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First Drive: 2010 Mazda CX-7

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2010 Mazda CX-7 i Sport

2010 Mazda CX-7 i Sport

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2010 Mazda CX-7 i Sport

2010 Mazda CX-7 i Sport

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2010 Mazda CX-7 s Grand Touring

2010 Mazda CX-7 s Grand Touring

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2010 Mazda CX-7 s Grand Touring

2010 Mazda CX-7 s Grand Touring

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2010 Mazda CX-7 s Grand Touring

2010 Mazda CX-7 s Grand Touring

Enlarge Photo

2010 Mazda CX-7 s Grand Touring

2010 Mazda CX-7 s Grand Touring

Enlarge Photo

2010 Mazda CX-7 s Grand Touring

2010 Mazda CX-7 s Grand Touring

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2010 Mazda CX-7 s Grand Touring

2010 Mazda CX-7 s Grand Touring

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Whether you have a growing family and are stepping up from a small, sporty car or looking to downsize a little bit, either from a minivan, or from a truck-like SUV, it's likely you'll have vehicles such as the 2010 Mazda CX-7 on your list. Really tall station wagons with cargo-friendly configurations and touches of rugged styling, these vehicles have become immensely popular in just a few years and are looking like the future middle of the market.

Since its introduction for 2007, the CX-7 has been a little sportier—and a little pricier and less fuel-efficient—than most of the other choices. So Mazda often lost out in the last round due to practical-minded shoppers.

With new, less expensive base models of the CX-7, powered by a more fuel-efficient non-turbo four-cylinder engine—and priced more than $2,000 below last year's base CX-7—Mazda is hoping to attract those more frugal shoppers to this sporty crossover, while still appealing to the performance-oriented crowd that originally flocked to the CX-7.

The new base engine for the 2010 CX-7—offered on new ‘i’ models—is a familiar one; it's the same 2.5-liter in-line four-cylinder that goes into the Mazda6 and Mazda3. And except for manufacturing location, it's also the same engine that's installed in the Ford Fusion, as well as the Ford Escape, along with other Ford and Mercury products—including the Mazda-badged Tribute.

The 2.5-liter makes 161 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque, delivered only through a five-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. Those who want all-wheel drive will still have to step up to the Touring or Grand Touring turbocharged models.

In the CX-7, the 2.5-liter is vibration-free (thanks to balance shafts) and quite smooth-sounding. It's not quite as vocal as the turbo engine and some might say it sounds more refined. With the 2.5, Mazda resorted to the old trick of giving it a very aggressive throttle tip-in, which makes it feel perkier than it is. That's unnecessary here though as the 2.5 seems to have plenty of torque off the line—full-throttle starts break the front tires loose for a moment. The automatic transmission is responsive and smooth, even on downshifts, while shifting over to the manual gate allows you to control each shift (forward down, back up, as it should be).

For those who want to go with the more powerful 2.3-liter DISI (direct-injection) turbocharged engine (on ‘s’ models), Mazda has improved fuel economy by introducing several minor changes to the DISI engine that allow it to reach efficient operating temperatures faster and use less fuel under light load. EPA ratings now stand at 18 mpg city, 25 highway (up 2 on the highway) with front-wheel drive and 17/23 with all-wheel drive. More costly premium fuel is recommended for the more powerful engine, however it's now tuned to run on regular.

With the 2.5-liter, EPA ratings stand at 20 mpg city, 28 highway, and based on what we saw in our preliminary drive, that's reasonable. We averaged about 18 miles per gallon on a twisty 20-mile driving loop that involved about 1200 feet of elevation gain and very aggressive driving, then nearly 23 mpg over a gentler 25-mile loop over the same terrain.


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