It is easy to be nonplussed by crossovers - is it a small SUV or a hatchback on steroids? It doesn't usually have any real off-roading abilities so you can't take it dune bashing but, on the other hand, it's roomy yet generally as easy to drive and park as a Ford Focus. The two main benefits, as far as I can tell, of the ubiquitous crossover is the extra height for better visibility in traffic, a bit more cargo space than a hatchback and a safer way to transport the family.
The Mazda CX-7 ticks these three boxes admirably - with a few pleasing extras that make it a great value family car with a base price of Dh94,000. I'd advise anyone considering the Lexus RX crossover, with a base price of Dh161,000, and the Infiniti FX, with a whopping base price of Dh209,000, to take a look at a top of the line CX-7 for around Dh120,000. For that price, you'll get a car that is just as attractive as either the RX or the FX, very comfortable leather seats, an excellent Bose sound system and super-efficient a/c that can drop the cabin temperature to 15°C, perfect for quickly ensuring you can still touch the wheel after leaving the car parked in the summer heat.
You might get a V6 engine with the premium crossovers, but I found the 2.4L four-cylinder engine offered plenty of poke on the motorway. The CX-7 has two more Nm of torque than the RX and only five Nm less than the Infiniti. And if you are considering this as a family car, as is the profile of most crossover buyers, why the heck do you need to be burning down the motorway at 200kph anyway? If you care about your kids, there is no need for such speed, it is that simple.
Adding to the CX-7's care-for-kids credentials are ABS, a very reliable stability control system, curtain airbags in the back as well as the two front bags and the middle rear seat has, dangling from the ceiling, a proper three-point seat belt. I really hope it is used and that the car is never driven with more people than there are seat belts. As standard on the CX-7, as it really should be for any SUV or crossover where rear visibility is limited, there is a pretty good reversing camera on the dashboard. I still prefer the clever reversing cameras that pop up in the rear view mirror, but it is always a handy feature on a car that can be nerve-racking to drive backwards, especially in a crowded mall car park or a street with kids playing.
The CX-7's six-speed gearbox is a blessing too. A couple of weeks ago I tested the Mazda3, a car that should by rights be a solid rival to the Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sunny but as all three cars have a lame four-speed automatic box, all three can be equally frustrating to drive. If Mazda decided to incorporate the CX-7's six-speed transmission into the Mazda3, it would be the clear segment leader among these smaller Japanese cars.
But if you want to enjoy this excellent gearbox, you'll have to trade up to the CX-7, CX-9 or the Mazda 6 Ultra. It is almost as good as the six-speed gearbox Volkswagen use on the Passat and Golf GTI. Both Volkswagen and Mazda have come up with transmissions that shift gear seamlessly in automatic mode and do double duty as a sequential manual for when more control is required. The only two quibbles I really had with the CX-7 were the hard-to-read speedometer and the possible car theft risk with the starter button.
I am seriously long-sighted but the speedometer has been sunk deep into the dash behind the steering wheel. With sunglasses on, the only sane way to drive in UAE daylight, the orange on black is not easy to read. Keyless entry is all well and good but I am still not entirely convinced by keyless start-up, especially if you left the car unlocked. It would be very easy for someone, either a thief or perhaps an errant teenager, to take. Still, car theft rates are exceedingly low in the UAE and given the number of people in my neighbourhood who think nothing of obnoxiously leaving their car parked with the engine running and hazard lights on, CX-7s probably won't end up being used in Abu Dhabi ram-raids any time soon. firstname.lastname@example.org