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.
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.
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.
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.
Would you by a four-cylinder diesel Mazda instead of a V-6?