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Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010)
 
Families nowadays have it easy. Before, if you’re adding child number two, it’s tantamount to a death sentence. After all, the only choice you’ll have is a van—a refrigerator van at that. Now, there are half a dozen alternatives ranging from car-based MPVs to hot station wagons and even large sedans. Among all of these though, it’s the crossover that reigns supreme. You cannot deny the interior room and flexibility they possess, plus given the chance, they can still carve corners and perform with gusto. The latter is especially true for the two crossovers you see here: the Mazda CX-7 and the Subaru Forester XT.

On the surface, comparing these two seems odd and lopsided; given the Mazda doesn’t have the straightforward performance and that the Subaru is expensive by more than P 250,000. However, driving these two crossovers back-to-back and in everyday conditions leaves the impression that they’re similar, maybe not in performance but in breathing life to the typical family car. In other words, the Mazda CX-7 and the Subaru Forester XT is your atypical family car.

Exterior

If you want to summarize the design of the Mazda CX-7 in one word, it would be: exaggerated. Despite having overall dimensions close to that of a mid-sized sedan, the drastic design cues of the CX-7 make it look much more compact than it seems. Like the rest of the Mazda family, the CX-7 has a huge gapping mouth upfront with a pronounced smile. And it very well should since the Mazda is a welcome breath of fresh air compared to the typical two-box design of crossovers. The large intake is flanked by the fog lamp housing that look like faux brake ducts. Typically, such caricaturized design wouldn’t work, but somehow it does on the CX-7. At the side, the wheel arches are pronounced and shaped like the trademark ‘cycle fenders’. Additionally, the green house kinks upward at the middle of the rear door lending a very fluidic line.

Unfortunately, despite all the work to give an exaggerated, futuristic look to the CX-7, everything goes plain when it comes to the back. It’s as if Mazda took several months designing the front and sides of the CX-7 only to spend 30 minutes at best to complete the rear-end. Additionally, there are several things that shout ‘cheap’; especially given this is a P 1.5-million peso car such as the anemic-looking wheel/tire package, the lack of any serious chrome or aluminum bits, and any aerodynamic parts such as a rear spoiler.

Subaru’s approach with the Forester is completely opposite to that of the CX-7. Any which way you approach it, the Forester looks very plain. Though perfectly proportioned in every angle, it will never send your pulse rate soaring. In fact, with the exception of the turbo scoop, you can never judge the Forester as a very spirited crossover. You can easily dismiss this as a Toyota clone and move on.

However, upon closer inspection, the Forester wins the details battle with the CX-7. It definitely looks more like P 1.7-million by having stuff such as aluminum-finished door handles, roof rails (something the CX-7 lacks), perfectly proportioned tires and a rear spoiler. Plus, the Forester is the only one in its class to come standard with a large moon roof as well as HID headlamps with washers. It’s this close attention to detail that put the Subaru Forester level with the CX-7’s much more refreshing, but poorly detailed design.

Exterior Winner: TIE
Score: Mazda CX-7 (1) / Subaru Forester (1)

Interior


If the feeling of being special is very important to you, then stay away from the Forester. Owning both a Forester and an Impreza, it’s very clear that both use too much shared components. In fact, with the exception of a different gauge cluster and a large center utility box, the Forester’s cabin is undistinguishable from that of the Impreza. That said, the materials used in the Forester are all first rate, especially the leather seats which are plush. The various aluminum accents do nicely to brighten the cabin, though a word of caution: they scratch easily.

Meanwhile, the Mazda CX-7 makes do with scratchy piano black or aluminum accents for more matte plastics which are much more durable. However, despite the lack of shiny bits, the overall design of the CX-7’s cabin is like its exterior: exaggerated and futuristic. Though, unlike the exterior, the CX-7’s interior is nicely detailed with tons of buttons to press. Sure, the Subaru Forester has everything the CX-7 has in terms of interior toys—maybe even more, but the way things are presented on the Mazda makes it look even more special. The only qualm is with the inconsistency with the gauges which feature a plain three-cluster instrumentation, a white-on-black multi-information display and a red-on-black climate and audio control. This portion feels too tacked on—Mazda should have stuck to one look.

Like the CX-7’s nice-looking front end but plain-looking rear end, you’ll feel designers didn’t spend any time designing the rear accommodations. Aside from the leather seats, there’s nothing else at the back. Additionally, the finish feels very third-rate at the back. Meanwhile, the Subaru Forester does have better materials, better fit and finish as well as more nifty toys like a center-seat console. Once again, the Mazda CX-7 should have won this category, but because of a couple of shortcuts, things ended up with a virtual tie.

Interior Winner: TIE
Score: Mazda CX-7 (2) / Subaru Forester (2)

Ergonomics


Priced like a high-end compact crossover, you’ll be surprised at the girth of the Mazda CX7’s dashboard (after all, it is platform-mates with the Mazda6). Any way you put it, it’s wide and sometimes discontenting, especially when it comes to weaving through traffic. Though there are small ‘port windows’, they don’t help much given the sharply raked windshield and small side view mirrors. The same is true with the back of the CX-7 where the thick D-pillar and small rear glass creates sizeable blind spots there too. And the blind spots are a real shame since the rest of the car is a joy to use. You sit pretty high with a commanding driving position. The three-spoke steering wheel maybe on the small side given the size of the CX-7, but it falls perfectly into your hands. And it pairs well with the stubby shifter giving a sporty, racy feel.

