sipping 5th-gear ratio. Repeat this several (hundred) times and it becomes noticeable. We suspect that the programming Toyota chose was meant to take advantage of the power, but only for short spurts. Otherwise, the RAV4 is always trying to conserve fuel, and it does. Our 10-day average fuel economy topped this field with a 20.2-mpg average.
The RAV4's steering proved to be another compromise. While there are several benefits to electric-assist power steering (EPS), such as improved road isolation, increased fuel economy and more precise computer-controlled assist timing, a traditional hydraulic pump usually offers better road feel and feedback (when done right). Under hard acceleration, the RAV4 tends to nibble and wander in the lane, and it's difficult to make the necessary steering corrections with such a vague wheel.
On the other hand, when we took the RAV4 to the rutted trails, that numbing effect was a welcome consolation. Nothing isolates better than EPS and the RAV4's got that in spades.
All Inside Line staffers who drove the RAV4 (and apparently most owners) felt the Sport model's firmer suspension settings were not only tolerable, but enjoyable. In everyday use, we found the supplementary control a bonus and it only added to the solid feeling we expect from Toyota build quality. The only time we wished for something cushier was on the trail. It's amazing how quickly an otherwise tight vehicle can sound and feel like a tin can.
Uncharacteristically, the RAV4 produced several unexpected jiggling, bouncy squeaks on washboard or rock-studded trails. The dynamics never felt compromised, nor did the all-wheel-drive system fail to inspire, and the stability system didn't go into shock at the sight of dirt, but there was something unexpectedly tarnished from the off-road experience. At the test track, the non-defeat stability system limited our handling tests. The chassis feels more confident than the safety-minded algorithmists will allow.
Manufacturer-supplied cargo capacity notwithstanding, we took some of our own measurements of each vehicle's cargo bay. The most telling two, we feel, are the cargo-lift height (from the ground to the cargo floor), and the "Sparky" factor (from the closed rear glass to the second-row seatback) where man's best friend might ride. In these two dimensions, the RAV4 scored the highest. Just 24 inches high, the RAV4's floor would be the most welcome perch to find when lifting a heavy or awkward load (Santa Fe = 29 inches; CX-7 = 30 inches). And good ol' Sparky would find 26 inches in which to maneuver (Santa Fe = 23 inches; CX-7 = 18 inches).
Furthermore, you'd find tie-down points, a deep secret storage compartment (the optional third-row seat isn't available in the Sport), a power point and two levers to release the spring-loaded second-row seatbacks. Bonus. The only problem here is that the massive rear door doesn't swing up out of the way, or even to the left. The barn door opens from left to right or directly in front of the curb where you're likely to place luggage, for instance.
Second place is a hard pill to swallow for such a well-conceived, highly engineered and obviously evolved vehicle. In fact, we wonder how many Toyota Highlanders won't be sold as a result of the 2006 RAV4's presence. But when we tallied the points, we realized the compromises inherent in the RAV4's package and price. Its total barely dipped under the CX-7's by 1.55 points. So close that we almost called it a tie.
That's why the RAV4 received such a high score on the Recommended Rating for the vehicle we'd recommend to be the best for the average consumer shopping in this segment.
Third Place: 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD
Unless you've been stranded on an uncharted island for the past few years, you know Hyundai has been quietly, methodically mounting an assault on the auto industry. The company's first task was to lure potential customers with low prices and unbeatable warranties to minimize risk and concerns with quality. The second order of business was to build a vehicle with powertrain sophistication and overall dynamics that, at least on paper, line up with those of its competitors. Finally, and here's the tricky bit, Hyundai had to design exteriors and interiors that weren't dreadful and didn't look or feel discounted.
A to B to C
If you connect the steps described above, you'll find a graceful arc pointing to the redesigned 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe. As "all new" as a vehicle can be, the second-generation Santa Fe was designed for Americans, in America. It's also built here, in Montgomery, Alabama. Hyundai set its goals high for the 2007 Santa Fe by benchmarking the leading unibody crossovers from Acura, Lexus and Volvo in terms of performance, style, safety and sophistication. And those ambitious objectives didn't preclude a modicum of off-road capability, either.
