A Crossover by any other name
By Lou Ann Hammond, Fri, 23 Jun 2006 08:00:00 PDT
Washington DC - Oil prices loom large on everyone's mind these days. All day long, as Jerry Flint of Forbes Magazine fame, and I drove the country side of Virginia we noted the gas prices, only one station had gas under $3.00 and that was $2.99. All the automakers are looking for the fuel efficiency and the horsepower compromise.
Mazda has brought out their new crossover 4 cylinder turbocharged station wagon/minivan. Flint and I argued about whether it was a station wagon or a minivan. Flint said if you put sliding doors on the passenger doors it would be a minivan. I argued that it was a station wagon because it didn't have the top heavy feel of a SUV. Mazda told us that the vehicle would appeal to the 30-40 year old crowd. If this is the discussion that will take place for most people than it is aptly named; a crossover.
The crossover is supposed to take the best of all worlds. In most cases manufacturers just refer to crossovers as not being SUVs. In Mazda's case Koizumi-san, chief designer of the CX-7, took great care in making sure to let us know that to Mazda a crossover was not just a car-like drive, but a full spectrum of benefits derived from a station wagon, a minivan, an SUV and even a sports car.
The front exterior design of the CX-7 has the bulbous-ness of a Murano, only smaller. The windshield has a 66 degree angle, giving the car the aerodynamics needed for best-in-class for coefficient of drag of .34, even with the standard 18" tires. The internal nickname for the CX-7 was "Metropolitan Hawk", explained by Kawasaki-san, the name is meant to elicit the feeling of natural beauty with a sturdy image.
The Mazda CX-7 was designed and engineered specifically for the North American market. It is made in Ujini, Japan. The competitors are the Honda CRV, the Toyota RAV4 and the Nissan Murano. Dave Matthews, vehicle line manager, has done a complete study on the competition and he showed me the comparisons between the hottest selling CRVs and RAV 4 and Muranos versus the pricing for the CX-7. Since I thought of the CX-7 as a smaller Murano it was of interest when Matthews showed me that the Murano would be thousands more if you bought the optional Dynamic Stability Control that is standard on the CX-7. If you do cross price these vehicles note that the CX-7 has as standard side airbags.
There were two issues that Flint debated all day. This debate was done in the car, in my presence, and as my husband says, "I'm talking to myself, you can listen if you want". Flint took issue with Mazda saying they expected to sell 40,000 units of the 2007 model. The Nissan Murano won't be undergoing any serious changes next year. Honda CRX and Toyota RAV 4 are known entities and may have some changes, but the new kid in town is the Mazda CX-7.
Funny enough, when I got home I had a Toyota RAV4 waiting for me. It was a 2.4-liter, 4X4, 4-cylinder, 4-speed automatic with 166 horsepower for $26,753. The Mazda CX-7 was a intercooled 2.3-liter four-cylinder direct-injection gasoline engine , all-wheel drive, 6-speed automatic turbocharged with 244-horsepower at 5,000 rpm for $32,005. The CX-7 is offered in three trim levels - Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. All models include air conditioning, power-windows,power-door locks and power-mirrors, retractable key, cruise control, and six air bags. Also standard on all CX-7s is an Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and a Traction Control System (TCS). The Mazda included dynamic stability control and a couple other items that brought the price up, but it included a couple things that Toyota needed; less windnoise and extra 80 horsepower.
Kelvin Hirishi showed us Mazda's MZR 2.3-liter DISI (Direct Injection Spark Ignition) Turbo engine. The engine, picked by Ward's auto as the top engine for 2005, is shared by the Mazda Speed6, the upcoming Mazda Speed3 and, now, the all-new CX-7 crossover SUV. Mazda engineers employed dual overhead cams (DOHC), four valves per cylinder, turbocharging and intercooling. Direct injection has been used in diesel engines for years, but this is one of the first direct fuel-injection gasoline systems available in the US market. DISI allows the fuel to atomize better because it is cooler, meaning more horsepower. The 2 wheel drive gets 19 city/23 highway mpg, while the all-wheel drive gets 18 city/24 highway mpg.
The other issue was gasoline. Because the CX-7 is turbocharged it does take premium gas, with the 20 cent premium cost added to each gallon. It's the price you pay for the fame of 244 horsepower with low-end torque. I explained to Flint that according to Kelly Blue Book, even now, fuel economy is not the first thing on the list of concerns when people buy a new car. In fact, fuel economy is still behind cupholders in concerns. That, of course, is changing with the hourly increase in fuel prices and the point is well taken by Flint.
According to Paul Taylor, analyst for National Automobile Dealer Association (NADA), "The four cylinder engine "take rate" by customers has increased in recent years versus the V6 engine option, even though many of the V6 options are very good, smooth powerful engines. The four cylinder engines are much improved, and 5-speed and even 6-speed automatic transmissions help gasoline mileage, performance and quietness of the drivetrain. Low boost turbocharging of four cylinder engines will increase the"take rate" of the four cylinder in future years.
At lunch Flint and I sat with Ken Gross, of Playboy fame, and John Lamm, a noted photographer and an automotive writer for the Japanese newspaper, Shimbun. We continued the crossover debate. The word crossover is still being defined, but if you like the interior room of a station wagon and/or a minivan, the drive-ability of a car, the horsepower of a sports car, you'll like this crossover.
The all-wheel drive 2007 Mazda CX-7 will go on sale in June of 2006. The less expensive front-wheel drive version will come out later.