Mazda's CX-7 is something of a forgotten SUV. One of those cars that doesn't immediately spring to mind in a discussion about family 4x4s.
Well, that's mainly because, until recently, it was available with just one engine. And that engine was a 2.3-litre turbocharged petrol unit. In a sector that's overwhelmingly powered by diesel.
So Mazda has sorted that out, ditching petrol power for the punchy 2.2-litre turbodiesel found elsewhere in the line-up. It's also revised the looks slightly. But is it enough to bring the CX-7 to the forefront of our minds?
What are its rivals?
Its most obvious rival comes from Japan in the form of the Honda CR-V, which has a much boarder range and a starting price around £7,000 south of the Mazda. However, the flagship CR-V is on par with the solitary CX-7 model offered to UK buyers.
The Kia Sorento is another option, again undercutting the Mazda at the bottom of its range but priced like-for-like in the upper echelons. And actually, family buyers looking at the CX-7 may well consider downscaling a little and opting for a much cheaper option like the Nissan Qashqai or Peugeot 5008 - both of which come with seven-seat options, unlike the Mazda. It's a minefield, the world of family SUV-type crossovers, but the CX-7's £27,000 outlay will buy a great deal of car elsewhere.
How does it drive?
Impressively car-like. The CX-7 is big, but it corners without too much body roll and the steering is sharper than the average SUV's. What it doesn't have is a lot of feel, but because Mazda thinks it 'blurs the boundaries between sports car and SUV' it's been engineered to handle corners well.
The trade-off for that is a quite fidgety ride. It's not too hard, but it doesn't have the ability to cushion out much of the road's surface imperfections like, say, a Land Rover Freelander does. Or even a Nissan Qashqai. Ultimately, while the Mazda's size means it can't actually compete with a proper hatchback on the handling front, it does serve up more involvement than the average SUV. If that appeals to you, the CX-7 is worth checking out.
Having a 2.3-litre petrol engine as the only choice was plain silly. But not only has Mazda rectified its mistake with a diesel, it has put a good one under the bonnet. Never does the CX-7 feel fast, but its 295lb.ft of torque is delivered at a low 2,000rpm and feels plenty. It's not worth revving the CX-7 hard. The 37.7mpg combined economy figure means that in reality it will return more than 30mpg too, which is good.
And there's loads of practicality on offer. The cabin is neatly arranged, which although slightly button heavy looks good. The boot is big, and as per the SUV norm its floor is high, which makes loading easy. Rear passengers get lots of head- and legroom, as does the person sitting next to the driver. That's a driver who's well accommodated by a driving position that adjusts lots.
It's also very well equipped - so much so that the only option available is metallic paint.
Despite rectifying the engine situation, Mazda still doesn't offer an automatic gearbox, which will put off some buyers in this sector. The six-speed manual is nice to use and in keeping with the car's sporty theme, but for those who just want a big, comfy car, an auto would be good.
It's built well, but the plastics are arguably not of the standard of some other cars in its price bracket. We also take issue with the satellite navigation screen, which is absolutely tiny, and whose steering wheel mounted controls are fiddly to use.
Should I buy one?
Once you've added metallic paint to the CX-7's list price you'll be paying £27,000. With all the kit it gets - leather heated seats, satnav, Bluetooth, climate control, etc. - that represents good value. But it's still expensive, especially when rivals offer cheaper starting points.
But if it's within your budget, the CX-7 is well worth a look. It's nicely built, well equipped, reasonably cheap to run, spacious and good-looking. It might not be the trendiest SUV but it's good fun to drive and its only major flaw is the lack of an auto gearbox option.