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First drive: Mazda CX-7 – on sale now

Despite what it may look like, Mazda insists its new CX-7 is not an SUV, “it’s a sports car”. Mazda believes it has created its own “niche within a niche” that will sit alongside its other sporty models, the RX-8 and MX-5.

With the addition of yet another sub-segment, manufacturers are running the risk of confusing customers. However, Mazda doesn’t think so.

“British motorists are presented with a huge range of SUV-type vehicles so we need to offer something different and the CX-7 fits the bill,” said Mark Cameron, Mazda UK’s marketing director.

The number seven in the car’s title refers to its order in Mazda’s line-up rather than the amount of seats it has. The company made it clear at the launch in Paris that the CX-7 isn’t really aimed at the 4x4 or people-carrier market.

Rather than focusing on the car’s off-road credentials, although it does feature a four-wheel-drive system, Mazda will rely on the model’s performance credentials to hook in the professional 30-somethings with “multi-activity lifestyles”.

The CX-7 is powered by the same 258bhp 2.3-litre turbocharged engine featured in the MPS versions of the Mazda6 and Mazda3.

UK customers will get a single highly-specified model featuring leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, climate control air conditioning, cruise control and BOSE audio system.

The innovative Karakuri seating system featured in the Mazda5 also appears in the CX-7.

The split rear seats can be folded 60:40, which provides 774 litres of space. The boot floor also has a reversible waterproof trunk to put muddy shoes in.

Mazda said it would consider adding a diesel engine and automatic transmission to the model if sales of the petrol version take off.

Mazda UK expects its niche market to snap up between 1,000 and 1,500 CX-7s in its first full year.

“I am convinced there is still lots of growth in the SUV segment as long as vehicles are sensibly developed and marketed,” said Cameron.

Mazda will need to tackle the anti-4x4 stigma attached to a car that is not likely to go off-road and is launching a marketing campaign to help its retail network with product awareness.

The CX-7 won’t be popular in London either, if proposed changes to the congestion charge go through. Its 243g/km CO2 output puts it in the costly £25-a-day band G.

Phillip Waring, vice-president of sales for Mazda Motor Europe, said it would be the task of its marketing team to present the right image to the UK.

Behind the wheel

Mazda has smoothed out the CX-7’s lines in comparison to the American version which went on sale there last spring.

The European model has been re-engineered to offer a firmer ride and better handling, which the CX-7 does deliver. It’s exceptionally agile for a car of its size and true to Mazda’s promise, it offers sporty performance too. The 258bhp engine peaks in power at 5,500rpm with peak torque of 280lb ft at 3,000rpm, which ensures a rapid response.

The CX-7 is comfortable at cruising speeds and good dampening means there is little cabin noise. The gearbox is a bit notchy, just like our long term Mazda6, but this is just a small gripe with a car that is great to drive.

Price: £23,960
Engines: 2.3-litre 258bhp turbo petrol
Performance: 0-62mph 8.0 secs; top speed 130mph
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Efficiency: 27.7mpg; 243g/km CO2
CAP RV (3yr/30k): £46% (£10,850)
Rivals: Vauxhall Antara, Nissan Murano, BMW X3, Dodge Nitro, Land Rover Freelander, Honda CR-V
Strengths: Delivers its promise of a sporty drive
Weaknesses: It only has five seats, high CO2 emissions
Opportunity: To corner a new market for Mazda
Threat: A lot of competition in sector from rivals
USP: Sports car with space

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