The engine in Mazda's entry-level CX-7 GX crossover reflects industry and market realities. Its inhalations are natural, rather than force-fed by a power-pumping turbo like its siblings, making it a little greener while requiring less "green" to put it in your driveway.
But can you live with a compact crossover that only has 161 hp to haul its 1,588 kilograms around?
Mazda's CX-7 is a five-passenger crossover that joined the company's more traditional Tribute SUV for the 2007 model year; before the 2010 model year, it has only been available with a turbocharged 2.3-litre four producing a heavy-breathing 244 hp. Mazda pitched it as the zoom-zoom sportster of the crossover breed.
But, as you've likely noticed recently, we live in a rapidly changing world that requires agility and flexibility from automotive marketers as well as consumers. And in the auto industry that means stretching a given model's reach as far as possible up and down market.
Mazda is reaching for new buyers at the entry level with the front-drive GX model with normally aspirated four-cylinder engine and a price tag of $27,995 - $2,000 less than the starting point GS of 2009. Mazda has held the line, at $32,295, on the next-up all-wheel-drive GS and raised the ante $3,000-plus to $38,990, on the range-topping GT AWD.
All CX-7 models received a mid-cycle refresh for 2010 that mildly alters exterior styling with a new grille that brings it in line with the new Mazda family gaping maw look and a new rear fascia. The platform and structure have been stiffened and some additional measures adopted to reduce noise/vibration/harshness.
Inside are some higher-quality materials, new padded armrests and some chrome and metallic trim highlights, plus a classier instrument cluster and a new info display panel. There's a new, and comfortable in your hands, steering wheel with integrated controls for audio and cruise controls. Familiarizing yourself with the 50 or so (I may have missed some) buttons available for you to prod may take a while.
The GX's standard equipment roll-call isn't overly generous for $28K, but includes a full complement of airbag systems, air conditioning, power locks, windows and mirrors, 60/40-split rear seatback, outside temp readout, multi-function display, rain-sensing wipers, tilt/telescope wheel and a decent audio system.
The test vehicle came with a $2,995 Luxury Package that added a moon roof, leather upholstery, eight-way-adjustable driver's seat and four-way-adjustable passenger seat, seat heaters, Bluetooth phone system and automatic climate control. This popped the price up to $30,990.
The CX-7's laid-back 66-degree windshield rake means the A-pillars obstruct your vision a bit, but the cabin itself has a roomy and airy feel up front. The front bucket seats are shaped for support but are too short under your thighs.
The cargo area is fairly generous with 848 litres of space behind the rear seat and 1,658 litres with it (easily) folded, which creates a belt-buckle-high load floor. The rear compartment is easy to access, but the seat is a bit hard and a floor hump will make a middle passenger unhappy.
The independent suspension system tuning appears to be the same for all models, as does the slightly light-feeling power steering, but wheels are 17-inchers shod with 215/70R17 all season tires. Suspension is firm with plenty of damping to keep it under control, but turn-in is a little tardy on those tall tires. Ride comfort is fine, with sharp-ish bumps well filtered out.
In handling terms, it's more than okay, but not as zoom-zoomy as the GS and GT with their lower-profile 19-inch tires. I don't understand the thinking behind giving this lower-priced model less competent rubber.
A standard stability control system will come to your aid if you overcook it into a corner and if you fit it with winter tires, the CX-7's more than 200 mm of ground clearance makes it a capable machine in the snow.
And speaking of zoom-iness, that's the main thing you give up with the GX, which is powered by Mazda's 2.5-litre, twin-cam, balance-shaft-equipped four-cylinder that produces its 161 hp at 6,000 rpm and a matching 161 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. This is fed to the front wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission you can shift manually.
Performance with this engine is adequate. In around-town driving, it has enough poke in lower gears that you won't really feel deprived, although you will be punching the pedal harder at times. Fortunately, Mazda has added engine bay sound deadening that hides much of the vocal response to this.
Passing exposure time, thanks to a quick kick-down, isn't too long, and it gets up to highway merging speed quickly enough - again with plenty of right foot applied. Too bad the bean counters denied it the six-speed the GS and GT are equipped with, which would have improved things a bit.
Solace for this lack of urge comes with the feeling of green-ness you can enjoy thanks to fuel economy ratings of 10.4 L/100 km city and 7.2 highway (compared to 12.2 city/8.7 highway for the GS and GT). I averaged 9.6 L/100 km during my time with the GX.
This is an easy-to-like vehicle; just make sure you can live with its performance level before driving one home.
2010 Mazda CX-7 GX
Type: Compact SUV
Base Price: $27,995; as tested, $30,990
Engine: 2.5-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 161 hp/ 161 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.4 city/7.2 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Subaru Forester, Nissan Rogue, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Volkswagen Tiguan, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan X-Trail, Kia Sportage, Jeep Liberty, Hyundai Tucson