When I was a kid, black lights and glow-in-the-dark posters were de rigeur. Clock radios had flip-digit numerals that cast an atomic glow.
You can relive that era in the Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring, a small, all-wheel-drive crossover with black-light instrumentation. During the day, you get bright-orange, motorcycle-style gauges; at night they shift hues to eye-popping yellow, purple and green. Seats are trimmed with vintage, textured inserts. If the interior's playfulness doesnt amuse, the exterior's shapely panels evoke the curvaceous wide-hip early 70s look.
Besides styling, sporty demeanor sets this CUV apart. The 244-horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine provides kicks; it lags until the engine's rpm climb. Then, it's zippy. It's also buzzy and guzzles gas despite the hunt-prone, six-speed automatic transmission. EPA says: 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Observed: 19 mpg overall.
The pilot's helm is car-like; so too is this crossover's handling, due to quick, accurate steering. Unfortunately, tires yelp in protest, as the CX-7 transmits sharp kicks and jolts. Thus, despite good road sense, there are bad vibrations and only modest grip.
Cargo room is compromised by a high deck, the body's contours, and an overhead-mounted rear shoulder belt. The 2010 Mazda CX-7 GT starts from $31,935, and while there are more refined crossovers, there aren't many at this price, and few match Mazda's lust to kick dust.