Mazda makes pop­u­lar CX-7 more ap­peal­ing

Austin American-Statesman - - STATESMAN CARS - By Pete Szi­lagyi

When the Mazda CX-7 ar­rived in 2006, I com­pared it to my first at­tempt to bake bread, a loaf with a per­fectly browned crust but a doughy, un­der­cooked in­te­rior.

I liked the CX-7 con­cept: a fun, tur­bocharged en­gine from a sports hatch­back in a mid­size SUV wrapped in the best-look­ing sheet metal of any cross­over.

On the other hand, the CX-7 was just too raw.

Mazda ap­par­ently heard these com­ments from oth­ers and made sig­nif­i­cant changes to the CX-7 for 2010. Now it’s softer and more pleas­ant to drive, a more fully re­al­ized ve­hi­cle.

I should men­tion that thou­sands of oth­ers did not share my ini­tial half-baked re­ac­tion. The CX-7 has been a brisk seller, es­pe­cially in Austin, one of Mazda’s best mar­kets.

The re­vised CX-7 is pretty much the same lively ve­hi­cle with key up­grades, in­clud­ing a new dash­board and in­stru­ment panel of more up­scale ma­te­ri­als.

Sound in­su­la­tion has been added (though still not enough), the frame has been stiff­ened with ad­di­tional welds and gus­sets, and the ir­ri­tat­ing jit­ter­i­ness has been tuned out of the sus­pen­sion and ride with no ap­par­ent han­dling penalty.

The 2.3-liter tur­bocharged four has been re­tained. Mazda is still ask­ing own­ers to use pre­mium fuel in the CX-7 for max­i­mum per­for­mance, al­though the com­pany says reg­u­lar grade will not harm the en­gine.

Con­tin­ued from D1

Power is abun­dant: 244 horse­power, 258 pounds of torque. In this class of crossovers, only the Ford Edge, GMC Ter­rain, Chevro­let Equinox and Toy­ota RAV4 V-6s of­fer more horse­power.

Rec­og­niz­ing driv­ers who can’t af­ford or don’t want the pre­mium turbo en­gine, or all-wheel drive, Mazda is now of­fer­ing the non­turbo, 161-horse­power, 2.5-liter four that serves as base en­gine in its Mazda6 sedan. In the CX-7, this front-wheel-drive-only base model with five-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion has bet­ter En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency mileage rat­ings than the turbo but, of course, tamer per­for­mance.

I didn’t get a chance to drive the new en­gine — Mazda in­stead sent a Grand Tour­ing all­wheel drive, 2.3-liter turbo CX-7 listed at $33,900, a bold price for this class of SUV but far from the most ex­pen­sive. Base CX-7 2.5i be­gins at $22,450.

EPA es­ti­mates for the new en­gine are 20 city, 28 high­way. My av­er­age for a week in the turbo was 21.4 mpg, mostly on the high­way.

Few, if any, crossovers move with the ea­ger­ness and bal­ance of the turbo CX-7, which uses a nicely in­te­grated six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and ap­pro­pri­ately quick steer­ing in­puts. Just a touch of turbo lag is ev­i­dent when the CX-7’s gas pedal is punched to sling­shot the car up a free­way ramp or dart away from a traf­fic light.

The en­gine sounds raspy when work­ing hard, with rapid power de­liv­ery and ac­cel­er­a­tion as the pay­off. (I think a torquey, di­rect-in­jec­tion V-6 would work even bet­ter in the CX-7 than the turbo, but that would vi­o­late its im­age as the class icon­o­clast.)

The CX-7’s fairly com­pact length and width make it an al­most per­fect city car, small enough to con­ve­niently ma­neu­ver and park, and large

Three other ve­hi­cles in the Mazda CX-7’s class.

The 2010 Mazda CX-7 has bet­ter sound in­su­la­tion and more up­scale in­te­rior ma­te­ri­als.

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