Full 2008 Mazda CX-7 Review
What's New for 2008
Introduced last year, the Mazda CX-7 receives no significant changes for 2008.
The 2008 Mazda CX-7 handily dismisses the notion that SUVs are supposed to be big, lumbering things shaped like a cargo container on wheels. Even those that are fairly aerodynamic look like bricks alongside the CX-7's radically raked front end. Influenced by Mazda's RX-8 and Miata sports cars, the styling hints of an interior and a driving character that's also indicative of those cars. While this Mazda crossover may lag behind some other compact SUVs in terms of utility, its performance and handling abilities make it the most rewarding choice in its class to drive.
Most small or midsize crossover SUVs come with four- and six-cylinder engines. The CX-7, however, comes with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine only. Very similar to the engine used in the Mazdaspeed 3 sport hatchback, the turbo-4 makes 244 horsepower in this application. Acceleration is near the top of the class, though the CX-7 can be thirsty -- particularly on the highway. Some may also find the engine's power delivery to be less smooth than a V6's.
Around corners, twisty roads and in on-road driving in general, the CX-7 shines. Its firm suspension setup provides a level of precision and isolation similar to a BMW's. The steering is direct, with great effort and feel, while a sporty steering wheel helps to fool you into thinking you're driving something other than an SUV.
Based on the CX-7's mid-$20Ks price tag, its chief competitors would seem to be common small SUV choices like the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Saturn Vue and Toyota RAV4 V6. However, the CX-7 is sportier than all of these vehicles. As such, its closest competitors are the Mitsubishi Outlander and the turbocharged Subaru Forester XT. Both the Mazda and the Mitsubishi exhibit edgy, almost sexy styling, and all three of these vehicles provide plenty of driving fun in exchange for reduced fuel economy. The lightweight Subaru is the speediest of the group, but it's beginning to show its age whether you're talking passenger space or handling acuity. Most buyers will find the roomier, sharper Mazda a better bet, and we'd give it a slight advantage over the Mitsu based on its superior build quality and slightly quicker acceleration. The Outlander surpasses the 2008 Mazda CX-7 when it comes to utility, though, and those seeking an entertaining and affordable SUV should check out both.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Mazda CX-7 is a midsize, five-passenger crossover SUV available in three trim levels -- Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The well-equipped Sport starts things off with 18-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, a six-way power driver seat and a CD player. Next up is the midlevel Touring model, which adds leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat and front seat heaters. The Grand Touring is the top-of-the-line CX-7 and features xenon headlights, heated exterior mirrors, an upgraded gauge cluster, automatic headlights, automatic climate control and distinct leather upholstery.
All three trim levels can be improved with additional options. A sunroof and an upgraded Bose audio system (with an in-dash six-CD changer) are grouped together as a package. They are also included in the Technology Package, as is a navigation system, a keyless-ignition feature and a rear park-assist system with a rearview camera. A preferred equipment package consists of a cargo net, cargo tray, retracting cargo cover and a rear-bumper step plate.
Powertrains and Performance
The sole powertrain is a turbocharged, direct-injection 2.3-liter inline-4 good for 244 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability is standard. The CX-7 is available with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Since the CX-7 is a dedicated on-road SUV, there is no low-range gearing. In normal driving situations, the all-wheel-drive system routes 100 percent of the engine's power to the front wheels. If there is a loss of traction, up to 50 percent of engine power is automatically and quickly applied to the rear wheels.
Although a loaded Grand Touring AWD model weighs close to 2 tons, performance is still relatively brisk, with zero to 60 mph taking just 7.7 seconds. Braking performance is very impressive, with fade-free stops from 60 mph of 113 feet. Fuel economy estimates from the EPA rate the 2008 CX-7 AWD at 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway. This is about equal to its V6-powered competitors. Owners interested in towing will be somewhat limited, as the CX-7 can lug just 2,000 pounds.
Antilock disc brakes, stability control, front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags come standard on all trim levels. In crash testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2008 Mazda CX-7 performed very well, garnering a top five-star rating in both front and side collisions. Similarly, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the CX-7 its highest rating of "Good" for both frontal-offset and side-impact crashworthiness.
Interior Design and Special Features
The CX-7's radical styling carries inside, where an edgy yet functional cabin design greets drivers who are looking for a little visual excitement in their compact sport-ute. A sporty three-spoke steering wheel is very similar to the one found in the Miata, while the gauge cluster is reminiscent of the RX-8's. Build quality is also very good, and ergonomics are spot-on. However, some may object to the radio and climate display being placed atop the dash and away from its respective controls.
Most people will find the CX-7 comfortable, as its wide body provides plenty of hiproom in the backseat for those times when all five seats need to be occupied. Rear legroom is a little less than its main competitors, but despite the Mazda's severely raked roof line, headroom is good all around. Luggage capacity trails most of its competitors by about 6 cubic feet, though, with about 30 cubes of space behind the second row. Maximum capacity is 58.6 cubic feet, which is on par with the Nissan Rogue but more than 10 cubes fewer than the RAV4 and CR-V.
When it comes to handling and brake performance, the 2008 Mazda CX-7 lives up to the "soul of a sports car" hype. The power steering is nicely weighted, and the effort increases in direct proportion to cornering forces. This SUV feels very stable in turns and changes direction quickly. The CX-7 rides a bit firmer than most competitors, but it's a small price to pay for such an enjoyable drive. The engine exhibits some turbo lag (the delay between pressing the accelerator and the turbo developing its full power), and the CX-7's significant amount of torque can catch you by surprise at times. Those used to smooth V6 power deliveries may find the turbo-4 to be a little abrupt.