Mazda CX-7

Smart and sporty SUV takes oil-burning route to rejuvenation.

hen it comes to doing things differently, Mazda is in a class of its own. Whether it’s the unique MX-5 roadster or the rotary-engined RX-8 Coupé, the brand sets out to break with convention.

The CX-7 is yet another example of this approach. It is designed to provide a sporty driving experience, so while it boasts four-wheel drive and a lofty cabin, it isn’t a car that’s meant to head off-tarmac.

The styling reflects this. There are hints of the RX-8 in its pronounced wheelarches and narrow lights, while the steeply angled windscreen gives the CX-7 a sense of purpose you rarely see in cars from this class.

That theme continues inside, with sporty cowled instruments inspired, once again, by those in the RX-8. The raked screen and deep dashboard also give the impression of a low-slung coupé, yet the tall ride height means you get a good view of the road ahead.

There’s plenty of wheel and seat adjustment, and the centre console is simply laid out. Ebony trim and a smart multi-function wheel give the interior a high- end feel, and the cabin is very well put together. However, the materials fall short of those in the Audi – the Mazda’s dash plastics are shinier and overall you simply don’t get the same feeling of quality.

Passenger space is good, though, and while at 455 litres the boot’s overall volume is 85 litres less than in the Audi, it has a longer load length with seats both up and down.

What sets the Mazda apart from its rival is the driving experience, and the new 2.2-litre diesel hasn’t diluted this. In fact, if anything the powerplant adds to the car’s appeal, because the smooth-revving unit complements the CX-7’s character.

Aside from a small amount of diesel clatter at idle, it is quiet and delivery is very linear, with a positive throttle response. The two cars are closely matched on power, yet the Mazda has a 50Nm torque advantage over its rival. However, it also carries a 60kg weight penalty, so it sprinted from 0-60mph only a fifth of a second faster than the Audi.

Still, the Mazda lives up to its sporty billing in bends. The light steering is a touch over-assisted, but it’s sharp and direct, which gives the CX-7 an appetite for corners that is alien to many SUVs. And while the suspension does allow more body movement than in the Q5, the Mazda is still impressively agile for a car of its size.

Turn your attention to comfort and the CX-7 continues to shine. There is more tyre noise than in the Audi, and thumps from potholes occasionally ripple up into the cabin, yet the overall balance between ride and handling is pretty well judged.

With a four-wheel-drive system that shifts power between the axles, plus firm brakes, the Mazda is a strong on-road performer. It’s packed with standard kit, so it’s great value, too. But is it good enough to beat the excellent Q5?

In detail * Price: £26,340 * Engine: 2.2-litre, 171bhp * 0-60mph: 9.7 seconds * Economy: 30.8mpg * Claimed CO2: 199g/km * Why? Diesel powerplant means that the stylish CX-7 is now far more appealing for British buyers.

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