Smooth operator

This sporty SUV stokes you to throw caution to the wind.

THERE appears to be a DNA strain common to SUVs – muscularly mean in demeanour, they’re a bit like a sports car that’s swollen with its own sense of self-importance.

Yes, SUVs have been denounced by environmentalists as wasteful, gas-guzzling beasts serving little purpose other than flashing their owner’s financial worth. But get behind the wheel of one of these and see just how stoked you can get, especially if it’s something like Mazda’s CX-7, which is also called a “crossover” vehicle, being largely slung lower than some of the big boys in this realm.

The CX-7 is armed with a turbocharged 2,260cc engine (four in-line cylinders, 16 valves, dual overhead cams) that outputs an impressive 234hp at 5,000rpm and 350Nm of torque at 2,500rpm. The power plant is mated to a gated, six-speed Activematic transmission, with a “manual” mode available for those craving a sportier feel.

The dimensions are perhaps not all car-like: 4,699mm long, 1,872mm wide and 1,645mm high – but the CX-7 hugs the road tighter than the “typical” SUV. Those substantial rear-wheel arches further contribute to the muscular visage.

Other features include rack-and-pinion steering with power assist, MacPherson struts at the front suspension and multi-link at the back, ventilated disc brakes all around and 235/60R18 tyres.

For safety features, you get anti-lock braking system, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, dynamic stability and traction control and six airbags.

Standard accessories include a reverse sensor with a camera, coloured multi-info display, six-disc changer with a nine-speaker system (Bose units, no less), key-less entry and start, electric sun-roof, multi-function controls on the steering wheel, auto on/off and levelling headlamps, fog lamps, rain sensor, electric seats (leather all around), leather-wrapped steering and shift knob, and dual exhaust tail piece.

Two variants – 4X4 and 4X2 – are available from local distributor Bermaz Motor Sdn Bhd. The former is priced at RM264,960 (OTR with insurance), while the latter (which happened to be our test unit) is cheaper at RM254,692.

Internally, the CX-7 takes on European styling cues: the dashboard is neat and uncluttered, and seems almost sparse at a glance.

However, closer scrutiny will reveal just how smartly the various controls and buttons have been laid out.

Once they climb into the cockpit, vertically-challenged drivers (like me) may wish for a few extra inches of leg or torso to get their seating posture just right. As much as I tried, that perfect position evaded me, despite the electrically-controlled settings.

The CX-7 is quiet inside, keeping road and engine noise, even at higher rpms, to the minimal. The overall innards have a solid and up-market feel, as indeed you would have every right to expect, given the price.

Spacious it certainly is as well, although the spare-tyre compartment under the floor of the luggage area takes away some litres of storage – yet, this is essential to maintain the streamlined look from the outside.

The thrill with the CX-7, however, is in the driving and handling.

I first thought it was a bigger engine but the turbo-charger explained the performance. An adrenaline rush can be had on pressing the pedal – sweet, sweet power for a bit of a blood rush as you see the tachometer race over 3,000rpm.

Had I been in possession of the CX-7 for a couple of days more and taken longer rides, I might have been tempted to throw all caution to the winds. Still, even at short bursts of speeds, it showed a level of alacrity that was pulsating. It’s not raw, brutish power, but rather, quick, smooth delivery.

The transmission is a delightful piece of work, seamless with changes, and quickly responsive in the sportier driving mode.

Handling around corners was tight, too, but perhaps because of the length, the turning circle was not as small as I would have expected. The ride was almost Continental-like over bumps and dips, allowing me to navigate uneven roads with a degree of comfort not usually available with MPVs or bigger SUVs.

The 2WD variant comes in a choice of four colours here – grey, ebony, white and black.

The CX-7 is a sturdy, well-built and classy SUV with crossover appeal, appealing both to the sedan types and those of a sportier persuasion.

The power plant’s performance certainly impressed me, along with the sharp-looking interior, and overall feel and handling.

Yet, this price category is crowded with other heavyweight options, so the CX-7 has its work cut out for it.

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