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Mazda CX-7

Review

REVIEW

First Drive: 2010 Mazda CX-7 Diesel

As Usual, Mazda Ponders a Different Road -- Will New Sky Diesel Be the Answer?

Angus MacKenzie
Mar 26, 2010
Mazda has a small problem with its rakish, buttoned-down CX-7 crossover. With the 244hp, 2.3-liter turbocharged engine under the hood, the CX-7 delivers on the promise of its sporty styling and nicely tuned chassis. It's definitely one of the more entertaining crossovers to drive, but that fun comes at a price. With more than 3900 lb to haul around, the tightly wound turbo-four sucks gas like a six. The EPA mpg rating for the all-wheel drive CX-7s is an unremarkable 17/23 city/highway.
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Opt for the front-wheel-drive version and you'll gain a couple of extra miles per gallon around town, and 3 more on the highway. But you lose some of the CX-7's chassis poise and all-weather capability. The naturally aspirated 161hp, 2.5-liter engine in the front-drive-only, entry-level CX-7i will get you a more respectable 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, but at the expense of performance -- it's 2.3 seconds slower to 60 mph than the Grand Touring.
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What to do?
The answer may lie in Europe, where Mazda last year launched a diesel-powered version of the CX-7 that delivers 31.3 mpg on the European combined cycle, suggesting a city EPA number in the high 20 mpg range, and something in the high 30 mpg range on the highway. Ah, but what about performance? Mazda claims the 170hp, 2.2-liter MZR-CD common-rail turbodiesel-powered CX-7 takes about 11.0 seconds to get to 60 mph. That's a second longer than the CX-7i, and 3.3 seconds longer than the Grand Touring. So it's far from offering the best of both worlds. On paper, anyway.
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But after a brief drive of the CX-7 diesel in Switzerland a couple of weeks back, we're convinced a U.S.-spec CX-7 diesel has the potential to be one of those rare vehicles that is greater than the sum of its parts. It's not just the gas mileage. It's the torque. With 295 lb-ft on tap at just 2000 rpm, the MZR-CD delivers the sort of meaty launch feel American consumers love. While the 2.3-liter gas turbo, which has 258 lb-ft available at 2500 rpm, delivers a distinct pause-two-three sensation as it spools up from idle, the diesel delivers useable grunt the moment you squeeze the accelerator pedal. The diesel CX-7 feels more alert, yet paradoxically, more relaxed, an ideal combination for a crossover.
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Ah, but what about that 11.0 second 0-60 mph time?
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Here's the thing: If Mazda does decide to bring the CX-7 diesel to North America, it will be faster and even more fuel-efficient than the model we drove in Europe. Under the hood would be the forthcoming Sky-D series diesel engine, a 2.0-liter four with twin-stage turbocharging that will deliver more power and torque than the 2.2-liter MZR-CD, and a 20-percent improvement in fuel economy. And the engine will drive through an all-new six-speed automatic that Mazda says will feel like a dual clutch manual in terms of shift precision, and offer a 5-percent improvement in fuel economy compared with the current six-speed auto. With the Sky-D powertrain, a U.S.-spec CX-7 diesel has the potential to deliver Mazda's trademark sporty drive experience, and truly impressive gas mileage.
Sounds like a no-brainer. So what's stopping Mazda? Mazda research and development head Seita Kanai told reporters at the Tokyo Show last year the company has been testing diesel-powered vehicles on U.S. soil. Technology is not the issue, as even the current MZR-CD diesel is available with the AdBlue urea catalyst system diesels require to meet 50-state emissions standards. The biggest hurdle Mazda faces introducing diesel motors in the U.S., says Kanai, is customer perception of the technology. "As an engineer, ideally I would want to introduce diesels, but I am not sure if it makes a business case," Kanai told Automotive News last year. He says Mazda would need minimum annual sales of 10,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S. to turn a profit.
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The CX-7 alone is unlikely to account for the 10,000 units of Sky-D powertrains Kanai believes Mazda needs to make diesel viable in the U.S. -- unless the company takes the bold step of making a diesel CX-7 the premium model in the range, replacing the 2.3-liter gas-engined model in the lineup. Mazda sold just over 20,000 CX-7s in the U.S. last year, and 60 percent of those were the entry-level 2.5i model.
That explains why Mazda USA is also reportedly looking at using the Sky-D in both the CX-9 and Mazda6. The Ford-derived 3.7-liter V-6 used in both vehicles is expensive and will require future investment to meet long-term fuel consumption and emissions targets. While the 3.7 is currently the sole engine available in the CX-9, total sales of the three-row crossover totaled just over 21,000 units last year. And although the V-6 is available in the Mazda6, it accounted for just 18 percent of the 35,000 cars sold last year. The thinking is the Sky-D could possibly replace the V-6 altogether, ensuring the diesel engine has the volume it needs to make a solid business case.
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The good news, say Mazda USA insiders, is that German premium brands -- Audi, BMW, and Mercedes, along with Volkswagen -- seem to be doing the heavy lifting to change consumer perceptions about diesel in North America. About half of all Audi Q7 SUVs and A3 hatches now sold in the U.S. are diesels, for example. Diesels accounted for almost 4 percent of total Mercedes-Benz sales in the U.S. last year, 17 percent of BMW X5 sales, and about 20 percent of total VW sales. While diesel will never reach the market penetration of Europe for a whole bunch of reasons, there is clear evidence a growing band of American consumers are enthusiastically taking to the technology.
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With Ford having reduced its stake in Mazda to just over 13 percent (and relying more on its European product development teams for small car technology for the North American market), Mazda is now less able to join Ford research and development programs. And it's simply not big enough or wealthy enough to develop by itself a broad portfolio of powertrain alternatives that meet future emissions and fuel economy targets in the medium term. So it has a tough decision to make. Linking Mazda to proven technology used by premium European automakers -- i.e., diesel -- instead of attempting to follow Toyota and Honda down the hybrid route seems like a smart move.
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But is it the right bet? Would you by a four-cylinder diesel Mazda instead of a V-6?
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2012 Mazda CX-7

