Exterior Design: **
If you were to show the CX-7 to people back in the 1950s, they would nod knowingly and say, "The future!" To people in the 1980s it would probably look like a Pontiac prototype. To 2006 eyes, it looks like the offspring of an incestuous union between the Nissan Murano and Infiniti FX, who — unwilling to suffer the shame — left it on Mazda's steps to be raised as its goofy own.
Interior Design: ***
The fat leather seats look nice, but provide way too little bolstering. Because of the Lamborghini Diablo-style windshield slant, there's enough room on top of the dash to dry peppers or build a small bookshelf. The radio is a spastic mess with all sorts of buttons all over the place, most of them not performing the task they should. Still, as the steering wheel is lifted from the Miata, cruise-control switches are in the perfect location. The wheel's not bad, either. Thirty minutes is the most I could endure in the back. Yes it's tight and cramped, but the killer is a hard bar on the seat pocket that bugs you just below the knee. However, drop the seats and you can move apartments in three trips.
Turbo lag, combined with an automatic transmission, means not only are stoplights tricky, but you're likely to be in the wrong gear when cresting an apex. That's too bad because when the 2.3 liter MZR DISI Turbo 4 gets its boost on, you're strapped into what feels like the world's fastest minivan. Though the CX-7, Mazdaspeed6 and Mazdaspeed3 share the same engine, output varies (244hp, 274hp and 263hp, respectively). I always vote for more power, and as the CX-7 costs the same as the Mazdaspeed6, a 30-pony discrepancy is disconcerting. Hopefully a Mazdaspeed7 is in the works.
Let me tell you a story. I was blasting down my favorite on-ramp and decided to try out the autobox's manual mode, only shifting at the satisfyingly tall 6,750 rpm redline. As I shifted, my left foot instinctively pressed down, hunting for a non-existent clutch, and caught the corner of the brake pedal. I thought I'd been rear-ended, but it was the set of monster brakes engaging. For you geeks, the CX-7 uses four-wheel ventilated discs, anti-lock brakes (ABS), Traction Control System (TCS), and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) to stop the nearly two-ton trucklette in a big, safe hurry.
If I were to teleport you into the CX-7 tooling along at freeway speed and told you it was a Toyota Sienna, you wouldn't argue. Even with the fancy suspension bits, the ride is smooth and comfortable. I blame the high-profile tires, because smooth and comfortable is exactly the opposite of what you want in a high-performance ride. So, while I'm not sure what the CX-7 actually is (Sports car? Mini-van? Dwarf SUV?), neither is it.
3,929 pounds is a lot of crossover. Amazingly, Mazda makes it feel at least a quarter-ton lighter. As you read this, some kid with dreams of being a real life Chad Lindberg for his illegal street racing gang is slapping 21" ultra lo-pro donks on his CX-7. That's exactly what this buggy needs, and the huge wheel arches could take 'em. Why give this wanna-be beastie McPherson struts, indie rear, AWD and fat sway bars, but hamstring it with honking 60-profile all-season tires? The poor CX-7 is wearing a performance tuxedo with brown shoes.
A six-speed automatic means the porky CX-7 can cruise at 80 mph with the engine spinning at barely 2,500 rpm, which is good, because the high-output engine sips premium only. But since Mazda gifted this guy with the Miata's wheel, why not raid deeper and give it something approximating the Miata's perfect gearbox? The manual mode, like most, is not suited to an enthusiast's needs.
There is a radio with a six-disk changer and satellite. The buttons that change modes are Ford parts-bin cheap. The Volume knob should be where the tuning knob is. And it doesn't sound very good.
I'm handing out a single star because, a) aside from heated seats I can't think of any and b) I want to cost Mazda a sale or two for not including an iPod jack in a 2007 model. Inexcusable.
Much like Nissan's Murano, the CX-7 is best suited for hauling antiques. However, with the rear seats flat, you could clean up at an estate sale.
Our tester, like most testers, was loaded to the gills with every option you could check. Still came in under $30,000, though not by very much. If you really need a high performance crossover, you'd be paying for $37,800 for a "stripped" FX35.
Despite being a useless minivan, I mean a useless SUV, I mean a pudgy performance car, I like the CX-7. All of my friends with young families will be hearing about it; Mazda's crossover might be the ideal vehicle for making 3:00 am Huggies runs.