The result is a vehicle that is satisfyingly upscale on the inside and out and in some cases outperforms its competitors while maintaining Hyundai's reputation for value. Unfortunately, the Santa Fe faces an uphill climb wrought with unexpected obstacles as it attempts to usurp sales from the widely accepted yardstick Toyota RAV4 and sporty newcomer Mazda CX-7.
That's a Hyundai?
The first thing you'll notice with the Santa Fe is its fresh new sheet metal. It would be simple to improve upon the previous (2001-'06) Santa Fe's looks, but the '07 model represents a large step forward for the South Korean company. That first-gen vehicle's awkward headlamps and overly contoured door panels (with very plastic brush guards) looked like it was a wagon trying too hard to be a tough SUV. That it appeared to have been involved in a T-bone accident didn't help matters.
Who would've ever imagined a Hyundai Santa Fe would one day be mistaken for a Lexus? That's exactly what happened in the parking lot while we had the little-seen vehicle. "Is that a new Lexus?" asked a grocery-toting woman. "Nope, it's a Hyundai," I replied. "Wow, it's really pretty," she proclaimed while pursing her lips and cocking her head as if to refocus her gaze. And we agree. The 2007 Santa Fe, while not necessarily setting a new high watermark in design, does indeed open a new chapter for the underdog carmaker.
From its modern, assertive face to a restrained profile with 18-inch alloy wheels and jeweled taillamps, the exterior styling certainly suggests sophistication and a contemporary bearing. Inside, too, the Santa Fe ups the ante with an attractive two-tone environment accented by believable faux wood and reserved use of metallic details. Including the Limited model's standard leather seating (heated up front), it'd be hard not to call the Santa Fe's interior luxurious and tasteful.
Second row is not second rate
Some (in truth, most) evaluators who drove the Santa Fe were unable to find a comfortable driving position matching their respective body shapes. The most frequent complaint was that the front seat bottom was too high off the floor. Attempting to lower it to the bottom of its height adjustment was futile. It was already bottomed out. A few wished for more lumbar support and felt the center console/armrest was too far aft, as well.
The Santa Fe's rear accommodations, however, are regal in comparison to the RAV4, and especially the CX-7. Second-row passengers will enjoy well-contoured seats with back angle-adjustment, two separate vents for the HVAC system, a power point, ample storage and two-cup plus two-bottle holders in the doors. Without a doubt, the Santa Fe has the best accommodations for your friends and family. Although our tester was not so equipped, a third-row option expands seating capacity to seven.
Self-esteem? Yep. Motivation? Well...?
The 2007 Santa Fe is available with your choice of two all-aluminum V6 engines: a 185-hp 2.7-liter mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed auto, or, like our Limited tester, a 242-hp 3.3-liter with a five-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is optional throughout the lineup, and ours was so outfitted. The vehicle's acceleration is strong, but the Santa Fe's stout 4,000-pound-plus weight (compared to the RAV4's 3,700 pounds) relegated it to 3rd place at the drag strip.
Around town, more than a couple test drivers found the five-speed loath to downshift unless the throttle pedal was approaching the floor. Similar to the RAV4's V6, the peak torque doesn't occur until 4500 rpm, which means the engine must rev to motivate itself. When the downshift does finally occur, the Santa Fe sometimes realizes it must go down two gears to comply with the driver's request to pass. Suddenly, the big V6 behaves like a struggling four-cylinder engine, zinging up to near-redline intensity.
Managing the Santa Fe's considerable heft through the slalom course is another weighty task. Though the vehicle does an admirable job, confidently snaking its way through at over 60 mph (with fully defeatable stability control, thank you), it cannot mask the reality that there's only so much a set of all-season tires and a ride-quality-oriented suspension can do. Eventually, the Santa Fe's mass outdoes its finesse. Darned Newtonian Physics.
We also attempted the slalom test with the standard stability control system in the default position (which is decidedly "on") and found that the Santa Fe's engineering teams have built in a large cushion of safety, activating the system early and often.
