Now, I love family and dog friendliness as much as the next guy but there are a whole hell of a lot of choices in the compact SUV segment including the Honda CR-V, 2011 Kia Sportage, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-7, Jeep Liberty, VW Tiguan, Ford Escape, Mitsubishi Outlander, Hyundai Tucson and the list goes on. No, seriously, it’s a long list.
The thing is, over the past year I have tested all of these SUVs barring the Chevy Equinox and the Mazda CX-7. Does this make me a compact SUV expert? Did I have some profound revelation during my journey on this compact SUV vision quest?
No, what it really did was make me question the engineering wisdom that goes into designing small station wagons with unnecessarily tall ride heights. All that does is make the vehicle top heavy (more body roll, less fun to drive) and also makes it harder to load heavy cargo into the back. There is a reason why the laws of physics don’t favor SUVs. Because they make no sense.
Doesn’t the word SUV made up of the words “sport” (fun to drive) and “utility” (ease of use). Also the word “vehicle” but I didn’t have a pithy comment for that one. Wow, I think I may have a serious case of C.S.U.V.B.S-otherwise known as “Compact SUV Burnout Syndrome.”
Ah, the poor little 2010 Mazda CX-7 iSport that I am testing this week really is facing an uphill battle considering my inherent preconceptions about this market segment. Let’s see if the CX-7 goes down in flames or if it turns out to be something else entirely.
Although Mazda has taken some flak for the chrome ringed open mouth grin of its latest front end designs, I love the looks of everything from the 3 to the 6 and also the CX-7. The CX-7’s flared wheel arches give this SUV a flowing, elegant presence that is lacking in so many designs which often mistake pointless angularity for actual style.
The part of the CX-7 that I enjoyed most, however, was the fact that it looked like a highly stylized station wagon. I realize that “station wagon” is a dirty word in the United States but from me it is the highest praise. Wagons are huge in Europe and one day they will be popular again here too. Whether or not you are ahead of the curve is up to you.
Not everyone is so insecure that they need their SUV to scream out to the world that they are tough and that they have an “outdoorsy” lifestyle. Simply put, the CX-7’s styling is bold but never obnoxiously brash so it has all of the hallmarks of a design that will age well.
Interior Styling and Utility
Thanks to a forward canting dashboard design, the interior of the 2010 Mazda CX-7 has an airy an open feel to it. Too many SUVs nowadays have towering dashboards that are not only claustrophobic but they can also make it harder for shorter people to see out.
As per the norm, all of your routine touch points in the CX-7 are covered in soft touch plastic and chrome trim has been liberally applied all over the cabin. There are nice cubbies in the center console and side doors but Mazda didn’t get as creative as some competitors on that front.
The rear cargo area is nicely shaped but a little small compared to some rivals at 29.9 cubic feet. Some claim that beauty is pain and if that is true then the price for the CX-7’s good looks is the loss of a bit of cargo space. Folding down the second row of seats takes care of that issue if you ever suddenly need to turn your CX-7 into a makeshift moving van.
My only ergonomic quibble with the interior of the 2010 Mazda CX-7 had to do with the radio face plate’s 3 poorly marked knobs. Really, we need 3 now? I kept grabbing the wrong one and, yes, I am sure I would get used to it but I say less is more. I coped by using the secondary audio controls mounted on the steering wheel.
Pricing, Features and Fuel Economy
My test CX-7 iSport came with all manner of optional scuff plates (for a front wheel drive vehicle?) and $430 for Sirius satellite radio which I thought were unnecessary additions to the agreeable $22,490 base price. The only option I highly recommend is the $1,750 Convenience Package which adds a back-up camera, automatic climate control, a power moonroof, heated front seats and a power driver’s seat.
Otherwise, the CX-7 iSport comes with all of the features you would expect plus some you don’t like Bluetooth, tinted glass and terrific looking 17-inch alloy wheels. The only thing lacking is any form of optional USB/iPod connectivity.
My CX-7 iSport only came with an auxiliary input jack that connected to the surprisingly clear 4-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system. Auxiliary input jacks force you to look down at your iPod to change the song, album or playlist and that is just as dangerous as texting.
EPA fuel economy ratings for the CX-7 iSport are 20 city/28 highway and we got a still respectable 21.8 mile per gallon average over the course of the week. The fuel tank is decently sized at 16.4 cubic feet so the CX-7 also makes for an excellent road trip companion.
