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2007 Mazda CX-7

Inspired by…Gene Roddenberry?

    The CX-7 is Mazda’s first real foray into the ever-expanding crossover SUV market. Yes, they had made a go with the Tribute, but under the direction of the Ford design studio, let’s just say, they weren’t all speaking the same language. But now Mazda is serious with an entry that ties its roots back to the family. Chief among these are the RX-8 and the MX-5, favorites among the AT staff. Editor Dye has sworn that an RX-8 will find a home in his garage someday. We’ve never yet turned an MX-5 down and on more than one occasion found a way to tease out every ounce of handling prowess it could muster.
     So how does a heavy 4000-ish pound SUV find a way to tickle our fancy? It’s unique. There literally is nothing else out there like it. Sure it is built upon the same basic platform as the Ford Edge and Lincoln MK-what-ya-ma-call-it, but that is about all it shares. The look is different, the ride is different, the engine is different, the way you order coffee from the drive up window at Starbucks is different. It is different!
     The styling has more in common with a science fiction novel than a car. The fenders are flared aggressively wrapping huge 18-inch alloy wheels and Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires. The hood line is chiseled and raised to give clearance to the top mounted intercooler. The cockpit has a space pod look to it, and the front windshield looks as though Mazda went out and found the absolute largest piece of glass they could find. The whole thing just has a kind of “Beam me up, Scotty” look to it. I mean, the first time I grabbed the door handle I expected to hear the airlock release. Exhaust pipes? Warp Nacelles!
     Best of all, it has warp drive! Under the hood is Mazda’s 2.3-liter turbocharged direct-injected four-cylinder, the same warp core, albeit detuned, they put into the MazdaSpeed6. While it may only have 244 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, down from the Speed6’s 274 hp and 280 lb-ft torque, it doesn’t take a math major to realize that it is still producing more than the benchmark 100-hp per liter of displacement. And while takeoff from a standstill is not an explosive event, it will impress upon the back of your seat the size of your waistline. The run to 60 mph took 8.4 seconds, and a complete stop came 124 feet later. Not bad, for a space pod.
     The handling is controlled and confident. The CX-7 will track where you want it to go. Underneath all that aggressive bodywork is the suspension of a sports car. A Speed6 was sacrificed for the purpose of keeping this rig to the road. The CX-7 will never carve a corner like an MX-5, but the travel will be brisk.
     The drive is not all peaches, however. The engine loves to rev (at least to 6,000 rpm), a wonderful thing for that darty back road affair on your commute home. But the Mrs. Middle Class Responsible Citizen just wants to deliver the kids to soccer practice without a hullabaloo, and the CX-7 doesn’t like that. The engine doesn’t like practical. There is a personality switch at 2,500 rpm that says OK, lets Tango! Oh, and the same suspension that keeps the shiny side up during your little bout with midlife crisis, makes for a stiff-legged ride to Grandma’s house on anything but perfect pavement.
     The driver’s seat is now the Captain’s chair. The cockpit has an airy feel to it, due largely to the tall greenhouse, sunroof, and ridiculously large windshield that is raked to 66 degrees. Entry and ignition is entirely keyless, it is like the car recognizes who you are. Now all it needs is a sexy female voice to say: “Good Morning, Mr. Muxlow” as I head out to work. The steering wheel is the same as that in the MX-5, further inspiration for a “spirited” drive. The shifter to the 6-speed automatic is well, an automatic. Yes, there is a manual selection mode, which does obey your commands, but—there is always a “but” with these things—it’s slow. Why didn’t Mazda include the paddle shifters we still wonder? Again, Mazda makes good use of soft touch plastics where it counts and frames the controls pod in shiny metallic look trim. The charcoal-over-tan look is warm and inviting, however, the scaly suede stripe down the centerline of the seat is a bit odd. My brow might have wrinkled.
     In a nutshell, the CX-7 is a futuristic thing of wonder. No really, if you must drive an SUV but want to retain a hint of real sportiness on a budget, at the $32,005 as-tested price the CX-7 is worth a look. Best of all, it is fresh, maybe a bit over the top, but fresh. It is invigorating to see a Ford subsidiary willing to put itself on the line with styling.

The Good:
Fresh styling, whiz-bang motor, confident handling.
The Bad:
No paddle shifters, rides too stiff for some, requires premium fuel.
The Verdict:
Could someone please show the Ford design team one of these?

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