Liam Bird drives the Mazda CX7 and the Honda CR-V

PUBLISHED: 15:17 19 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:42 20 February 2013

Liam Bird drives the Mazda CX7 and the Honda CR-V

Liam Bird drives the Mazda CX7 and the Honda CR-V

Liam Bird gives his view on two family-friendly drives

Mazda CX7


In fairness to Mazda, you do get a high specification vehicle for your money. Standard equipment includes sat nav, Bluetooth, Bose hi-fi with I-pod connectivity, Xenon lights, rear parking camera, electrically adjustable heated seats, leather trim, automatic wipers the list goes on. And all that technology has been very well laid out too, in an interior that although not likely to give premium German car makers any sleepless nights, and undeniably Japanese in feel, is more than a match for some others in the SUV sector. Everything feels nicely screwed together, shut lines on the glove-box and various cubbies are straight and theres very little use of hard shiny plastics. Chrome trim on the door handles, deep set instruments and centre console give the CX7 a quality feel which together with nicely damped switches create the impression that the CX7 should cost more than it does.


Theres more bright work on the outside too, enhancing the CX7s already handsome shape. Chrome-trimmed sills, window frames, grille and fog-lamp surrounds, together with the standard fit stylish 19-inch alloy wheels, mean, despite getting the angular nose and wide-arched look from Mazdas RX8, to the casual observer at least, the CX7 bears more than a passing resemblance to the almost twice the price Lexus RX450.
But mechanically, unlike its doppelganger, Mazdas handsome soft-roader forgoes hybrid technology. Powered by a 2.2 litre four cylinder 171bhp diesel the CX7 manages to mix ample performance with fuel economy. After nearly 200 miles of driving throughout South Shropshire and North Herefordshire on all types of roads from country lanes up to what little dual carriageway the Welsh Marches have to offer I have no reason to doubt the claimed figures of 37.7 mpg. The engines smooth delivery of its 295 lb/ft of torque goes some way to explaining why the CX7 was voted best in class at the 2010 Tow Car of the Year awards too. Theres no need to work this engine hard to enjoy it and more often than not youll find yourself in a higher gear than expected, only aiding fuel economy and the CX7s relaxed cruising nature.


When pushed the CX7 rewards with a driving experience that is more like a big saloon than its lofty stance would have you believe. Firm but supple suspension and light but direct steering mean body control is always good and the ride never feels anything but composed despite what the worst of the regions B-road surfaces roads have to offer.
There are few criticisms. The angle of the A-pillars makes pulling out of junctions sometimes difficult as they can restrict your view and the sat nav screen is pretty small and a long way from the driver.


All in all then the CX7 offers a practical solution to those wanting a vehicle large enough to carry lifes paraphernalia with the option of electronically-controlled four wheel drive ability for when the going gets (relatively) tough. Ask yourself, whats not to like?


Dealers view: John Hollinshead of Bengrys Motors (Mazda) Ltd., Leominster
Customers like the CX7 because its a niche vehicle. The single specification doesnt appear to put anyone off. Mazda is seen as a quality brand and the CX7 is every inch a match for BMWs X3, in fact, it knocks it in to touch. The intelligent four-wheel drive system is fully automatic so the inside isnt full of levers and its good to drive both on the road and off. If you compare it with a Freelander theres far more space and the boot is much bigger. We do get request for automatics, which is understandable for a big 4x4 but unfortunately Mazda dont do one in the CX7.


