Sporty drive for the class, comfortable front seats, ample feature content, unique styling.
Slow, smaller interior than several competitors, less versatile backseat.
The 2010 Mazda CX-7 struggles to get attention in the crowded small-crossover segment. Ever since it debuted three years ago, it has come standard with a 244-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder. Typically, a powerful engine like this is either an option or not offered at all in this segment. This punchy engine, along with the CX-7's impressive handling abilities and swept-back styling, helped it stand out in comparison tests and on editorial pages — just not in sales.
Why? Most consumers in this segment are perfectly happy with a regular four-cylinder engine that trades power for better fuel economy and a lower price tag. Therefore, the CX-7 was, for many shoppers, too thirsty, too expensive and too small compared to the segment's best-sellers.
The 2010 Mazda CX-7 i represents an overdue response to this major shortfall as it features a new, normally aspirated base engine. Producing 161 hp, this 2.5-liter four-cylinder model isn't as quick as the turbocharged CX-7, which is still available as the CX-7 s model. The CX-7 i model's changes also result in longer stopping distances and less impressive handling.
Though a downgrade, Mazda has made the CX-7 more relevant by better appealing to the needs and expectations of this segment, while also making it cheaper. The CX-7 will never be able to match the Honda CR-V for supremacy — its utility disadvantage and the smaller number of Mazda dealerships will see to that — but at least this compact crossover now has a fighting chance.
The CX-7 i is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 161 hp and 161 pound-feet of torque, an output that is actually less than that of the related four-cylinder engines used for the lighter Mazda 3 and Mazda 6 sedans.
So equipped, the CX-7 "sprints" from zero to 60 mph in a lazy 9.8 seconds, putting it alongside the Honda CR-V as one of the more sluggish vehicles in its class. The CX-7 at least offers more low-end power than the CR-V for around-town driving, not to mention a more powerful optional engine should you need a quicker SUV. The CX-7's five-speed automatic is also quite responsive and has a welcome manual override feature.
In terms of fuel economy, a front-wheel-drive CX-7 obtains an EPA estimate of 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. That's 1 mpg less than the front-wheel-drive CR-V, RAV4 and Nissan Rogue, and 3 mpg less than the Chevy Equinox. In two weeks with our CX-7 i test vehicle, we essentially matched the combined number at 22.46 mpg.
Unfortunately, though, the CX-7 didn't just lose thrust when it ditched the turbocharger. Much like the Mazda 3 i trim level, the CX-7 i is less dynamically impressive than its "s" trim comrade, presumably due to less sport-oriented tires. Braking performance from 60 mph was a mediocre 131 feet, while the last CX-7 s we tested stopped in 123.
It was also slower through the slalom and circled our skid pad with significantly less grip (0.73g versus 0.79g). However, the CX-7 still feels sportier than everything else in its class. The steering is well-weighted and transmits more road feel than you'd typically expect, providing a better connection between driver and car. If you're an owner of a Mazda 3 hatchback and looking to move up a size, the CX-7 should provide enough of a familiar driving experience to satisfy.
As a sportier-tuned crossover SUV, the CX-7 offers a firm ride, but those used to a Mazda 3 or another similarly tuned car will find the ride suitably comfortable for your commute or highway journeys. Nevertheless, potholes and other city-bound road imperfections will cause harsher reactions than a RAV4 or Equinox would. Road and wind noise are about what you'd expect for the class, though both are less pronounced than the CR-V's.
In general the driving position is more carlike than other crossovers. The optional power driver seat and standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel create an ideal position for even tall drivers in a segment not especially known for catering to them. However, the CX-7 offers a less airy greenhouse and some may find their heads brushing the ceiling.
In back, space is comparable to compact models like the Nissan Rogue and Hyundai Tucson, but also like those models, the seat neither reclines nor slides for additional room as it does in the CR-V and Equinox. We also thought the CX-7's rear bench was mounted a bit low, which makes it a bit more difficult for adults to get comfortable.
The addition of white lettering in the CX-7's gauges for 2010 makes them more legible at night, though they aren't electroluminescent and can be difficult to see in daylight. The rest of the controls are backlit in red and organized close at hand, with a shared display mounted separately high atop the dash.
This display is a bit busy, though, and the font for the audio information is too large — especially for satellite radio. Thankfully, the optional back-up camera includes a small color screen (that is utilized by the optional navigation system as well), which can display audio information as well as the trip computer. It's also used for the optional iPod interface, but our car wasn't so equipped.
The CX-7 falls into the smaller of two subcategories within the so-called compact crossover segment. Its 59 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity (with the rear seats folded) is on par with similarly sized crossovers like the Hyundai Tucson and Nissan Rogue, but significantly smaller than the larger group of CR-V, RAV4 and Subaru Forester.
Still, there's plenty of room for golf clubs and a large suitcase in the deep cargo area, while those rear seats fold easily thanks to a pair of pulls located close to the tailgate. A child safety seat fits better in the CR-V and RAV4 (and is more easily accessed from the driver seat because of those models' sliding rear seats), but most parents will find that the CX-7 meets their needs.
Design/Fit and Finish
The Mazda CX-7 offers one of the more visually interesting cabins in the class. Even though our test vehicle was of a lower trim level, the materials used and the construction that put them together are slightly above average.
The exterior was revised for 2010, with a more aggressive front end highlighted by a bigger grille and vertically oriented side ports. For the most part, the CX-7 remains one of the most distinctive-looking models in the segment.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2010 Mazda CX-7 i is a sporty alternative to top sellers like the four-cylinder Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, for buyers who don't need those models' greater amount of utility. Still, its pokey acceleration and so-so fuel economy make other similarly sized crossovers like the Hyundai Tucson a must-drive.