Interior

Mazda is one of those companies I can't figure out. Its lineup is full of attractive, affordable, fun-to-drive and competitively priced cars in almost every segment. Yet where I find myself liking the cars the most — besides sheer driving pleasure — is on the inside.

Making plastic look and feel expensive to the touch is hard to do, and automakers often fail at pulling off an elegant interior in an inexpensive car. Mazda instead focuses on forming the plastics and interior design into a "sporty" look rather than an elegant one. This works to perfection in the RX-8, Mazda3 and here in the CX-7.

Orange-red gauges are recessed in three deep pods, like a sports car, and are easy to read even in bright sunlight. The steering wheel is thick and well-padded, and the center dash has large knobs for controlling all the essentials. The only tricky aspect is that the display for the stereo and environmental controls is high on the dash, away from the controls themselves. This is meant to keep drivers from looking anywhere besides the road. Because the dials are so easy to use, the setup becomes second nature after a few days behind the wheel.

The leather seats in my tester were firm and supportive, but not supple or luxurious like the leather in European models. Of course, the CX-7 isn't priced like European vehicles, either. If the exterior is a study in design over-indulgence, the interior can't be slighted for its tighter focus. The test vehicle also had thousands of miles logged on it and still looked brand new, a rarity for many journalist-loaned cars.

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