Mazda CX-7

Mazda enters the crossover segment with the new CX-7

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The CX-7 is a fine car that upholds Mazda’s tradition of offering something different. Its blend of sleek looks, excellent handling and strong performance is unusual in an SUV. As well as being generously equipped and very well built, it’s affordable. The petrol engine and high emissions limit its appeal and it won’t be cheap to run. But, as a sporty, involving alternative with four-wheel drive and a lofty seating position, the CX-7 hits the spot.

Coming from a company famed for its RX-8 and MX-5 sports cars, this new, full-sized 4x4 might be something of a surprise.

It’s hardly heartland territory for Mazda, which made its reputation with cars that set benchmarks for style and thrills. Yet the firm claims its new CX-7 is a sports crossover with the looks and practicality of an off-roader but the heart of a driver’s car – and is set to put the ‘Zoom Zoom’ into the SUV market as never before.

Powered by the same 2.3-litre turbocharged engine and permanent four-wheel-drive system as the firm’s hot 6 MPS saloon, the CX-7 isn’t designed for off-roading. Instead, it’s a tarmac-biased SUV.

The designers have given the new­comer a sleeker look than most 4x4s. Pronounced wheelarches, a steeply raked windscreen, narrow headlights and a prominent grille hint at the RX-8 coupé. Overall, the sharp style gives the CX-7 an upmarket feel.

The interior is robustly constructed and the driving position good, even if there’s no reach adjustment on the steering wheel. The 455-litre boot plus a handy one-touch seat-folding mechanism add practicality, and stan­dard kit is generous. Leather seats, cruise and climate control plus xenon lights are all included. In fact, the only factory option is metallic paint.

On the road, the CX-7 is much more involving than most SUVs. The engine puts in a respectable performance and refinement is excellent, with minimal intrusion of road or engine noise into the cabin.

But it’s the handling that really shines through. Although the ride is firm, the Mazda’s excellent body control can be enjoyed in corners in a way that most SUVs’ can’t.

In fact, it’s only the raised view of the road that reminds you the CX-7 isn’t a conventional mid-sized car. The steering is well weighted and offers plenty of feedback, and the lack of dive under braking is impressive. Stability at speed is very reassuring, while the six-speed manual transmission’s short, precise changes add to the sense of agility and control you get from behind the wheel.

What’s more, with the four-wheel-drive system automatically shifting power between the front and rear axles, lack of traction is never a problem. As the car hasn’t been designed for off-roading, Mazda has avoided many of the dynamic compromises that rivals have had to make in order to include mud-plugging ability.

The CX-7 won’t be to all tastes, and it certainly won’t appeal to those who want the low-down pulling power and relaxed cruising of a true diesel off-roader. Yet its styling and road manners make this a desirable alternative to conventional saloons and even hot hatches.

That’s not the only consideration, though. CO2 emissions of 243g/km place the CX-7 firmly in the highest tax bracket, and its less than frugal fuel economy will make the Mazda costly to run. Although consumption from the sole engine option – a 2.3-litre petrol unit – is claimed to be 27.7mpg, we struggled to match that during our extended drive.

However, the CX-7 is well built, attractively styled and good to drive. And, with fewer than 2,000 examples being made available in the UK, it will have an air of exclusivity. So, if you want an SUV body shape, great handling on tarmac, the control of a manual gearbox and the punchy performance of a turbocharged petrol engine, the CX-7 could be just what you are looking for.

Rival: Nissan Murano Also designed as a tarmac SUV, the Nissan Murano has a distinctive look and upmarket interior, although its CVT gearbox doesn’t offer the control of a manual shifter. Generous standard kit includes sat-nav, a reversing camera and keyless entry – but the Murano is more expensive, too.

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