Mixed signals from Mazda’s crossover

Ryan Borroff
FROM the outset, Mazda makes a pretty bold claim: a crossover car with the practicality and space of an <a href="http://www.mazda.co.uk/showroom/cx-5/overview/"; target="blank">SUV</a> combined with the sporty driving dynamics of a sports car. And not just any sports car, but an MX-5, one of the best sports cars ever and certainly one of the most fun to drive.

So I’m expecting a practical SUV that is fun to drive. And it’s fair to say that that’s exactly what the CX-7 is. Almost.

Looks-wise it’s a well-groomed mongrel that’s not going to appeal to everyone. I contest that it’s handsome enough, particularly in profile when the side windows slope towards the front – called the shoulderline. Large wheel arches add to the sporty looks. And its new face – with its large wide mouth grille – adds to the car’s unique image. So rather than featuring the boxy SUV styling that has become disappointingly ubiquitous, the CX-7 looks quite different and for that, Mazda should be commended. First seen in 2006, the design is actually beginning to age – this is a face-lifted version with a new diesel engine – although in its segment it’s still one of the most interesting.

When accelerating it feels so much faster than the published figure of 11.3 seconds (0-62mph) that I tripled checked it to ensure I hadn’t made a mistake. As it has a new 2.2 litre diesel engine economy it does pretty well (37.7mpg combined). The cabin is also very quiet, unusual for this type of car with a noisy diesel engine under the bonnet. The handling too was especially good, such that it felt like a much more nimble and svelte car than it actually is. The result was that the car became more and more endearing as the week went on.

Inside there’s a sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel and sport-orientated cockpit, a leather and piano-black trimmed interior, a sat-nav – with a small, and thus not obtrusive, screen in the dash – and deep set dials. There’s also a Bose stereo, with excellent Bluetooth compatibility built in, so good that I could just sit my iPhone on the centre console and stream music from it, and I only docked it once. The system would even remember where the music left off when we returned to the car. Space-wise the driver-focused nature of the cockpit means the car feels cosy in the front while in the back there is genuinely plenty of room, even for the tallest passengers. The seats fold down to increase the quite average 455 litres of boot space to 755 litres. The car is comfortable but I felt that it just lacks some of the practicality that I had expected from a car this big.

Really, I’m just not sold on crossovers. It’s like taking two really good games, say rugby and football, combining them and then trying to suggest that the resulting game is better. But the CX-7 manages to be an SUV that isn’t a dullard to drive and in that sense at least, it’s a success. But it’s no off-roader and makes no claims to be. So if it’s an SUV/coupe crossover but without the off-road capability, is it not then just a big old sports car with lots of space? Not exactly, since we weren’t blown away by the space either. Which means if you’re somebody that is in the market for an SUV, who likes an elevated seating position, but who has no need for a genuine off-roader and would like something more fun to drive, then the CX-7 could be for you. But if you want a fun family car with loads of function and flexible space, then this probably isn’t the car you’re after.