Going & Stopping

Mazda reportedly may offer a more fuel-efficient, normally aspirated four-cylinder engine in the CX-7 down the line, but until then, the only available drivetrain is a 244-horsepower, turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder hitched to a six-speed automatic transmission. The combo yields potent but uneven power, so shoppers who put driving refinement above all else ought to look elsewhere. There's slight but noticeable turbo lag starting out, and under hard acceleration the engine blats out a flat, unappealing drone. The automatic takes its time doling out downshifts, and when they finally arrive, the resulting power can feel peaky and sudden. Six-cylinder competitors like the 3.6-liter Vue and 3.5-liter RAV4 accelerate more smoothly, and the RAV4 feels quicker overall.

Don't take that to mean the CX-7 is slow. There's plenty of power at low revs and good highway passing power, too. The drivetrain feels best on inclines, where it easily maintains speed without needing to downshift. On several occasions it was able to pass others on steep uphill stretches with the tach below 3,000 rpm. No doubt a front-wheel-drive CX-7 would feel even lighter on its feet, as it sheds 219 pounds versus the all-wheel-drive version. Our friends at MotorWeek clocked a front-wheel-drive CX-7 hitting 60 mph in a swift 7.7 seconds. That's in the same league as the quickest Vue that MotorWeek tested, and it's significantly quicker than the V-6 Mitsubishi Outlander.

Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are standard. The pedal feels linear and elicits strong deceleration without much forward suspension dive. Don't consider towing much, though, as the CX-7 maxes out at just 2,000 pounds. When properly equipped, the Vue, RAV4, Outlander and Ford Escape can each tow 3,500 pounds.

You'll pay for all this fun, of course. Once gas prices go back up — which many experts fully expect them to do — gas mileage will be the CX-7's single greatest drawback. The EPA pegs mileage for front-wheel-drive models at 17/23 mpg city/highway, and in all-wheel-drive models it's estimated at 16/22 mpg. Those may not seem like huge deficits versus a V-6 RAV4 or Escape, but considered as a percentage they translate into significant differences in your weekly gas receipts. Non-turbo four-cylinder SUVs offer the best mileage in this segment, but even among the go-fast crowd the CX-7 ranks near the bottom. Worse yet, Mazda recommends premium fuel. Regular fuel will suffice, but it'll likely mean slightly slower starts and weaker passing.

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