Motoring journalism is a funny old game. Sometimes cars you’ve been looking forward to driving for ages turn out to be a disappointment, and cars you’re convinced will be awful turn out to be perfectly decent.
And then there are cars like the Mazda CX-7. If I’m honest, it had barely registered on my radar.
Yet another soft-roader SUV? Yawn.
When it arrived, my interest perked up a little because it’s a fine looking machine, especially in the optional mica blue metallic paint (£375) that our test car was sprayed with.
It also comes packed with considerable creature comforts as standard. In fact, everything is standard for your £23,610 – the only option is the aforementioned paint.
Fitted as standard are 18-inch alloys, xenon headlights, tinted glass and climate control, as well as leather interior and heated seats, together with a Bose sound system featuring a six-CD autochanger.
Mazda’s press blurb harps on about the marque’s sporting DNA, and it shows in the design.
The exterior looks athletic with its bulging wheel arches that have a hint of the RX-8 coupé about them, while the interior is instantly recognisable to anyone that’s driven a Mazda recently.
Only one engine is currently available, as the CX-7 was developed primarily for the diesel-shunning US market.
So, until late next year, we Brits get the turbocharged 2.3-litre petrol unit taken from Mazda’s snorting MPS models.
It produces a hearty 256bhp, which takes the car from standstill to 62mph in eight seconds and on to 130mph.
The six-speed manual gearbox drives an intelligent four-wheel-drive system.
During normal driving, the CX-7’s power goes only to the front axle, but plant your right foot hard and up to 50% of the grunt is sent to the back.
Should conditions get slippery, power is sent to whichever wheel has the most traction.
Sporting DNA in looks is one thing, but cynics could be forgiven for wondering if a sub-£25,000 SUV could ever be sporting on the road.
Good news – it can.
The engine is excellent, with a long band of surging power and an appropriately throaty roar.
The four-wheel drive system means that acceleration is well-controlled, as is hard cornering.
Physics mean there is a touch more body roll than in, say, a hot hatch, but communicative, nicely weighted steering and a slick, short-throw gearbox make for a really enjoyable driving experience.
The major killer for fleets and user-choosers, however, is likely to be the lack of a diesel version.
Fuel economy in the petrol-powered incarnation is pretty poor at 27.7mpg (I struggled to match that), and CO2 emissions of 243g/km do no favours come tax time.
A 22% company car taxpayer will pay £151 a month, and a 40% taxpayer will be hit with a £275 monthly bill.
So for the time being, the CX-7 is likely to be an also-ran for fleets.
It’s well made, good looking and fun to drive, but guzzles fuel and attracts a high tax bill.
When the diesel version arrives, however, Mazda will have a very attractive package on its hands.
Make sure it’s on your radar.
P11D value: £23,610
CO2 emissions (g/km): 243
BIK % of P11D in 2007: 35%
Graduated VED rate: £300
Insurance group: 15
Combined mpg: 27.7
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £9,375/40%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £473
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The CX-7 is the most expensive at the front-end but comes loaded with equipment and is by far the most powerful model.
The SEAT is the cheapest, although it is not a true SUV, rather a jacked-up Altea. However, it is the closest in driving terms thanks to its 200bhp engine.
EMISSIONS AND TAX RATES
Sales of petrol SUVs are dwarfed by their diesel counterparts, especially to fleets due to their higher emissions.
The CR-V will cost a 40% taxpayer £194 a month in benefit-in-kind tax, compared with £209 for the SEAT, £235 for the Nissan and £275 in the Mazda.
The Honda and Nissan both offer 12,500-mile service intervals which helps them lead in service, maintenance and repair costs.
The X-Trail comes with 17-inch wheels, rather than the CR-V’s 18s, so it will be cheaper on tyre costs.
The Mazda needs servicing every 12,000 miles and the SEAT every 10,000.
CR-V: 3.25 (pence per mile)/£1,950 (60,000-mile total)
Despite having easily the lowest front-end price the Altea comes last thanks to a residual value prediction of just 28% after three years/60,000 miles.
The remainder all retain in the high 30s – less than their diesel siblings because these petrol versions just aren’t as popular.
CX-7: 23.51 (pence per mile)/£14,106 (60,000-mile total)
The Honda is cheapest in the fuel and SMR sectors, and also runs the winner close in the key depreciation section, which helps it secure a convincing wholelife costs win.
It undercuts the Nissan by nearly three pence per mile. The SEAT and Mazda are outclassed here.
CR-V: 39.40 (pence per mile)/£23,640 (60,000-mile total)
In pure financial terms the Honda CR-V is the cheapest for a fleet to run and also easiest on the wallet of a driver.
It’s also well equipped and decent to drive, making it the all-round sensible option.
However, if a driver particularly wants a petrol SUV which is enjoyable to drive then the Mazda is well worth a closer look as it is a convincing package despite its higher costs.