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2012 Mazda CX-7 (Ted Laturnus for The Globe and Mail)
2012 Mazda CX-7 (Ted Laturnus for The Globe and Mail)

Road Test

Mazda CX-7: One for the fuel hardy Add to ...

When Mazda introduced the CX-5 last year, it begged the question: did this mean the CX-7 was history? After all, the two seem to be aimed at similar buyers, and are much alike in some respects, despite the fact that the CX-5 has Mazda’s new fuel-sipping, energy-conserving SkyActiv technology and the CX-7 does not. Yet.

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In a word: no. the CX-7 soldiers on, for the time being, at least, and is available in two basic variations: Turbo and normally-aspirated.

But first, a few comparisons with the new CX-5. Similar in concept and purpose, the CX-7 and CX-5 have approximately the same dimensions. For example, the wheelbase is close – 2,750 mm vs. 2,700 mm – and interior cargo room is similar – 1,658 litres vs. 1,835 litres. Surprisingly, perhaps, the CX-5 has the edge here.

Both vehicles also feel similar behind the wheel, although the CX-7 is considerably more powerful. Even the normally-aspirated version is livelier, and the turbo model has almost 90 more horsepower. The CX-5 is, in fact, a dog when it comes to performance. Much better fuel economy, though, and better handling. It’s also $3,700 cheaper than a base CX-7, and starts at $13,600 less than the CX-7 GT.

Still, with one or two qualifiers, the CX-7 is an appealing package. It can be had with front or all-wheel-drive, and normally-aspirated or turbocharged. My tester, the turbo GT version, comes well equipped, with leather interior, power sunroof, climate control, a blind spot monitoring system, and power adjustable driver’s seat all standard. It feels less utilitarian than the CX-5 and, for an extra $2,600, you can order a navi system that features a touch-screen set-up. I wouldn’t describe the interior of the CX-7 as lavish, but it’s in keeping with this market and there’s nothing in there to get riled-up about. The CX-7 is also quieter in operation than one of its major rivals, the Honda CR-V.

Power is delivered via a turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Power output is 244 horsepower and it has 258 foot-pounds of torque. This is the only drivetrain choice for this model, and it’s a nice fit, with lots of reserve power and almost nothing in the way of turbo lag or torque steer.

The CX-7 GT also features full-time all-wheel-drive, with traction control, and Mazda’s “torque-split” AWD system. In a nutshell, a forward-mounted coupling monitors road conditions and electronically transfers engine power to the front or rear driving wheels as needed. While the CX-7 is far from being a bush beast, this set-up will get you home in a snowstorm, provides better traction in gravel or sand, and makes the CX-7 more sure-footed if road conditions deteriorate. You’ll also find four-wheel disc brakes and 19-inch wheels and tires on the GT, compared to 17 or 18-inchers on the GS models.

One note here: the GT version of the CX-7 requires 91-octane or better fuel, which is not the case for either the CX-5 or non-turbo CX-7. The last time I filled up, premium gas was more than $1.55 a litre, so, food for thought.

Like most offerings in this segment – CR-V, RAV4, Escape, Rogue, Equinox, etc. – the CX-7 is not a vehicle that makes you jump up in the air and click your heels together. The emphasis is on practicality and usefulness, and on that score, the CX-7 is in lock-step with its competitors. That said, it might have the edge in refinement and practicality over some rivals. It certainly feels more tightly assembled than, oh, the Dodge Journey or Chev Equinox, for example.

As well as a 64/40 folding rear seat, the CX-7 features an upward-opening rear door that gives complete and handy access to the rear storage area. Fold the back seat down and you can stash a bicycle in there, and for most items that you can carry by yourself, it has plenty of room. Again, no surprises here.

But what is surprising is the fuel consumption of this puppy. In a nutshell, it’s not what it could be. Virtually every one of its rivals gets better fuel economy. The Acura RDX is considerably thriftier in town, and even a V6 Kia Sorento is better on gas both in town and on the highway. Ditto with the Toyota RAV4 V6. Factor in the CX-7’s need for premium grade gas and you can understand why buyers might turn to the CX-5.

But nothing stays still in the car business. Mazda’s SkyActiv technology is working its way through the company’s line-up and we may see it on the CX-7 before long.

It could use it.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

Tech Specs: 2012 Mazda CX-7 GT

Type: Mid-size crossover SUV

Base Price: $36,690; as tested: $39,290

Engine: Turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 244 hp/258 ft.-lb

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy: (litres/100 km): 12.2 city; 8.7 hwy. Premium fuel

Alternatives: Acura RDX, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Chev Equinox, BMW X1, Nissan Rogue, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-5, Infiniti FX35, Ford Escape.

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Globe rating for the 2012 Mazda CX-7

Our ratings guide
7

Ride

Mazda usually gets this right: firm and compliant yet not harsh.

6

Looks

Pretty innocuous, but still has that smiley face front end.

7

Interior

A little on the bland side, but useable and user-friendly.

7

Safety

Traction control, vehicle stability control, ABS, full roster of airbags.

5

Green

Surprisingly thirsty and requires premium gas.

7

Overall

(out of 10 / Not an average)

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