- Rakish design
- Nice interior details
- Steering and handling
- Tight backseat
- Disappointing cargo space with seats up
- Bluetooth not available on base SV
The 2011 Mazda CX-7 remains a good compromise vehicle for small families—especially if you want a driving experience that's closer to that of a sport sedan and can't be seen in a minivan.
Even many of the most recent crossover designs show hints of ruggedness, but the 2011 Mazda CX-7 makes no such attempt. It's rakish in a way that's uncommon in this class of vehicle, including a 66-degree windshield incline and a very swept-back look overall. Mazda touched up the CX-7's front and rear details last year, giving it a larger grille and Mazda logo, but the creased sheetmetal, bulging fenders and wheel wells, and low, sleek hoodline remain have been left mostly unchanged from when this edgy utility wagon was first introduced for 2007.
Beginning this past year, the CX-7 has been offered in more economical 'i' models, with a 161-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission, in addition to the 's' models, which still come with a 244-horsepower, turbocharged direct-injected 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. The 'i' comes in front-wheel drive only, while the 's' models can be had with either front- or all-wheel drive. While the turbo engine in 's' models better suits the CX-7's racy image, the 2.5-liter is just fine for most needs. During normal driving, the 2.3-liter turbo engine accelerates the CX-7 almost effortlessly; downshifts aren't always necessary as 90 percent of peak torque is achieved from 2,000 rpm all the way up to 5,000 rpm. However, the trade-off is a slightly coarser sound versus the 2.5. The base model is plenty fast in most situations, and only feels slightly taxed with a full load.
No matter which model, those who enjoy driving will be surprised at how well the CX-7 handles, given its height. The CX-7 is hard to fluster, even around tight corners, and although its steering feel isn't quite as nicely weighted and direct as the Mazda5 (a minivan!), it's a joy to hustle through the curves.
At least in front, the Mazda CX-7 interior looks great; front seats are wide yet quite firm, and supportive for a wide range of sizes. The upright driving position affords a good view ahead, too. The story is less delightful in back. There's barely enough width to fit three across; adults will find plenty of headroom, but the low position leaves knees elevated and a general shortage of legroom. Cargo space is indeed limited, but folding the backseats forward yields 70 inches of flat cargo floor; the catch is that it's not very tall—the result of such a rakish design and a surprisingly high cargo floor—but enough to move a coffee table or love seat.
The 2011 Mazda CX-7 has many of the makings of a safe vehicle—including an extensive set of safety features—though in a few respects its safety ratings are far from top-notch. While the 2011 Mazda CX-7 gets top 'good' ratings for frontal and side impact from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the agency only gives it 'marginal' ratings for rear impact (whiplash-related) and roof strength (rollover-related). Both of those ratings are worrisome.
For 2011, you don't have to step up to the turbo engine in order to get the Touring trim, which gets you leather upholstery; there's a new 'i' Touring model. Top Grand Touring trims include automatic climate control, a SmartKey entry system, a moonroof, heated mirrors, the nav system, rain-sensing wipers, and xenon HID headlamps. All models but the base SV come with a Bluetooth hands-free interface—Bluetooth streaming audio is also offered—and for the first time, the top-of-the-line Grand Touring picks up a Blind Spot Monitoring System. For the upper trims, a top-notch Bose Centerpoint audio system is optional, as well as a touch-screen, voice-activated navigation system.