- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2007

When you hear about a new crossover vehicle being added to an auto manufacturer’s stable, your reaction probably tends to be “so what,” or perhaps, “Just what the world needs — another crossover or SUV.”

Well, Mazda’s latest contribution to this hotly contested crossover category is the 2007 model CX-7. It, however, is decidedly different from the majority of the competitive pack — it displays a high level of styling that is not only distinctive, but purposeful as well. In terms of its functionality and versatility, it is not unlike many other crossover entries.

The real difference comes from its roots or DNA — beneath its attractive and appealing exterior skin lies what the folks at Mazda refer to as the soul of a sports car. It would not be improper to think of the CX-7 as a “Zoom-Zoom with Room” ride.

The design concept was intended to convey the sense of dynamic movement, even when stationary. The profile exhibits an aggressively rising belt line, topped by a boldly curved roof structure. The tapered greenhouse sports blacked-out “B” and “C” pillars that are outlined by a bright surround, offering the visual impression of a singular glass area. The front fenders are pronounced and flank the sculpted hood, which holds court over the new grille residing in a highly sloped nose.

The windshield is sharply raked as well, adding to the overall aerodynamic efficiency of the CX-7. The large, bright dual exhaust outlets hint suggestively at the vehicle’s performance prowess.

The CX-7 will be offered in three levels of trim: Sport; Touring; and Grand Touring. Pricing ranges from a base of $23,750 to $28,000.

All models are available in either front-wheel drive, or Mazda’s Active Torque-Split All-Wheel drive configuration, and all are powered by a potent 2.3-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine with Direct Injection Spark Ignition (DISI), which mates to a six-speed sport automatic transmission with manual shift capability.

The engine generates 244 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque. Stopping power is provided by four-wheel vented disc brakes with four-sensor, four-channel ABS, DSC and EBD.

The interior presents a sporty aura with a two-tone trim featuring a center accent stripe in the middle of each seat. Switchgear and controls are well thought out for optimum ease of use, while gauges are ideally placed and legible. Storage capacity is plentiful, with the center console able to stash a compact laptop. Security is provided for rear cargo by a retractable privacy shade.

The test CX-7 was a Grand Touring model in all-wheel drive configuration, finished outside in Copper Red Mica metallic, and inside in a primary Sand tone, with black accents. The base price was set at $28,000, with the price as tested totaling $32,005.

The Mazda CX-7 is set to compete in the same arena as Honda’s CR-V, Toyota’s RAV4 and Nissan’s Murano. The CX-7 however, has the advantage of turbocharging, which the others do not. The four-cylinder utilizes the turbo to produce more-than-ample levels of horsepower and torque, while still being able to provide significantly efficient fuel economy.

Because of its AWD system, the CX-7 failed to smoke the tires off the line, but once momentum had been initiated, the turbocharger supplied an impressive acceleration boost that definitely smacked of “sports car.” The handling attributes proved to be satisfyingly agile — again, reflective of sports-car level.

Even the ride quality offered a firm-enough damping quality to be ranked with many sports cars.

Given its attractiveness, value and equipment content, price point, power output and serviceability for both passengers and cargo, the CX-7 is decidedly a top contender on the crossover SUV playing field.

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