Braking the beast is also a fairly large mission. Equipped with standard front and rear disc brakes including four-channel ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution, the Santa Fe still requires about 140 feet to stop from 60 mph. Not horrible or even unexpected, but not a confidence-inspiring performance either. Considering the other two opponents did the same task and used up between 10 and 17 fewer feet (a significant amount) and a 5,600-pound Cadillac Escalade requires just 4 feet more, means there's room for improvement here.
The real world
All this "10-10ths" testing means little to most people out in the real world. On an even asphalt road, the Santa Fe's ride is always gentle and compliant, but oftentimes (especially on Los Angeles's concrete-slab freeways) the spring/damper settings can't cope with a rhythmically choppy surface. Its placid and pillowy demeanor gives way to a busy, almost harsh ride. The Santa Fe is unable to envelop both the wavy surface and its potato chip-curled edges. Whether it's an unsprung weight issue or a lack of compliance in the tires' sidewalls, the suspension feels overtaxed at times.
The steering weight is quite good, but when hustled, there's some delay between input and the resulting change in direction. The brakes, too, can feel labored. Anything more than a very casual, predicted stop tends to exaggerate the Santa Fe's weight and its soft suspension. The nose dips and the tail rises. It's interesting that most of the driving characteristics described above would sound completely realistic for a full-sized ExpeNaviBurbaLade. Usually, we praise vehicles for "driving smaller than their size would indicate"; however, the Santa Fe suffers in the opposite direction here.
Not exactly trail-rated
We honestly expected the Santa Fe to shame the other two crossovers in the 37-mile off-road portion of our test. It has a lockable all-wheel-drive system, ties the CX-7 at 8.1 inches of ground clearance (RAV4 has 7.5), and the Santa Fe has the most yielding suspension. We were only partially right. The Hyundai's suspension does soak up more bumps and clearly the axle articulation was better than the CX7 and RAV4; however, the Santa Fe's steering wheel shudders and vibrates like a paint shaker on rutted and rocky trails, ruining an otherwise temperate and smooth experience.
Unlike the RAV4's electric-assist power steering that isolates front-tire hop, the Santa Fe's straight hydraulic system kicks back and quakes in your hands. Further undermining its predicted prowess, the programming for the manual-gate electronic transmission occasionally hiccupped. Sometimes, and we can't pin down the exact criteria, after we had made a manual shift from 1st to 2nd gear, the Santa Fe would downshift back to 1st, sending the tachometer spinning like a clock toward its redline. (Some of you might recognize this same anomalous behavior from a blog on our long-term Hyundai Sonata LX.) There's definitely a technical service bulletin in this transmission's future.
In total, the Santa Fe stands as a demonstration of Hyundai's commitment to raising its own bar to a height once thought impossible. Compared to a Lexus from the outside, or a Toyota in terms of performance, and taking to the trail like a true 4x4, the Santa Fe certainly will capture the attention of the establishment. Luckily for them, Hyundai is still one full- or half-generation behind when we focus our microscope on the fundamentals separating 1st or 2nd place from 3rd.
Undoubtedly, the Santa Fe is the most luxurious crossover here, and it packs a thorough list of standard features for which you'll pay extra in some of its competitors. However, when ride quality, ergonomics and our professional preferences are factored into the final equation, the otherwise blossoming Santa Fe wilts within the hothouse of scrutiny. Well done, Hyundai. Your day will come.
