What is it?
This is Mazda’s belated but welcome move to put the CX-7 SUV onto a more level playing field with its European rivals by fitting it with a diesel engine, in place of the potent but thirsty 2.3-litre turbo petrol engine with which it was saddled originally.
At the same time, the CX-7 has been re-engineered for improved torsional rigidity and refinement – claims we’ve now got a chance to put to the test on British roads.
The big news, of course, is the fitment of Mazda’s excellent 2.2-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, in yet another state of tune from the versions found in the likes of the Mazda 3 and Mazda 6.
In the CX-7 it makes 171bhp at 3500rpm and an impressive 295lb ft of torque at 2000rpm, and it’s linked to a six-speed manual gearbox (there’s no auto option). It’s also one of the least polluting diesel engines available in the UK, thanks to its Adblue injection system, which uses urea to break down the nitrogen oxides in the exhaust gases.
As well as being limited on engine and gearbox options, there’s just a single, high spec level, so buying a CX-7 doesn’t involve too much decision making. At £26,340 it’s competitively priced against Japanese rivals such as the Honda CR-V i-DTEC EX and looks like quite good value next to the equivalent Audi Q5 2.0 TDI or Land Rover Freelander TD4.
What’s it like?
The CX-7 has always been one of the more sporting, road-biased SUVs, and this new one is no different. Like the recently arrived Infiniti EX37, the Mazda puts considerable emphasis on handling, which means it’s firmly sprung and feels astonishingly light and agile for a reasonably big SUV – like a jacked-up hot hatch.
The ride can be jittery at low speeds, and road noise is still quite intrusive at motorway speeds, but the trade-off is that you can have some fun in the CX-7 and even chuck it around a bit; it encourages you to do so, in fact.
The new diesel engine may not provide the same level of performance as the old 2.3-litre turbo petrol unit, but it’s a terrific unit and far more appropriate for the CX-7.
Although it sounds like it’s working hard under acceleration and the 0-62mph time (11.3sec) isn’t anything to write home about, there’s plenty of torque on tap which gives the CX-7 strong mid-range shove and easy motorway pace.
The six-speed manual ’box has short throws and a nice snick-snick action like that of any Mazda, although you can’t help but feel that the drivetrain might be even better (and certainly smoother) with a good auto ’box.
Despite its dramatic looks, the CX-7 still has enough space and practicality inside to make a sensible family car. Three adults across the rear seats would be a tight fit, but the CX-7 is a comfortable four-seater, with a good-sized load bay and easy-folding, split rear seats. The driving position is good, but the fascia and steering wheel are littered with a daunting array of buttons and the quality of the materials doesn’t match that of Audi, Land Rover or Infiniti.
Should I buy one?
Now that it’s got the right engine for this market, the CX-7 suddenly becomes a serious contender rather than just a peripheral player. Now you can consider it not just for its striking looks and nimble handling but also because its running costs have dropped to a sensible level.