Cabin Quality

Some may find the CX-7's interior styling a bit too heavy-handed, but overall quality is good, and there's more utility than you might imagine on first glance. The dashboard plastic is hard to the touch Ч typical for this class, though the Tiguan and Vue laudably buck the trend Ч but the surfaces look high-rent. Where some competitors throw grainier, cheaper-looking plastics below dash-level, Mazda sheathes areas from the gearshift to the cupholders with a slick black finish. Nice.

Higher up, the silver plastic trim and optional piano-black accents are attractive, and the cabin is generally free of unsightly panel gaps. The Grand Touring's auto-A/C dials operate with a luxury car's well-oiled authenticity. Unfortunately, I can't lavish such praise on the headliner, which employs the sort of mouse-fur most competitors have banished by now.

The features are a mixed bag. The base Sport trim comes standard with premium niceties like express down-and-up front windows and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, but higher up the ladder some options feel half-baked. The automatic climate control offers only a single zone; the Escape, RAV4, Santa Fe and Tiguan offer two. The uplevel nine-speaker Bose stereo system sounds merely OK. The heated seats on upper trim levels have only one setting, and it's not especially toasty. Competitors have as many as five levels of heat.

Then there's the optional navigation system. Allow me a rant: The shortcut keys flanking the touch-screen are too small, and the blocky map graphics look a few years behind the times. There aren't nearly enough street labels, and in my week with the car, the point-of-interest finder went one for three Ч it found a favorite pizza joint but couldn't find a major bowling alley or the local gym. The intersection finder won't let you input a city or state first, and it annoyingly demands full details for one road before allowing you to input the cross street. Want Third and Main? Hope you remember if it's West Third Boulevard or South Third Avenue, because if you don't you'll need to choose from dozens of variants in umpteen surrounding states. It doesn't hint at where those mystery roads might be, mind you Ч because then you could dismiss the one in Nowhere, Idaho. While you're pulling your hair out trying to figure out which one is yours, pop in U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name." I dare you.

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