"If you want a sporty SUV, the Mazda CX-7 is fun to drive and is reasonably roomy, if not the biggest 4x4 on the market."
Rakish looks, good to drive and brimming with equipment, the Mazda CX-7 is a great all-rounder. It's marketed as a 4x4 that's not designed to go off road, and aims to blend SUV looks with the sharp handling of Mazda's RX-8 and MX-5 sports cars. Inside, you'll find a spacious, comfortable cabin, although carrying capacity can't match rivals such as Audi's Q5. But then that long kit list is very attractive - you'd have to spend hundreds, if not thousands of pounds to get a Q5 up to a similar specification.
This is where the Mazda CX-7 really excels. There's only a 171bhp 2.2-litre turbodiesel unit available, but it's refined and delivers punchy performance – the Mazda can sprint from 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds. Steering is sharp and direct, the six-speed manual gearbox provides slick shifts, and the CX-7 is impressively agile in corners. Four-wheel drive boosts the SUV's all-weather capabilities, while strong brakes round off a fun driving package.
Apart from a little diesel clatter at idle, the CX-7's engine is incredibly quiet. Tyre noise is minimal and the SUV's pliant suspension provides a smooth ride. The view of the road ahead is good thanks to the high driving position, and there's plenty of wheel and seat adjustment to create the perfect driving position.
Mazda has an excellent reliability record, and we expect the CX-7 to present few problems. The cabin feels well put together, although the plastics don't feel as high quality as those used in Audi's Q5. For added peace of mind, there's a three-year/60,000 mile warranty. A four-star Euro NCAP crash test rating is reasonable.
There's enough space inside the CX-7 for five, with plenty of leg and headroom for passengers. However, there's no seven-seat option and boot space is only adequate at 455 litres. Fold them down, using a simple one-touch mechanism, and this rises to 774 litres, which trails class leaders.
Value for money
Sport Tech is the only trim option available on the CX-7. However, it features plenty of standard equipment, including electrically-operated heated leather seats, sat-nav, xenon lights, cruise control, 19-inch alloy wheels, automatic lights and wipers, plus a reversing camera. The only one options are metallic paint, plus roof racks and tow bars. The Mazda undercuts the Audi Q5 on price, and you'd have to add lots of costly options to that car to match the CX-7's standard kit list.
A powerful 2.2-litre diesel engine is never going to offer supermini-rivalling running costs, but ecomony of 38mpg and emissions of 199g/km are reasonable. The CX-7 sits in Road Tax Band J, which costs £245 a year.