2011 Mazda CX-7 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 8, 2011

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.

Review continues below

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.

9

2011 Mazda CX-7

Styling

The 2011 CX-7 still looks like one of the zoomier crossover wagons on the market.

Even many newer crossover designs still 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.

Overall, the interior feels calibrated with the CX-7's purpose, which blends sport-sedan and utility-vehicle attributes. The CX-7's cabin was spruced-up last year, with some new brightwork that added a little more presence and panache to the instrument-panel, which has a thin upper shelf that hosts audio and climate-control displays, up in the driver's line of vision. Next to it, there's a monochromatic trip computer or color nav screen. Hooded gauges and a new steering wheel design with controls for audio and Bluetooth calling functions complete the performance feel.

Review continues below
8

2011 Mazda CX-7

Performance

The 2011 Mazda CX-7 is more enjoyable to drive than most crossover wagons—even in base 'i' form.

Beginning this past year, the CX-7 is 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.

Review continues below
6

2011 Mazda CX-7

Comfort & Quality

The interior of the CX-7 is pleasant and versatile, though limited backseat legroom and cargo space detract from its utility.

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. Otherwise, the interior is well thought-out; there are several smaller cubbies, and with last year's refreshes the center console compartments were reconfigured to be more useful.

Also last year, the Mazda CX-7 lineup got improved sound insulation; engine and road noise are now kept well under wraps, and while the CX-7 is no longer one of the noisiest vehicles in this class, it's still not the quietest. Ride quality is still on the firm side, but there's an underlying softness that prevents potholes and major lapses in infrastructure from being too jarring. Overall, the CX-7 feels well put-together, and Mazda's upgraded seat materials and plastics feel up to the task.

Review continues below
6

2011 Mazda CX-7

Safety

The 2011 Mazda CX-7 has all the safety equipment that's to be expected in a crossover vehicle, but a few of its safety scores are potentially cause for concern.

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.

All CX-7 models come with electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, front side airbags, and side-curtain airbags that cover both rows.

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.

The federal government hasn't yet rated the CX-7 with its tougher new system introduced for 2011, but under the previous test method it did also get top (five-star) scores in frontal and side impact.

Our editors have found outward visibility to be better in the CX-7 than in many other crossover models, although some shorter drivers still might have issue with rearward vision when parking. An optional blind-spot monitoring system could help drivers with visibility on the highway.

Review continues below
8

2011 Mazda CX-7

Features

The 2011 Mazda CX-7 looks like a strong value and comes well-equipped whether you go for the base SV or lavish Grand Touring.

If you're interested in the more affordable CX-7 'i' models, you won't be dealing with what feels like a base-model vehicle. Equipment for the base SV and Sport includes 17-inch alloy wheels instead of the 18- and 19-inch designs in the 's' versions, and turbocharged Touring and Grand Touring models do pick up other detail extras like turn-signal-integrated mirrors and chrome-finish door handles. However if you want leather upholstery, you will have to step up to the Touring. And for 2011, you don't have to step up to the turbo engine in order to get the Touring trim; 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.

Review continues below
6

2011 Mazda CX-7

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Mazda CX-7 isn't particularly green, but in non-turbo form, it's respectably fuel-efficient.

In base 'i' form 2011 Mazda CX-7 has fuel economy ratings, at an EPA 20 mpg city, 28 highway, that won't raise any eyebrows; as such, it gets fuel economy that's about on par with most V-6 mid-size sedans, with slightly more versatile packaging. Fuel economy for the turbo, as low as 17/21, isn't nearly as good, though.

That said, it could be argued that for what the CX-7 does, it's not very fuel-efficient. Mazda's own Mazda5 compact minivan has more passenger space than the CX-7 and is more fuel-efficient. Some of us think it handles better, too.

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Styling 9
Performance 8
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