2007 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD
"I bought a 2007 Santa Fe last night. Like many of you, I drove every vehicle in the class, from Highlander and RAV4 to CR-V, Murano and Outlander. The Santa Fe is the best looking, best riding and best value of them all. The warranty is also a big deal. I ended up getting the 2wd model with the smaller V6 (2.7L) and the auto tranny. I also got the appearance package with sunroof, etc. As far as MPG goes, I tested 2wd, 4wd, 3.3L and 2.7L V6 versions and there was only less than 1 mpg difference on the highway. With only 50 miles on the vehicle I got 26.2 mpg in the 2.7L 2wd and 25.5 in the 3.3L AWD version. This was only a 20-mile test on 2-lane state highway through rolling hills. As soon as you slow down and hit traffic the MPG starts dropping pretty fast. I pick mine up tomorrow afternoon and will report back as I see how it performs. I drive 65 miles a day and have to drive up a 4,000-foot mountain to get to work. I will be a good test case for this vehicle. I just blew the transmission in a new Liberty Diesel on that mountain which is why I'm now a Santa Fe owner." — new2diesel, July 26, 2006
"One thing is for sure, being the only one for miles definitely turns heads. Everyone wants to know what it is. 'It looks so much like the Lexus' is what I get, as well. I did not want the 3rd row seat, though. I didn't feel safe putting kids back there. If you ever saw the cargo of the '06, then you will love the cargo of the '07 Santa Fe. It is like having a trunk back there. Locks down and even in our hot weather, it kept my meat and milk cold for over an hour." — tjlovell, July, 25, 2006
"I had a chance to test-drive an '07 Santa Fe GLS this weekend. Let me be the first to say, "Boy! The hype surrounding the vehicle, in my humble opinion, is well deserved." I drove the powder blue with the beige interior. The pictures don't do it justice. Also, saw one in person yesterday and it is a head-turner. It was nice on the inside. The beige interior was well done. The center stack was not cluttered (a bonus). I'm about 5' 8.5" and I had more than enough room in the back behind the adjusted driver's seat. I was so excited to actually test one that I didn't get a chance to enjoy the ride but I did notice a few things. I enjoyed the absence of any cabin noise, loose suspension and truck-like feeling. I also tested a 2006 Saturn Vue, and what a difference. I know it's not considered competition any longer but just to see. That was disappointing." — lasberry, July 24, 2006
2007 Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring AWD
"We love our new CX-7 [Grand Touring AWD]. We had been shopping for about three months and we thought we had decided on a Murano when we saw the CX-7 at the auto show. We decided to wait and drive one before we made our purchase. We love the way it handles and the gas mileage is better than what we have read about the Nissan. It is very "zippy" and I have NEVER heard a sound system in a car that was like the Bose sound system this thing has. The color we bought is Pearl White and we have the Technology Package. We will probably get another one when my husband's lease is up on his Lexus in August. What a great vehicle. Favorite Features: the stereo and the navigation. When you put it in reverse a little camera shows you what is behind you. Suggested Improvements: better availability. We got what we wanted, but it was our third color choice." — larinkc, June 15, 2006
"I took delivery only two weeks ago, so this review may be a bit premature. But I'm really happy with the car so far. I test drove all the vehicles in its class before deciding on the CX-7. It's clearly designed to take on the Nissan Murano and does so with panache. I'm a big Nissan fan (my other car is a Maxima) and the CX-7 replaced a Pathfinder. I was impressed with how the CX-7 stacked up against the Murano in every possible way — for several thousand dollars less on a comparably equipped car. The CX-7 lives up to its "zoom zoom" billing. It's easy to find yourself doing 85-90 mph on the highway as the engine hasn't begun to break a sweat at that point. Steering on twisting country roads is impressive, as is the car's stopping ability. Suggested Improvements: To keep costs down Mazda cut corners when it came to the CX-7's interior finish. The inside is hard to keep clean, including the leather seats, piano finish on the dash, the doors and especially the carpeting. I'd also recommend getting mud flaps." — GDorsey, June 15, 2006
