And those qualities combine to make it something special. For while Porsche botched the styling job of turning its 911 sports car into the Cayenne, Mazda has successfully blended some family traits from the sexy RX-8 coupe to produce a practical five-seater that’s a great looker from almost any angle.
And when the car reaches the UK early in 2007 – the big volumes of the North American market means it comes first – the CX-7 will have the go to match its racy appearance.
Under its shapely metal skin will be a modified version of the 258bhp turbocharged engine from the Mazda6 MPS and its ‘thinking’ four-wheel drive system that splits power according to the tyres with the most grip.
No compact SUV has ever gone like this. But where, you might ask, is the diesel – and the answer is ‘over the horizon in 2008’ at best.
So besiege your dealer to help Mazda Motors UK put pressure on the factory in Japan because it’s not yet definite even though there’s a punchy 143bhp 2.0-litre common rail turbodiesel also used in the Mazda6.
David Sweet, Mazda North America group manager for product marketing, said: ‘The CX-7 takes the things that people like about SUVs and kept those and ditched the rest. We haven’t just averaged it out like some manufacturers.
‘People want to sit high and the vehicle to have lots of wheel clearance so that it looks capable, but with a dynamic stance like a sports saloon.’
He added: ‘You could say we are late into the SUV market, but for this kind of SUV we are very early.
‘People keep going on about seven seaters but SUVs have less family ownership than any car in the USA so the first priority with the CX-7 was front seats, followed by boot space, with rear seats coming in third.’
‘We refer to the rear seats jokingly as a shelf,’ quips Sweet, yet at 6ft 2in I could squeeze into the back even though the doors are narrow.
Luggage space is a capacious 29.9 cu ft with a 70in load length with the rear seats folded down.
Mazda claims more boot length (38.9in) with seats up than in a Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4 or Nissan Murano.
The CX-7 remains true to the design of the imposing motor show MX Crossport concept show car.
Though it is built on its own platform, costs have been controlled by using front McPherson strut suspension from a Japanese-spec MPV, but toughened and with different bushes for ride and handling considerations.
The rear multi-link suspension comes from the Mazda5 which was evolved from the Mazda3. Separate spring and damper units help increase boot space by cutting down on intrusions.
Mazda Motors UK expects to import between 1,000 and 1,500 CX-7s next year, which should make them a rare sight and help residual values.
Traditionally about 30% of Mazda cars in the UK are bought with company cheque books and the CX-7 is not expected to significantly alter this percentage.
All UK models will have six-speed manual gearboxes as standard, unlike the automatic-only US-spec model tested here. This is because the auto ’box version does not meet European emission regulations.
Further Euro-specific details will be revealed at September’s Paris Show.
So how will they price it? James Muir, president and chief executive of Mazda Motors Europe, says: ‘There is white space between the Honda CR-V and the Nissan Murano and BMW X3.’ That suggests a price tag of around £25,000 and there will be two trim levels to choose between.
Behind the wheel
AS you climb into the CX-7 you can tell it’s no ordinary SUV. The roof is lower because of the steeply-raked windscreen and the gear lever is sportscar-close to the steering wheel. The fascia too belongs in something normally lower slung and racy.
Even though our US-spec test car’s 2.3-litre turbocharged engine was restricted to 244bhp and mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, it feels a willing performer providing you take manual control of the gear selection.
It’s a different turbo to that on the Mazda6 MPS and insiders say the engine has the capability to be developed for much more power. UK-spec cars with around 260bhp will offer 0-60mph acceleration in around 8.6 seconds.
My only moan was that despite big twin exhaust pipes it doesn’t sound more sporty.
Handling stability was excellent through curves and switchbacks in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Washington in the US and Mazda says the CX-7’s all-wheel drive system’s sensors are so responsive they will even help compensate for cross-winds on a motorway.
Hydraulic power-assisted steering gives a good sense of how the front end of the car is behaving and the ride was taut, even on these softer American suspension settings. This augurs well for cars tuned for European roads.
With such good quality engineering and great styling it’s a pity that the car’s interior rather lets it down. The steering wheel only adjusts for rake and not for reach and some plastic trim, especially in the rear, looked and felt feeble.
There’s also a lack of oddment space. We resorted to using the centre console cupholders for mobile phones, pens and sweets but some people will want to carry their drinks there.
WE will have wait to make a definitive judgement on the CX-7 until we get to try cars tuned for Europe, but even in American specification Mazda’s new SUV impresses. And it certainly has the looks to stand out.
Model: Mazda CX-7
Power (bhp/rpm): 244/5,000
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 258/2,500
Max speed (mph): N/A
0-62mph (secs): N/A
Fuel consumption (mpg): N/A
CO2 emissions (g/km): N/A
On sale: Early 2007