The iSport version of the 2010 Mazda CX-7 only comes in front wheel drive form as the 2.5 liter 161 horsepower/161 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder would probably be overwhelmed by the burden of all-wheel drive. But around town and on busy Southern California freeways performance is on a par with its competition.
If you want more “Zoom-Zoom” you can always order your CX-7 with the optional 2.3 liter turbocharged 244 horsepower/258 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder motor. All-wheel drive is available with turbocharged CX-7 models and a six-speed automatic is standard.
The 2.5 liter engine may only have a five speed automatic but it copes admirably with having less power to play with. Shifts are smooth and even when you have to floor the throttle the motor plays an aurally pleasing harmony.
Mazda makes some of the best sounding 4-cylinder engines out there. They are never buzzy or harsh but instead emit throaty growls that are never grating. The same is true of the 2.5 liter 4 cylinder in the CX-7 but how is the handling and steering? Isn’t this where all SUVs inevitably fail?
This is the point where the 2010 Mazda CX-7 becomes an entirely different beast because it corners, steers, rides and handles like a precision tuned German sport wagon. Turn in is crisp, the steering is well weighted and offers plenty of feel and the ride is generally still very smooth.
And, miracle of miracles, the 2010 Mazda CX-7 doesn’t require cornering speeds of your average Wooly Mammoth like most of its SUV competition. To me, steering and handling are what make vehicles truly fun to drive. And Mazda really nailed their set-ups on both counts. If you want “Zoom-Zoom,” the 2010 Mazda CX-7 has it.
How Dog and Kid Friendly is It?
The interior of my test 2010 Mazda CX-7 iSport was black which is always difficult to keep clean thanks to my dog Daisy Mae’s light brown fur. But the cloth upholstery looks durable and the plastics felt squishy and were not scratch prone like so much of the stuff you find in modern Toyotas.
There is only seating for five in the CX-7 so if you have kids (and you haul around other kids) you may want to look at the 7-passenger Mazda CX-9. Otherwise, there is plenty of legroom in back with D-rings for two car seats. You can also attach your dog’s safety harness to the aforementioned car seat D-rings.
The low liftover height means loading heavy cargo into the smallish (yet smartly shaped) 29.9 cubic foot cargo hold is easy. This also helped 8-year old Daisy Mae hop up into the back seat easily. With the second row of seats folded cargo volume swells to an impressive 58.6 cubic feet. Honestly, do you need more than that?
For those of you out there who claim the station wagon is dead look no further than the 2010 Mazda CX-7 as proof of its very existence and many superior virtues. Thanks to its lower ride height, high utility wagon profile, crisp steering and exceptional handling, it really lives up to Mazda’s “Zoom-Zoom” manufacturing ethos.
The 2.5 liter may not be the most powerful 4-cylinder engine out there but the CX-7 iSport felt just as fast as most of the rivals I have tested. And if you want to be really, really naughty you can always order yours with the 2.3 liter turbocharged engine instead.
Either way, if you actually like driving the 2010 Mazda CX-7 makes an excellent choice. It is the first compact SUV I have tested that proved to be a highly capable driver’s car. I really, really wasn’t expecting that.
Vehicle Tested: 2010 Mazda CX-7i Sport
Base Price: $22,490
Price as Tested: $25,690 (including destination)
Options on Tester: Sirius satellite radio : ($430), Rear bumper guard : ($125), Scuff Plates : ($145), Convenience Package-(includes heated front seats, power moonroof, back-up camera, power driver’s seat, automatic climate control) : ($1,750)
Engine: 2.5 liter 4-cylinder
Power: 161 horsepower/161 lb. feet of torque
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
0-60: 10 seconds (estimated)
Fuel Economy (EPA): 20 city/28 highway
Fuel Economy as Tested: 21.8 miles per gallon
Fuel Tank Size: 16.4 gallons
Runs on: Regular Unleaded
Tow Capacity: 1,500 pounds
Cargo Volume (rear seats in place): 29.9 cubic feet
(Second Row Folded): 58.6 cubic feet
Crash Test Ratings (NHTSA): Front driver/passenger-(5 stars both sides)
Side Impact: front seat/rear seat-(5 stars front and back)
Rollover Protection: 4 stars
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 mile bumper to bumper
5 years/60,000 mile powertrain
Vehicle Assembled in: Hiroshima, Japan
Vehicle Provided by: Mazda USA
For More Information on Automotive Pet Safety: BarkBuckleUp.com