Things that do not interest me: children or the hauling of, dirt, rotten fuel economy, jet skis, trailer hitches, rolling over and sitting in high chairs. Things that do: acceleration; going really fast and feeling stable while doing so; turning left and right, and stopping. All of that, and a satisfactory outcome in the genetic lottery, means I have zero desire for a traditional SUV. Nonetheless, I do transport "lifestyle gear" from time to time (e.g., beer kegs and bass amps). During the past half-decade, for reasons yet to be admitted, automakers have begun building and selling vehicles that conform to a widening portion of my requirements.
Joining the ranks of Porsche's Cayenne Turbo, Land Rover's chest thumping Range Rover Sport and Infiniti's far out FX45 in the realm of drivers' SUVs comes the new Mazda CX-7. We could spend days dissecting the why of this particular segment of utes that retain a sporting pretense despite their size. Instead, let's focus on the what, as in, "What the hell were they drinking when they sketched out this one, tequila and acetone?"
From the front , it's a Mazda RX-8 on a cycle of human growth hormone. The gaping maw — shared with all of Mazda's zoom-zoom models — looks unhealthy. The high sheet metal between the C and D pillars looks pinched and clumsy, and the wheel arches are cartoonishly oversized. Standing behind the CX-7, the view is that of a hatchback sporting the fussiest taillights in existence. I appreciate that the CX-7 is far shorter than, say, a Denali, but who dropped a piano on that minivan? Still, for what it's worth, it does have a nice windshield rake.
Inside is a mixed bag. For instance, I love the small yet meaty steering wheel lifted from the Miata, but I do not understand why it's facing a Lazy Boy recliner with two inches of squish in all directions (sports seats, please). The head unit does (thankfully) feature an honest-to-goodness tuning knob, though it's ergonomically inverted and placed where the volume knob should be. That raked windshield creates a yard of space between driver and glass. Also, the severe slope means the headliner is always within sight, giving the cabin a claustrophobic feel.
In accelerative terms, the CX-7 is a hurry-up-and-wait dragster. Stomp the go-pedal and count two beats. When the tach crests 2,500 rpm, clinch that fatty wheel with all your might. Power explodes in all directions, with the tumult barely reined in by AWD and traction control. The party ends just as abruptly; Mazda outfitted the CX-7 with business-class stoppers. Pedal feel is superb, especially considering most SUVs' brake pedals are like kicking Sponge Bob square in the pants. McPherson struts up front and fully independent multilinks out back do their collective best to convince the driver it's not a sedan in platform shoes he's piloting. But, of course, it is.
For an SUV, the CX-7's handling is largely impressive, but it's no autocrosser. Even with the traction control off briefly (our tester had an electric glitch causing the nanny to only stay off for twenty seconds at a time) you get the feeling an air mattress is separating you from the tires. (Porsche's Cayenne suffers a similar quirk, though more mechanical than pneumatic.) Despite the CX-7's sporting aspirations, zoom-zoom affiliations and promotional messaging to the contrary, there's always a sense you're going to flip if you muscle it around a bend.