Finding the elusive combination of nimble, engaging and affordable cars seems to be Mazda's forte of late. The company's zoom zoom ethos has now spawned a raft of vehicles, any one of which a driving enthusiast would wish for this holiday season.
But for the discerning peddler with a family of four, choices in Christmas stocking fillers from the Japanese marque have till now been restricted to the Mazda6 or it's wilder sibling, Mazda6 MPS with it's 2.3 turbocharged engine and trick all-wheel drive underpinnings.
No longer however, as Mazda have launched the newest zoom zoom vehicle to the line-up and it's an SUV...that thinks it's a sports car.
Technically the CX-7 is a crossover vehicle, which is what the 'C'denotes in the model title. It melds a stylish SUV body to those same hi-tech Mazda6 MPS all-wheel drive underpinnings and powered with a de-tuned version of the MPS's engine. The 'X' in CX-7 implies this SUV's sports car tendencies, the code has been in use for a long time with Mazda's sportiest vehicles the MX-5 and RX range.
Styling cues are evident from both the RX-8 and MX-5 too, with the distinct flared arches and frontal treatments signatures of Mazda's design DNA. A contoured beltline trimmed in chrome, a heavily raked windshield and tapered roofline reduce the glasshouse to give a sleeker profile, further reaffirming the vehicle's blacktop leanings rather than rugged bush basher.
The direct injected and turbocharged 2.3 litre four-cylinder under the hood sets the CX-7 apart from its petrol powered rivals, predominantly six cylinders. While you are aware the Mazda only houses a four-pot under the bonnet, (it seems to lack the low down grunt more often associated with SUV's of comparible output statistics) the torque curve is long and flat spiking the power output as the turbo boost reaches an impressive 15.6-psi. Performance is deceptively hare-footed.
The engine's 175kW of power and 350Nm of torque is put to the ground via a smooth, permanent All-Wheel drive, six-speed automatic transmission. An electronically controlled coupling inside the rear differential allows up to a 50:50 front/rear torque split in slippery conditions.
Combining tenacious grip offered by the four-paw driveline and 235/60 R18 tyres with a rigid unibody construction to sporty MacPherson strut front, and Multi-link rear suspension and the CX-7's handling outshines many performance cars, let alone your typical Soccer mum's SUV runabout. ABS, Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) are also all standard fitment to further aid the driver during an emergency maneuver.
Available here in only one, highly equipped specification the CX-7 isn't shy of surprise and delight features inside it's functional and contemporary cabin. Full leather upholstery, heated front seats, electrically adjusted driver's seat, sunroof and an MP3 compatible, 6-disc CD changer and 222 watt Bose sound system are all inclusive of the reasonable $48,995 price tag, and make for an attractive 'value for money' equation.
The 455 litres of cargo space can be expanded easily with the one-touch 'Karakura' fold down rear seating.
Driving enthusiasts taking the family camping this summer no longer need to compromise between driving dynamics and practicality, the CX-7 is a pleasing combination of both. Given the quality feel, high specification and equally high level of technology demonstrated by the snazzy CX-7 the sub $50k asking price seems more than fair too. Now that's a package to make for many a happy holiday.