The 2012 Mazda CX-7 offers a pair of engine options, as it has for a couple of years now. The base 'i' model uses a 161-horsepower, 2.5-liter four that transmits its power through a five-speed automatic transmission. That engine is only offered with front-wheel drive. The more powerful 's' model fits a 244-hp, 2.3-liter four that's both turbocharged and direct-injected. It can be specified with either front-wheel drive or the all-wheel drive that's often expected of crossovers in colder and snowier climates.
The racy lines of the CX-7 may seem a better match for the image of a turbocharged engine, but in reality, many drivers will find the base 2.5-liter engine just fine if they're willing to forgo all-wheel drive. The turbo is remarkably tractable, with 90 percent of its peak torque available at engine speeds as low as 2,000 rpm, and a broad torque curve from there up to 5,000 rpm. The more powerful turbo engine in the 's' model, however, is noisier and coarser-sounding than the more refined 2.5-liter base option. Even under a full load, the base engine feels only slightly taxed--meaning buyers need to decide whether full-on power is worth the tradeoff in noise and fuel consumption.
As in most Mazdas, the "zoom-zoom" character really comes through in the handling. The CX-7 is one of the better handling crossovers of any size, and given its height, it holds the road remarkably well. It's hard to make the car lose its composure, even in tight corners with shifting curves. We think the steering could be slightly better weighted and more direct--closer to that of the Mazda5 small minivan--but the CX-7 remains the driver's choice for its ability to hustle through curves with the feel of something closer to a sports car than a family hauler.