Zoom with a view
Marc K. Stengel, Wed, 26 Mar 2008 08:00:00 PDT
Its official: Mainstream media types like the New York Times have finally pronounced the so-called crossover vehicle the acknowledged heir to the minivan. Which also makes it the grandchild of the station wagon. Crossovers are the rage, so what if nobody knows exactly how to define one.
For the most part, a crossover gets its bubble-like cockpit from the minivan, its powertrain from the SUV and its chassis underpinnings from the sedan. In other words, it's an automotive mutt; and like many "Heinz 57" pooches, a crossover can be weirdly attractive and surprisingly talented.Mazda's swoopy CX-7 crossover is a case in point.
Alone amongst its Asian rivals, Mazda has successfully cultivated areputation as a cool, sporty automaker that stands somewhat aloof from the madding crowd. The CX-7 is no exception. Its styling is particularly racy and eye-catching, and its driving manners are distinctly European in the best sense of that continent's grand touring tradition.
Mazda says the premise of its five-seater crossover is "zoom-zoom with room." Accordingly, it equips all CX-7s with a pint-sized workhorse of a powerplant: a 2.3-liter twin-cam four-cylinder engine generously "muscled-up" with turbocharging and variable valve timing. The result is V6-like power, on the order of 244 horsepower and 258 generous foot-pounds of acceleration torque. Although detuned somewhat compared to its use in the aggressive MazdaSpeed3 GT, this engine is also much more docile anddriver-friendly for the routines of start-and-stop commuting. For a two-ton vehicle, mileage is tolerable at 18 mpg/city, 24 mpg/highway; alas, premium fuel is the CX-7's preferred elixir.
Priced from $23,750 to $28,000, the CX-7 line-up is well biased towards the affordable end of the crossover spectrum. Trim levels include Sport, Touring and Grand Touring, and each one includes either a front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive variant. The "standard features" list is impressive: four-wheel-independent suspension and anti-lock disc brakes; stability and traction control; air conditioning; and six-way airbags for front, side and head protection in both seating rows.
All crossovers worthy of the label feature flexible cargo management, and CX-7 is true to form. Rear seatbacks are split 60/40, which allows the 30 cubic-feet of under-hatch storage to expand to nearly 60 cubes with the seatbacks folded. Particularly thoughtful is a reversible cargo floor whose hard-plastic underside can be used for wet or soiled gear that would otherwise wreck a carpet. And when it comes to storage cubbies for incidentals, the CX-7 is most definitely in a family way. There are holders for sippy cups, coloring-book pockets, even a lockable center bin that will easily swallow Mom's survival-gear purse or a laptop.
As attractive as it is, the CX-7's windswept rear styling encroaches slightly into the rear cargo space and slightly limits the storage of hard-cornered items. So what's wrong with soft-luggage and duffel bags, then? The point is that crossovers represent a modern interpretation of the family wagon; and Mazda's CX-7 is all about blending people space and cargo room with the look and feel of authentic zoom.
5-door crossover, 5-passenger; 2.3-liter DOHC inline-4 turbo w/ variable valve timing; FWD & AWD, 6-speed auto with sportshift; 244 hp/258 ft.-lbs.; 18 mpg/city, 24 mpg/highway w/ premium; cargo: 30-59 cu. ft.; tow rating: 2,000 lbs.; std. equip.:4-wheel ABS disk brakes & ind. suspension, 18-in. wheels,front/side/head airbags; price range: $23,750-$28,000