"I bought my CX-7 [Grand Touring AWD] about a week ago, and it's incredibly fun to drive. The transmission changes gears smoothly and effortlessly. The CX-7 never feels heavy or ponderous, and it's able to zip ahead when you want to pass; whether you're going 30 or 80 mph. Handling and braking are very good. The CX-7 handles turns and cloverleafs much better than other SUVs without feeling like the car is leaning. Exterior styling is great. People have walked up in parking lots to ask about it and offer compliments on how good it looks. I've found myself just going out to drive, or heading to a store 20 miles away just to get a chance to drive a little more. Favorite Features: Very attractive exterior styling, excellent handling and braking, automatic shifts very smoothly, nav system is very easy to use. Suggested Improvements: Mileage is only OK. My 1st tank got 17.8 mpg in mixed driving. I'd like more places to put stuff, like sunglasses, etc. Main storage right now is a HUGE center console, which is useful, but I also like little places on the dash and overhead for sunglasses." — CX-7owner, June 15, 2006
2006 Toyota RAV4 Sport AWD (3.5L V6)
"I picked up a 3.5L Sport AWD RAV4 recently and couldn't be more impressed. This thing is an absolute missile in a straight line and handles very well with minimal body roll. It's quiet inside and out. It's roomy, comfortable, and I have really no complaints to speak of. It feels solid and "high quality." The RAV's a not-so-little-anymore SUV. I love it. Favorite Features: That jewel of an engine, the 3.5L VVT-i V6. Suggested Improvements: Moonroof standard on the Sport would be nice." — leaf74, June, 25, 2006
"I had narrowed down the choices for my first SUV to the Infiniti FX35, Nissan Murano and Subaru Tribeca. After discovering those were out of my price range, I was ready to settle down with a Pontiac Torrent. But with poorly rated GM reliability, a 3.4L engine now built in China (a huge Red flag) and GM's poor scores on customer support, I was simply overwhelmed when I drove the new RAV4. It was a very pleasant surprise, and, although more expensive than in 2005, it's well worth the extra bucks. Build quality is exceptional, as well as the ride and a peppy 3.5L V6 that has ooomph. I felt, however, that options were very limited. To get a standard sunroof, I would have had to go with Limited, but stayed with the Sport. Oh well, can't have everything. Favorite Features: Ride, sporty look, very roomy, black interior in Sport version. This is a hit for Toyota. Suggested Improvements: Expanding the options list to include a sunroof and premium audio without having to go to Limited." — DrMike, June 12, 2006
"I've driven about 600 miles in my RAV4 V6 Sport: half freeway, half city. So far it's been great. I've gotten 26 on the highway and 21 in the city. Lots of pep, looks beautiful. It feels like a substantial car while maintaining a nimble feel. Once I get my aftermarket leather, it'll be perfect. Favorite Features: The sport suspension in my sport model¿stiff, just the way I like it. I also love the cavernous cabin. Suggested Improvements: Seat support from hip to knee is strangely short, and I'm only 5-foot-4. One other weird thing: The odometer doesn't show both the trip miles and the overall miles at the same time. Rear window should be able to be rolled down or opened some way." — upnup, June 06, 2006
"The RAV4 V6 Sport has great pickup and is fun to drive. My husband and the men in his family are all over 6 feet tall, and they can ride comfortably in the RAV4. The V6 has way more power than I really needed, but is useful for towing and heavy loads. The gas mileage is good. I drive on the highway and city streets a lot and get about 24-25 miles per gallon. Considering horsepower and safety features, I got more for my money than I would have with the other competing brands. Plus, Toyotas have a reputation for reliability. Favorite Features: The Sport V6 is fun to drive and the rear seats recline and glide fore and aft. I used the downhill-assist feature and it worked wonderfully! It has tons of safety features. Suggested Improvements: Toyota should make power seats and 6-disc CD changers standard on their Sport model, not just the Limited. They need to revise the cupholders and include automatic locks when the car is shifted to Drive. Horn is a little wimpy, too." — O-lily, May 17, 2006
"I was skeptical about SUVs before, but I proved myself wrong after driving the 2006 RAV4. Its standard stability control gives me the security to drive one. I'm loving the powerful V6 engine, too. The size is just right: not too big, but with enough legroom. The only thing I don't like about it is the sound system. The sound tends to be boxy even on FM stations. Favorite Features: V6 engine, 4WD, stability control, cargo cover and the new look. Suggested Improvements: Improve sound system, make leather seats an option on the sports RAV4 and place the spare tire somewhere else." — MFM, April 23, 2006