With a car's hood, an SUV's cabin, and a wagon's hatch, Mazda managed to graft three kinds of car into one with the 2007 Mazda CX-7, and we're happy to report that the operation was a success. Mazda's CX-7 is marketed as a crossover, a vehicle with the comfort of a car and the high-riding position and interior dimensions of an SUV. And being a new generation of vehicle for a new generation of buyers, the CX-7 offers some, if not all, of the current wave of technology features.
The CX-7 feels like an SUV from the first step into the cabin, which is relatively high. And, like many SUVs, it features seating for five and a rear cargo area. Although more mechanical than techie, levers in the cargo area cause the rear seats to fold forward, a very thoughtful addition. Our Grand Touring version came with leather seats, all with a slightly bizarre strip of alligator suede running down the center. The power adjustable driver's seat offers substantial range of motion, especially vertically. Rear-seat legroom is good no matter how far the front seats are pushed back.
The three-spoke steering wheel looks like it belongs in a Mazda Miata or a Mazda3--it's a pretty sporty touch for the CX-7 and serves as a reminder that its underpinnings lean more toward car than SUV. Similarly, the instrument cluster, with electroluminescent gauges, is contained in a pod that also looks like it belongs in a sports car. But the center stack brings us back to SUV land with its broad face and decent-size LCD. A secondary orange monochrome readout sits in an upper tier of the dash over the top of the stack, showing audio and climate control information that wouldn't be visible when the LCD is showing the map. We like this arrangement, as the temperature and time are always visible.
Tech from the key to the stereo
The CX-7 gets right down to business showing off its tech with its smart key, a credit card-size plastic rectangle with an RFID chip. Similar to other smart keys, when it is in proximity to the car, the driver can just pull on the door handle to unlock the car and turn a knob to start the car. Although it's easy to forget to hand the key off to valets and garage attendants, the car will sound a warning beep if the key is carried off while the car is running. The plastic rectangle also conceals a backup mechanical key for use if the RFID chip runs out of power.
Although we didn't care for the glossy black bezel, the touch screen is bright and easy to read. Strangely, this touch screen requires a stronger tap than others we've used. Pushing onscreen buttons has an almost mechanical feel. The screen gave us some trouble when we tried to set a destination on the navigation system. After programming in an address, the screen shows the map and a blue button labeled Destination, which would confirm that the address was where we wanted to go. But when we didn't hit the button just right, we ended up choosing a random destination from the map and had to go back a step.
As mentioned above, the navigation system allows selecting destinations from the map, from its points-of-interest database, or from inputting an address. It also very conveniently let us set waypoints along our route merely by choosing another destination and indicating that we wanted to stop there before the final destination. We were only disappointed by the lack of retail stores in the points-of-interest database, although restaurants, gas stations, and other useful stops are included. The map display is good, showing all street names and offering split views, with either two maps or a map and a nice, 3D route guidance screen.
Route guidance works well, calculating quickly and recalculating without a fuss when we ignored its directions. The voice prompts do only partial text-to-speech, reading out freeway numbers but not street names. The navigation system also includes a voice-recognition system, although the commands aren't all that intuitive. We recommend reading the manual before using it, and maybe copying out a cheat sheet of commands. It is useful, however. We particularly like the detour function that can be called up from the voice-command system, which will make the route guidance choose a different next turn.
The touch screen also displays information and buttons for the Bose audio system, which came as part of the Technology package on our test car. The screen offers an aesthetically pleasing display of either radio stations or MP3 track information. It makes navigating MP3 CDs particularly easy, with large buttons to move through folders and change tracks. The six-CD changer sits behind the LCD--when loading or ejecting CDs, the LCD flips up to provide access. It plays standard, Redbook CDs and MP3 tracks, but not WMA tracks. Audio controls for volume and skipping tracks are also duplicated on the steering wheel, which is good because the volume knob next to the LCD is unusually small.
A Sound button in the display leads to some fine-tuning for adjusting bass and treble and moving the audio sweet spot around the car's cabin. The system also uses Bose's Centerpoint technology, which can be adjusted from the Sound screen. The system blasts 240 watts through nine speakers, with large woofers in each door matched by a tweeter, and a center fill speaker in the dashboard. This system offers nice audio clarity and stereo separation, and a rich sound with good bass. But it doesn't make for a good surround-sound experience--we were always able to hear which speakers the sound was coming from.