The spec
Engine: 2.184cc, 4cyl, turbo diesel  Power: 171 BHP @3500rpm  Torque: 295lbft @2000rpm  Transmission: Six speed manual. Active torque split four-wheel drive  Performance: 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds  Max speed: 124mph  MPG: 37.7 combined  CO2: 199g/km  VED: Band J  Price: 26,340  Car courtesy of Mazda UK press department


_


Honda CR-V


always fancied a 4x4 but never really fancied straying too far from the Tarmac and youre hankering for an elevated driving position and the chunky looks of an SUV but youre happier on the school run than you are in the sticky stuff then Hondas CR-V may well be on your wish list.
Although Honda have a reputation, in the UK at least, for being the car of choice for the silver haired generation, the revised CR-V, according to Honda, is aimed directly at the yummy mummy and families who need space but demand quality from the family run-about. Revised you say? Yes, but youll have to be pretty eagle-eyed to notice the subtle changes to the front and rear bumpers and new 18-inch alloys that differentiate this years models from Hondas previous soft-road offerings. However its fair to say that the CR-V has a certain elegance about it especially in the Crystal Black finish of our test car even if the design of the C-pillars and curved rear windows looks a little clumsy.


Inside though, you do get an air of sophistication thats sometimes lacking in similar vehicles in this class. The half leather, half Alcantara seats, multi-function steering wheel, and built-in (optional) touch-screen MMI unit, mean the CR-V feels like a quality item. The spilt level boot and glove box come complete with I-pod connection and although some of the dashboard plastics are a little on the hard side theres nothing here really to make you think youre in anything other than a premium product. The leather continues to the door trims and steering wheel rim and even though some of the dials and lesser switches might seem dated to someone coming to the CR-V from Hondas own Civic they are a lesson to others in their legibility. Its just a shame that theres no proper clock.


Youll get a clear view wherever you decide to sit too. The large glass area and virtually flat floor, together with the dash mounted gear-stick and stubby hand brake that resembles an aircrafts throttle, mean the CR-V always feels airy and spacious whether youre in the front or rear. However dont consider a CR-V if your brood continues to grow, its strictly a five-seater.


The feeling of lightness is carried over to the controls. Somehow, despite its size the CR-V never feels like an unwieldy off-roader and overall the driving experience is more car-like than expected, thanks in part to the CR-V being front-wheel drive most of the time four-wheel drive is automatically selected in the event of any slip being detected. The VTEC 2.0 litre, 148bhp petrol unit does an admirable job of keeping up with other traffic but it can feel a little underpowered at times and requires higher revs to make it come alive. The ride too is surprisingly comfortable. The CR-V does tend to roll slightly when cornering and can feel a little soft but it never feels like the wallowy off-roaders of old. Road noise however is an issue. The CR-V can suffer from high levels of tyre rumble especially on B-roads and even though the large door mirrors give a panoramic view of whats going on behind they do contribute heavily to wind noise as speed increases.


At 21,385 upwards Hondas CR-V can appear a little expensive but its standard equipment list is extensive (although Xenon headlamps and automatic wipers are absent) and includes goodies other manufacturers would gladly charge you extra for. Its fair to say its never going to challenge a proper 4x4 when the going gets tough but then its never going to be bought by the type of people who want it to. If youre looking for something that gives you the looks to go with your lifestyle, then Hondas 4x4 for the fashion conscious may well be a contender. Just dont go getting it too dirty.


Co-drivers view: Michelle Gillam from Shrewsbury
I like the space and the fact that its easy to get in and out of. Theres plenty of room for everything and lots of legroom. It doesnt feel like a heavy off-roader either and the gear-stick is in a funny place. Im not sure about the extra shelf in the boot, Id probably never use it. The seats are comfortable but I bet theyd be a real pain to clean if the kids got something sticky on them or the dog jumped in after a wet days walking. A full leather interior would be better but you would probably have to pay more for that and is the Honda badge really worth all that money? Its expensive to tax too and 35mpg is not so good. Its good looking though, especially in black.


The spec
Engine: 1997cc, 4cyl, VTEC  Power: 148 bhp @400rpm  Torque: 142lb/ft @2000rpm  Transmission: Six speed manual Advanced dual pump 4wd  Performance: 0-62mph in 10.2 seconds  Max speed: 118mph  MPG: 34.4 Combined  CO2: 190g/km  VED: Band J  Price: from 21,385 (model shown: 24,565)  Car courtesy of Hondas UK press department

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