Until last fall, Mazda's problem with the CX-7 has been all about pricing. In a nutshell, the CX-7 crossover was too expensive to be a mainstream hit in its class.
Well, the pricing issue is now history. Mazda no longer positions the CX-7 as something of a premium compact crossover. Instead of having the starter version priced in the low $30,000s - as was the case in 2007 when the CX-7 was first sold - the base 2010 CX-7 lists for $27,995 (plus $1,695 in freight).
The story gets better, too. For March, Mazda has slapped on up to $3,500 in sales sweeteners. Mazda retailers, then, are in the mood to move CX-7s.
Really, anyone looking for a crossover wagon should put the CX-7 on the test drive list. The CX-7 is the most aggressive, the boldest-looking crossover on the market - at least among the more affordable ones. This wagon has an emotional design and the handing, braking and steering responses live up to the look.
The CX-7 also has earned "Good" safety rating in front and side impact crash testing by the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. So it's good-looking, safe and, even with the less-powerful four-banger (161 horsepower), the CX-7 is entertaining enough to drive.
Yes, there are small crossovers with better safety ratings. The Honda Element, Jeep Patriot (with side airbags), Subaru Forester and Volkswagen Tiguan are full-blown IIHS Top Safety picks, so they have a slight edge over the CX-7 there. The four Top Picks have "Good" roof crush scores, while the CX-7 has yet to be tested for this.
On the quality side of things, the CR-V is the 2009 top pick among small SUVs in the Initial Quality Study from J.D. Power and Associates (tied with the Chrysler PT Cruiser, by the way) and is No. 2 in Power's long-term 2009 Vehicle Dependability Study (just behind the similar Honda Element). Meanwhile, Consumer Reports rates the Forester its top small SUV and recommends a bunch of others ahead of the CX-7.
Nonetheless, no vehicle in its class holds its value better than the CX-7, according to Automotive Lease Guide; Mazda vehicles overall retain about 40 per cent of their value after four years. That's third-best in Canada and well above the industry average of 34 per cent.
Granted, if you plan to hold on to your new ride for 10 years, residual values do not matter much. But if you lease, residuals certainly can make a difference in your lease payment - or at least in how the leasing company structures it - as well as in the buyout figure.
All in all, it's fair to say Mazda believes it's done enough to position the CX-7 as a serious contender in what honestly has become the family station wagon segment of the new-car market. But this is a tough game.
Key rivals include the Subaru Forester, Volkswagen Tiguan, Nissan Rogue, Chevrolet Equinox, Jeep Liberty, Mitsubishi Outlander, Element and even the slightly larger Hyundai Santa Fe.
If you stretch down-market a bit, there are also the likes of the Jeep Patriot/Compass siblings, the Hyundai Tucson and the Kia Sportage. More truck-like are rides such as not only the Tribute, but also the Ford Escape on which the Tribute is based, and Suzuki's Grand Vitara.
So buyers have no shortage of choices here. Good ones, too.
I would count the 2010 CX-7 among the better ones and not merely because the pricing sparkles, though that is no small matter. Mazda gets a serious look because in what the industry calls a mid-cycle facelift, last fall Mazda tweaked the styling and repacked features throughout the lineup. In particular, the base model is quite nicely equipped.
The 2.5-litre normally aspirated engine may be down by 83 horsepower (161 versus 244 for the 2.3-litre turbocharged four in more expensive CX-7s), yet the real-world performance is not such a downgrade as the numbers suggest.
Meanwhile, fuel economy is a notable plus. The 2.5-litre version with front-wheel drive is rated at 10.4 L/100 km for city driving and 7.2 for highway, compared to 12.7 city/9.1 highway for the all-wheel-drive CX-7 with the turbo motor.
Moreover, the base CX-7 is well loaded with the full range of power features, a respectable stereo, a tire-pressure monitoring system, a trip computer and even a tilt/telescoping steering wheel. If you take the $2,995 Luxury package, you get power-adjustable leather seats, a power sunroof, front seat heaters, climate control air conditioning and Bluetooth connectivity.
All this is what it takes to compete where the buyers are and where they have plenty of options. Mazda knows it and so do all the others chasing the picky buyers who want a lot of wagon for a good price.
If you want a vehicle like this, test the Mazda and at least several others, then drive a hard bargain. It's too competitive out there in this segment to settle for something you're not quite sure of, at a price you think is unfair.
2010 MAZDA CX-7 GX
Type: Compact crossover wagon
Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 161 hp/161 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.4 city/7.2 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Honda CR-V, Jeep Patriot (with side airbags), Subaru Forester, Volkswagen Tiguan, Nissan Rogue, Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Mitsubishi Outlander, Hyundai Tucson, even the slightly larger Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Mazda Tribute, Suzuki Grand Vitara