Mazda CX-7

Mazda has tried to give its latest model 'super zoom-zoom' handling, 'advanced emotional' styling and a sporty look. John Simister is intrigued by a car for every purpose....

Price: from about £25,000, on sale April 2007
Engine: 2,261cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, direct injection, turbo, 260bhp at 5,500rpm, 280lb ft at 3,000rpm
Transmission: six-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: (estimated) 135mph, 0-60 in 6.8 seconds, mpg and CO2 not yet known
Specifications are provisional

Form follows function, we are told. Not any more it doesn't. Is the car you see here a 4x4, or is it not? Mazda's new CX-7 is a car for people who are so confused and fragmented by modern life that they just don't know what they want any more.

A 4x4 should be for clambering over tricky, low-grip surfaces. But if you're doing that, you won't be going fast so your car will not, if it's designed with genuine fitness for purpose, have a racy roofline and a 260bhp, turbocharged, 2.3-litre, direct-injection engine. But the CX-7 has all of those things, not because that is the best way to design a car, but because that is what people think they want.

Maybe that's all right. Who am I to preach purity in car concepts? We all know that most people who buy 4x4s simply want the high seating position, the space, the usefulness and maybe even the sense of power they give to the insecure. Maybe people want those things mixed with pace and a sporty-looking style to create a kind of mega-hot-hatch on stilts. So here it is.

Just two minutes into the press presentation room in Washington DC (the CX-7 is being launched in the US before it reaches Europe in a year's time), and it's clear how subjectivity has flattened objectivity. This is a car for people who like it, not people who require it. "Sporty! Sturdy! Sleek!" shout the message boards. The CX-7 has "Super Zoom-Zoom Steering and Handling" and "Advanced Emotional Styling". The interior features a two-layer dashboard with a "floating feel element". The programme manager Shunsuke Kawasaki named his design team the Metropolitan Hawks. No, really he did ­ and he's wearing the T-shirt.

So I shall try to recalibrate my head. Here, in fact, is a car for every purpose: slippery surfaces, fast cruising, twisty roads, seeing your way through town traffic, carrying four passengers with ease, carting stuff for some sort of active lifestyle thing. It's a 4x4 that isn't square-cut or clumsy or outa-my-way aggressive. It's a 4x4 primarily to improve its roadholding and handling, not to tackle off-road tracks or impress people with the possibility of so doing. Leave the dogma aside; I could like this car.

The CX-7 is the perfect example of a car-category-fusing crossover. Mechanically, it's mainly a Mazda 6 MPS, complete with the "active torque split" four-wheel drive system that diverts up to 50 per cent of the engine's ample efforts to the rear wheels when needed. The "active" part means it responds to messages from sensors measuring speed, braking force, cornering force and others by apportioning engine output as needed, rather than waiting for one end or the other to lose grip. It's more like the four-wheel-drive system you find on a Mitsubishi Evo IX than on a Jeep Cherokee, adding to the CX-7's fun-to-drive credentials.

Mazda created the CX-7 with the US market uppermost in its mind, and this shows in parts of the design. From the outside, it's very striking, with its giant front air-scoop, raked-back windscreen and waistline rising over muscular-looking wheel-arches. The tail is high enough to make the optional reverse-parking video screen useful. The presence is substantial, without seeking to dominate.

Inside, the US tastes show up more. If you're unfortunate enough to sit in the back of this five-seater, you might not lack space ­ there's enough width for three ­ but you will feel very second-class. The door trims are plain, solid, hard plastic ­ about as luxurious as a New York yellow cab. Mazda's research found that US buyers regard the rear load space as more important than the back seats. The seats fold forward very easily, though; just pull a lever and they do it all by themselves. They neither slide nor recline, however.

The ambience is rather better up front, as you would hope. There's that "floating feel element" thing, of course, which is the way the instrument panel and centre console sit on a fall-away backdrop, and the lower part of the facia top and the upper surfaces of the door trims are detectably padded. All is neatly designed and assembled. But it's a shame about the hard windscreen pillars and super-cheap fibrous roof lining. The steering wheel (taken from the MX-5 sports car) isn't adjustable for reach, just rake. But there are good things. The Bose stereo option, for one.

And for another, how the CX-7 feels to drive. On this rests its credibility as a driving-pleasure machine, and it passes the test. That said, my test car is a US-spec CX-7 with a six-speed automatic transmission and an engine with power reduced to a still-substantial 244bhp to suit it. There will be no autos in the European range at first, but it's worth noting that it's a smooth shift and it works well in the Tiptronic-type manual mode.

As you might expect, the automatic transmission takes the edge off the pace. Some of those 244 horses don't seem to be pulling their weight. But I know from the Mazda 6 MPS that the full-power version of the engine, matched to a six-speed manual, goes very well indeed. The CX-7 so powered should feel similar, as it's not much heavier.

Anyway, there's enough energy available to make good use of the CX-7's surprisingly capable dynamics. At first it feels a bit inert, with stodgy steering and little zoom-zooming, but up the pace and find some bends, and the Mazda comes alive. It stays quite level when cornering with vigour, grips well, and if you accelerate hard out of a corner you can even feel the tail edge out as power is sent its way. That kills any tendency for the nose to run wide, and it makes the CX-7 an agile, interactive car. The steering sharpens up, too.

It drives as it looks, then. And an impressive part of this is that the CX-7 is surprisingly serene and supple over bumps for a tall car that doesn't lean much. Mazda is pondering firming the suspension for Europe, thinking (wrongly) that we all have roads as smooth as those in Germany, but it would be a mistake. It's fine the way it is.

One snag, though. The turbocharged petrol engine is all very exciting, but most people want a good diesel in this type of car. There isn't one yet, but in a couple of years' time Mazda will offer the 2.0-litre unit used in the Mazda 5 MPV. At that point there may also be a little facelift which, among other things, will probably include more steering wheel adjustment and, crucially, some softer interior trim.

With a diesel, the CX-7 could be quite a success. As it is now, it will merely be exclusive. I do find myself liking it, though. Even if it is almost an SUV.

The Rivals

Nissan Murano £29,995

The CX-7's closest conceptual rival is bigger and more expensive, and has a 3.5-litre V6 engine. It looks terrific ­ almost like a concept car ­ and is very good to drive. There's plenty of space, too.

Subaru Forester 2.5 XT From £22,040

Like the Mazda, this has a four-cylinder turbo (a flat-four related to the Impreza WRX unit) that delivers 230bhp and amazing pace. It looks like a traditional SUV, but is massively better to drive.

Toyota RAV4 2.0 From £21,250

This new, bigger model has moved away from the RAV4's compact roots, but has space and sophistication. Pace is disappointing with this petrol engine, and the ride can feel a little restless.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Employment Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Commercial Litigation Associate

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

    Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little