2009 Mazda CX-7 Review
Seats five, decent cargo space, zoomy.
The Mazda CX-7 sports the current Mazda styling theme.
The fenders are seemingly transplanted directly to the CX-7 from the Mazda RX-8 sports car. To fit those bulbous wheel housings to a sedan-like body required pinching the nose and squeezing headlights into the tops of the fenders. This leaves substantial mass below the bumper line that's only slightly lightened by a massive mouth braced by large intake-like recesses that double as housings for the optional fog lamps. A set of bright streaks added behind the fog lamps for 2009 break this mass up a bit. The way the CX-7's bulk is suspended across its exceptionally wide track (distance between the tires side to side) leaves it looking almost as if it's drooping, or sagging, from the weight.
The side view appeals more, with wheels pushed to the corners and a super-fast windshield sweeping back over tautly drawn side glass. Side mirrors separate the front door glass from an odd-looking, wind-wing-like, but fixed, tiny piece of glass at the base of the A-pillar. The beltline rises as it moves rearward, peaking just aft of the severely blistered rear wheelwell before tucking in between the steeply sloped backlight and the sculpted back end. Full-round, easy-to-grab door handles ride the crest of a soft bulge connecting the tops of the fenders. An understated crease highlights the lower door panels, skipping over the rear tires to continue around the bottom fold of the rear bumper.
The rear aspect is plain, with a modest spoiler sitting atop the backlight, itself resting in a gentle dip in the liftgate. A large, seamless bumper stretches the width of the back end, above a widespread pair of exhaust tips.
The interior of the Mazda CX-7 makes no less of a statement than the exterior, and with much the same result. Some design features seem to work, others not so well. Overall, the CX-7 cabin doesn't seem as friendly and as functional as its primary competition, the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. Where other car makers are trending toward simplicity and sleekness, the CX-7 has gone chunky and choppy.
The dash is a prime example. Some parts look right, while others come across almost as an exercise in Design 101, and not much of it looks of a piece with the rest. For starters there's what Mazda calls the double-roof instrument panel. Translated, this constitutes, first, a ridge stretching across the top of the dash that's supposed to make the front seat passenger feel included in the interior's dynamic. Below this floating lip is the second part, a more traditional dash construct comprising three elements: the instrument cluster, the center stack and the section holding the passenger airbag and housing the glove box. This lower part, the designers say, is intended to play to the driver, concentrating on the interfaces necessary for managing the car. All the pieces for this are there, so the job is doable, but the way everything is put together doesn't make it all that easy or appear that seamlessly integrated.
Beyond the quirky design, the instrument cluster is deeply hooded, stylishly compartmentalized and softly lit to the point where it's not a quick and easy scan. The steering wheel, borrowed directly from the sporty MX-5 Miata with its much more confined cockpit, feels undersized in the more expansive interior of the CX-7.
Large buttons and knobs populate the stack of air conditioning and sound system controls in the center, but their arrangement and assigned functions are far from intuitive.
The navigation system adds complexity, as it incorporates many of those functions into one of the menus accessed only through the touch-screen LCD and, for example, allows switching preset radio stations by exchanging the map display for the audio display.
In interior accommodations, the Mazda splits the difference between the Honda and Toyota in front-seat legroom, rear-seat headroom, and in hip room, front and rear. The Mazda finishes last in front-seat headroom and rear-seat legroom, the latter a true dead last by a substantial two inches.
Seat comfort is average at best. The seat-bottom cushions offer slightly more thigh support than economy class airline seats, which is to say more would be better. Substantial front-seat side bolsters are fitting for a vehicle with sporty aspirations. And the nicely padded, front seat center armrest sits about the same height as the front door armrests, promising comfortable postures for long drives.
The rear seats favor two passengers over three, an impression reinforced by the decently contoured seatback and the absence of a head restraint for the center seating position. The CX-7's competitiveness in rear-seat headroom is no doubt facilitated by the shallowness of the rear seat bottom cushion and by the closeness of that cushion to the floor. We sat in the back seat and didn't like the proximity of knees to chin.
Visibility is best out the front. The kicked-up beltline and tapered cabin constrict vision toward the rear. Even with the driver's seat at its highest adjustment, however, the hood drops away so severely it's below the sight line of a six-footer. This demands cautious navigation of parking lots and tight spaces. The rearview video camera (part of the optional Technology Package) helps the driver spot objects behind the vehicle when backing up, including short metal posts, other cars and children on tricycles.
Storage is adequate. The front center console's lockable bin is deep enough for a laptop computer and includes a secondary power point for that purpose. The glove box holds more than gloves, but not much more; at least it finally comes with a lock as well. Fixed, hard-plastic, front door map pockets are shaped to hold a pop can or small water bottle, too. Rear seat passengers get no map pockets, but magazine pouches are provided on the backs of both front seats. Two cup holders fill the space in the front center console between the shift gate and the storage bin. The fold-down center armrest in the rear seat also provides two cup holders. Illuminated vanity mirrors are located in the sun visors.
Air conditioning performance has been improved on the 2009 models, says Mazda.
Both the CR-V and RAV4 hold more cargo than the CX-7 with the rear seat either up or down. With it up, the CR-V can handle about six more foot-square boxes, the RAV4 about seven more; down, both can hold more than 14 additional boxes that the CX-7 would have to leave behind.
A few more distinctions: Alone among the three, the RAV4 can be ordered with a third-row seat, giving it accommodations (however meager) for seven passengers. The CX-7, on the other hand, is the longest, lowest, and widest of the three; which gives it the dubious distinction of providing the least interior space for the most exterior bulk. However, the CX-7 has the best aerodynamic performance of the group.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2009 Mazda CX-7, click here: 2009 Mazda CX-7.