CX-7: Mazda's Take On A CUV

They didn’t want to build just any crossover. So they took the Mazda6 platform and the car’s designer and devised the CX-7.

FACING UP TO CHALLENGES. Designing a vehicle that combines the characteristics of a sports car and an SUV. That, says Iwao Koizumi, was the most challenging aspect of designing the CX-7. “I’ve never done that before,” he admits. Koizumi did design the concept vehicle that led to the CX-7, the MX-Crossport, which deputed at the 2005 North American International Auto Show. Most notably, he is the designer of the Mazda6 and of the RX-01 concept car that appeared at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show and led to the production RX-8.

Shunsuke Kawasaki, program manager, says that one of his primary challenges on the CX-7 was getting the vehicle ready for production at an accelerated pace. He reckons the development took 17 months. Kawasaki says that one of the keys to faster development was “Mazda Digital Innovation,” which the company has been using since 1996 (a second phase of the program, MDI-II, commenced in 2004 and represented an investment of 13.9 billion ¥. Essentially, Kawasaki explains, virtual reality took the place of what would have been physical builds and tests. He cites doing such things as crash testing, body rigidity determination, NVH, aero, and heat transfer analysis in CAE; even the factory assembly work was simulated in the MDI program. Kawasaki says that there are some things—like determining wind noise—that makes physical properties necessary. “Prototypes?” “No,” he responds, explaining that they don’t build “prototypes” in the general sense of the term but, instead, that the vehicles that are built are done so with production-intent tooling, another factor that undoubtedly helps facilitate the fast development cycle.

PLATFORM PLAYS. The Mazda6 platform (CD3) has to be one of the most promiscuous of all in recent automotive history, spawning not only variants of its own (wagon, five-door, Speed6), but also an array of Ford Motor products (Fusion, Milan, Zephyr, Edge, etc.). Is the CX-7 another use of the Mazda6 platform? Partially.
The Mazda3 platform (C1) has also given rise to several vehicles, including two Mazda3 variants (sedan and five-door), the European Ford Focus, the Volvo S40 sedan, Volvo V50 wagon, and the Mazda5 six-passenger compact minivan. Is the CX-7 another use of the Mazda3 platform? Partially.

From the firewall forward, the CX-7 uses the Mazda6 platform, including the suspension. The rear suspension is a variant of that used for the new MPV minivan that is not available in the U.S.—and the MPV’s setup is a variation of the Mazda3 platform.

(There will be a CX-9 coming, which is a seven-passenger vehicle; numeric nomenclature notwithstanding, the CX-7 seats five. The CX-9 will not be a stretched CX-7, but will deploy the CD3 platform. And speaking of borrowing things: the three-spoke steering wheel is taken from the Miata MX-5.)

TERMINOLOGY. It is fairly standard for there to be a title or theme that is used by designers during the development of a vehicle. According to Koizumi, the design concept for the CX-7 is “advanced frontier,” with the advancing being beyond the traditional SUV to a place where these vehicles haven’t been before. (Not that this is an off-road vehicle.) There were three key words, he says, that were important: sporty, sturdy, sleek. He says that the vehicle was specifically designed for the North American market, and that as he thought about the design from the points of view of natural and artificial beauty, he found Monument Valley (on the Utah/Arizona border) to be inspirational. (The artificial aspect? A city).

What is not as typical is that the engineering team also had a theme that was used internally during the development of the vehicle: “Metropolitan Hawk.” Kawasaki points out, “It is not a marketing slogan.” He explains that metropolitan references “high tech” and “metal” whereas the hawk is “natural, powerful and sleek beauty.”

ALL IN THE FAMILY. Yes, the CX-7 is to have the “same design DNA as other Mazda vehicles.” And from the front, this genetic reference is absolutely unmistakable, given the two-segment grille (narrow top with a five-sided shape) and larger air intake on the lower portion of the fascia. David Matthew, CX-7 vehicle line manager, describes the front as looking like “a big, angry RX-8.” On the side, there’s a higher beltline than is found on the typical SUV and the roof-line tapers back, starting with the A-pillar, which is angled back 65.6°º. The DLO is more akin to a sports sedan than an SUV, particularly the rear-most window, which is imminently tapered, especially as the beltline kicks up in a way that accentuates the strong shoulders over the rear tires. (The standard wheel size for the CX-7 is 18 in.) From the rear, the vehicle appears tapered, not boxy.

SOMETHING BORROWED. Beyond just making the vehicle look sporty, there is another borrowing, this one found under the hood. The CX-7 is powered by the same engine that is used by the MazdaSpeed6 sedan. This is a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder direct-injection engine. It features an aluminum block and head and forged steel crankshaft and con rods. A difference is that the MZR 2.3 DISI (Direct Injection Spark Ignition) engine has a different turbocharger; it is designed so that it provides good throttle response at low rpm: the engine torque peaks at 2,500 rpm and maintains at least 99% of that to 5,000 rpm, when peak horsepower is delivered. The objective here is to provide the response of a larger-displacement engine without additional weight.

COMMONIZATION. One clever thing that they’ve done is to standardize features on the vehicle so that there is reduced build complexity. That is, the car is available in three trim levels (Sport, Touring, Grand Touring) and as a front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicle (an active torque split system is used like that found in the MazdaSpeed6; it electronically controls front to rear torque distribution between 100:0 and 50:50, depending on sensed conditions). All of those vehicles have the 2.3-liter engine and a six-speed sport automatic transmission. ABS, dynamic stability control, and traction control are standard. Six air bags are standard. AM/FM/CD audio is standard, as are power windows, door, locks, and mirrors, and air conditioning. And while there are an array of options, the point is even a vehicle with an MSRP of $23,750 (the base FWD Sport sans delivery charge) isn’t fitted all that differently from one that has an MSRP of $28K.