SPECIFICATIONS
$22,190
20 / 27
2.5L I4
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Mazda CX-7 Discontinued to Make Way for CX-5 Introduction
Mazda CX-7 being discontinued shortly; making room for the new CX-5.
Ben TimminsMar 12, 2012

2011 Mazda CX-7

SPECIFICATIONS
$21,990
20 / 28
2.5L I4
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2010 Mazda CX-7

SPECIFICATIONS
$21,700
20 / 28
2.5L I4
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First Drive: 2010 Mazda CX-7 Diesel
As Usual, Mazda Ponders a Different Road -- Will New Sky Diesel Be the Answer?
Angus MacKenzieMar 26, 2010
Truck Trend
Truck Trend Magazine
truck reviews
First Test: 2010 Mazda CX-7 i Sport
Free Breather: Sans Turbo, Does This Crossover Retain Its Charm? When Mazda gave the CX-7 its midlife makeover for 2010, it threw in a naturally aspirated inline-four to the CX-7's lineup in an effort to broaden its appeal.
Kirill OugarovNov 24, 2009
Truck Trend
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news
Mazda CX-7 Diesel With AdBlue Due To Make Debut At Frankfurt
Joining the MX-5 Superlight Concept at next month's Frankfurt Motor Show will be Mazda's refreshed Euro-spec CX-7 with a 2.2L MZR-CD diesel on board.
Nate MartinezAug 20, 2009

2009 Mazda CX-7

SPECIFICATIONS
$23,900
17 / 23
2.3L I4
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2008 Mazda CX-7

SPECIFICATIONS
$23,750
17 / 23
2.3L I4
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Truck Trend truck reviews
Crossover Comparison: 2008 Mazda CX-7 vs 2009 Subaru Forester XT vs 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan
Turbochargers: Three compact crossovers, all with force-fed fours, vie for peak performance.
Ron KiinoJul 24, 2008

2007 Mazda CX-7

SPECIFICATIONS
$23,750
N/A
2.3L I4
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Truck Trend news
Auto New: Mazda Puts Safety First Without Sacrificing Driving Excitement
CX-7 crossover and MAZDA6 sedan score big in recent government safety tests.
Mar 12, 2007
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Road Test: 2007 Acura RDX & 2007 Mazda CX-7
Brothers from Different Mothers, 2007 Mazda CX-7 and 2007 Acura RDX Troll the Same Part of the Sea for Success
Mark WilliamsDec 27, 2006
Motor Trend
Motor Trend Magazine
Motor Trend
First Drive: Mazda Kabura Concept
To a medieval Japanese warrior, Kabura described the first arrow launched into battle: a whistling missive that boldly proclaimed the arrival of a new force to be reckoned with.
Bob NagySep 25, 2006
Truck Trend
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news
CX-7 Earns Top Ratings In Government Crash Tests
The 2007 Mazda CX-7 crossover SUV received five-star frontal and side impact crashworthiness rati...
Sep 15, 2006
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news
2006 Mazda ZOOM-ZOOM Live Tour
Mazda North American Operations is once again taking its Zoom-Zoom Live tour across the country, ...
Aug 28, 2006
Truck Trend
Truck Trend Magazine
Shows & Events
2007 Mazda CX-9 Photo Gallery: 2006 New York Auto Show
Mazda expands the amount of Zoom-Zoom in its crossover sport-utility line with the presentation of its seven-seat 2007 CX-9. Read more about the 2007 Mazda CX-9 in the 2006 New York Auto Show coverage at MotorTrend.com
Editors of Motor TrendApr 18, 2006
Truck Trend
Truck Trend Magazine
Shows & Events
2007 Mazda CX-9 Photo Gallery: 2006 New York Auto Show
Mazda expands the amount of Zoom-Zoom in its crossover sport-utility line with the presentation of its seven-seat 2007 CX-9. Read more about the 2007 Mazda CX-9 in the 2006 New York Auto Show coverage at MotorTrend.com
Editors of Motor TrendApr 18, 2006
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