Mazda CX-7 is comfortable, sporty crossover

In the battle of crossovers — what us older generation might have called tall station wagons — there’s a variety of sizes and styles. Mazda’s long-running CX-7 fits into the small-midsize category… smaller than some, larger than others.

Car ReviewIt’s best attributes are sporting driving for the segment, power if you don’t mind buzzing at higher revs, fuel economy in the mid- to high-20s, upright seating and comfort, and just enough room for two plus kids (or adults on a short trip). With a big hatch and fold-down rear seats, it’s also a good hauler.

Based on the midsize Mazda 6, the CX-7 proved up to the task when I took it on an extended trip from my home base in San Diego to the Feather River area of northern California. On the way up, it contended with stop-and-go traffic through Los Angeles and Sacramento, the high-speed raceway of I-5 through the San Joaquin Valley, and twisting mountain roads in the Sierras.

In all, the CX-7 proved it was a pretty good little car.

I drove the iSport model, equipped with the base 2.5l inline four-cylinder engine. One of the complaints about this engine is that it is underpowered, but on my trip it was more than adequate. Going over the Grapevine, where Interstate 5 runs through Tejon Pass and the Tehachapi Mountains, the CX-7 had no problems keeping up with traffic, maneuvering smartly around slow moving trucks and other drivers. On the way back, down US-395, it blew over the mountains, and through the dips and peaks  Sure, the engine got a little noisy at times, but it’s a four-cylinder engine. They love high revs and can generally buzz happily all day. This isn’t your father’s V-8.

The transmission has an auto-stick mode, allowing for the driver to shift manually or let the car do the thinking. This really came in handy, as shifting becomes especially annoying in stop-and-go traffic, which I hit going through Sacramento on the I-5. On the other hand, shifting is part of the driving fun on curvy mountain roads. On California 70 through the Feather River Canyon and California 89 to Lake Almanor, it was especially fun. The twisting curves and lack of traffic (must be a secret road, as I drove it on the July 4th weekend), made for a really enjoyable cruise.

And the auto-stick transmissions have progressed in the last few years. The Mazda gearbox even allows for engine braking, so I was able to let the engine rev a bit on the downslope and ready it for a burst of power on the other side.

Just want to sit back and drive? The CX-7 can do that; just engage the cruise control and let it take over. It will even reward you with better mileage; on my way back down US 395 through the desert and mountains, the onboard gas mileage indicator hit 30 mpg, ahead of even the EPA’s 28 highway.

As tested, the 2.5L four puts out 161 horsepower at 6,000 rpm on regular gas with an EPA rating of 20 city and 28 highway miles per gallon. The turbo is a 2.3L punches 244 horses at 5,000 rpm on premium gas, returning 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway for 2010, 18/24 for 2011. All-wheel drive versions are also available. Retail prices range from $21,990 to $33,340. Mazda CX-7 website»

Inside, the CX-7’s appointments are more conservative than the techno-boxes (Scion XB, Nissan Cube, Kia Soul), but more upscale than the small wagons (Toyota Matrix, Honda Fit).  Plastics were varied, including non-glare chromed rings around the dash pods, a nice touch that evokes the ’57 Chevrolet setup. Seats were comfortable and supportive; no backaches on my 10 hour drive back to San Diego. My 6-1 frame fit just fine; in fact I didn’t even use the far back seat position — very unusual.

Rumors are that the CX-7 might be downsized for 2012; in any event, it appears Mazda will be coming out with something all new this fall. So, if you’re looking for something new in a wagon, consider the CX-7. If a used car is in your future, Mazda’s sterling reliability reputation should put this car on your list. If you do get one, be sure to have some fun with it.

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