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Weidel on Wheels: Mazda's well-kept SUV secret

CX-7 offers stylish looks, good handling and performance
By: Jeffrey Weidel
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Always conscious of a “good deal,” one of the first things noticed on the breakdown of this year’s Mazda CX-7 was the price. Driving away with a mid-size sport utility vehicle crossover for $21,550 is a good deal indeed. It seems that Mazda has always flown under the radar since its 2007 introduction of both the CX-7 and its big brother — the CX-9. These two sport utility vehicles continue to be a relatively well-kept secret despite their stylish appeal, terrific handling, good performance and some other fine characteristics. Note that the larger CX-9 doesn’t come at the bargain price of its little bro. The base model goes for $28,635, which is more than a $1,000 less than the 2009 version, and climbs as high as $34,045 for the top-of-the-line model with no extras. Still, the CX-9 is not extravagantly priced considering it’s a seven-passenger SUV. Anyway, back to more details on the 2010 CX-7, a five-passenger SUV with no third row and a ceiling price of $32,885. Mazda put a “refresh” sticker on the 2010 model, adding a new engine for the base model, changing both the interior and exterior somewhat, while not going overboard in any one area. One other area to note regarding this year’s CX-7 is its propensity to stretch a tank of gas even further. It now gets a very impressive 20 to 28 miles per gallon, which is tough to beat even in this very competitive lineup of mid-size SUVs. The CX-7 exterior now features a larger five-point grille that draws comparisons to three other Mazda products — the MX-5, RX-8 and Mazda3. The CX-7 also has a new front fascia and rear bumper that combines with a raked-back windshield to give this SUV a sporty look. Interior changes include some revamping on the dashboard and providing plenty of handy controls that can be manipulated on the steering wheel. However, the interior room continues to be one of the drawbacks with the CX-7. The legroom can be a bit cramped for adults in the backseat, falling short of several competitors in this area. Fortunately, front passengers don’t suffer a similar fate. One more strike against the CX-7 — cargo room is merely average. But there should be few complaints with the performance of the front-wheel drive CX-7. Unimpressive on paper — 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with 161 horsepower — it surprisingly supplied the required power on hills, surface streets and freeways when driven here for a week. It’s significant to note that there was no lag time in acceleration when the right foot put out the demand. Although an upgraded engine, the 2.3-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder with 244 horsepower, reportedly does have a little lag time and gets only 14 to 18 mpg. Maximum towing capacity is 2,000 pounds. What the driver also can expect from either CX-7 is an above-average handling, steering that is responsive, an SUV that corners well, brakes with confidence, and elicits that fun experience many drivers are seeking. __________ 2010 Mazda CX-7 Price: $21,550 Mileage estimate: 20 mpg city; 28 mpg highway Power: 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with 161 horsepower Standard features include: Anti-lock disc brakes; stability, traction control; six-way manually adjustable driver seat; AM/FM/compact-disc audio system, four-speaker CD stereo; auxiliary audio jack, two 12-volt power outlets; six-way manual driver’s seat; center console; leather-wrapped steering wheel; halogen headlights; rear privacy glass