During short trips, the seats of the CX-7 are supportive, but discomfort creeps in on longer trips because the seat cushion length is just lacking. It’s much worse at the back where the hip support is no better than that of a compact car.

This is where the Subaru Forester shines: supportive seats for everyone whether you’re at the front or at the back. Though both the CX-7 and Forester have electric driver seats, the Forester lacks adjustable lumbar support. Despite this, the Forester still provides better back and thigh support. In conjunction with excellent side bolsters and a lower seating position, it all equates to a much more car-like driving position. In addition, the use of knobs rather than buttons makes the Forester easier to use by pure tactile feel. There’s little need to take your eyes off the road. It’s the Forester’s no nonsense and straightforward approach that makes it the definite winner in this category.

Ergonomics Winner: Subaru Forester XT
Score: Mazda CX-7 (2) / Subaru Forester (3)

Space and Luggage


With both of these cars being considered for starter families (i.e. husband, wife and two kids), interior and luggage space must be the most important factor for consideration here. In that case, the Subaru Forester easily trounces the Mazda CX-7. Despite being much smaller than the CX-7 in just about every dimension, the Subaru uses the available space much more efficiently. For instance, the ‘wing motif’ dashboard frees much more leg room compared to that of the CX-7 where banging knees can be a regular occurrence. The same is true for the rear occupants where the CX-7’s large center bin intrudes on the already small knee room. The poor placement of the window switches also removes some valuable millimeters. The simpler approach to the Forester’s design not only returns better seats but more knee room. Additionally, the floor is lower in the Subaru making for a less awkward seating.

Now, typically, once designers sacrifice passenger room, they claw back some luggage space. Unfortunately for the CX-7, this isn’t the case. Though the loading bay looks wider, the depth isn’t that much plus the protruding wheel arches reduces the usable space further. And it’s a great shame since the Mazda does have some unique features such as a reversible cargo bay liner (for wet stuff) and levers on either side to collapse the rear seat from the cargo bay. Overall, it’s a convincing win for the Subaru Forester and add to that the subject of much more cubby holes; and you have a walkover in this contest.

Space and Luggage Winner: Subaru Forester XT
Score: Mazda CX-7 (2) / Subaru Forester (4)

Performance and Fuel Economy

On paper, without the need for any sort of actual experimentation, it’s quite clear that the Subaru Forester will smoke the Mazda CX-7. After all, 230 horsepower and 320 Nm is no match for 163 horsepower and 205 Nm. This is quite true if you’re a pure power junkie or you travel long highway distances regularly. But what happens to all that power when you’re crawling in city traffic? Things start to equalize somewhat. The Forester is still the crossover to have when it comes to accelerating from a standstill or in-gear overtaking. The turbo is the perfect weapon, plus because of that flat-4 layout, the Forester is a smooth operator. The four-speed automatic is considered prehistoric nowadays, but the wide power band compensates for this weakness. However, fuel consumption does suffer: eking out just 6.31 km/L.

Meanwhile, things are completely opposite with the CX-7. Because of its normally-aspirated 4-cylinder engine and 1.58-ton curb weight, straight line grunt is merely adequate. Still, the pick up is good off the line, with the CX-7 losing steam only as the speeds build up. The engine is very peaky too, and this is problematic when overtaking on the highway. More than once, you’ll find yourself using the manual override to extract the maximum performance. Despite working the five-speed automatic hard, the CX-7 still returns a remarkable 9.34 km/L.

Through the corners, both the Forester and the CX-7 exhibits some body roll and under steer given similar suspension tuning. However, you can’t help but notice that both of these cars have their own quirks. For instance, the CX-7 may feel nimbler through tighter bends thanks to quicker steering and firmer ride, but the Forester is much more planted and surefooted thanks to standard all-wheel drive and heavier steering. Over bumps and ruts, the Forester is much more comfortable thanks to a more compliant suspension; but body flex is much more noticeable compared to the CX-7. Meanwhile, the CX-7’s brake pedal feels mushier though they bite just as well as those on the Forester. In the end, for all intents and purposes, they’re almost inseparable maybe except if you value speed and downright performance. In which case, you’d better be off with the Subaru Forester with an aftermarket suspension upgrade.

Performance and Fuel Economy Winner: TIE
Score: Mazda CX-7 (3) / Subaru Forester (5)

Value for Money


For some people, P 1.5-million is already a kingly sum. So what does that make the Subaru Forester which is priced north of the Mazda CX-7 by around P 258,000? However, beyond the price tag, once you consider what the P 1.758-million nets you, it’s actually pretty good value. For instance, you get the same engine and advanced all-wheel drive system found in the WRX—alone worth the purchase price. Unlike the WRX, you get other luxury features like leather seats (with electric adjustment for the driver), a large moon roof and even a subwoofer equipped sound system. On the safety front, the Forester’s got you covered too with six airbags, front and rear fog lamps, anti-lock brakes and traction control. In fact, the only thing lacking is parking sensors.

In contrast, the Mazda CX-7’s P 1.495-million is a steal by anyone’s standard and is shown by the three-month waiting list. The affordable price tag equates to a much more stripped down CX-7 with decisively less toys than the Forester. For example, the CX-7 doesn’t have all-wheel drive. It doesn’t have HID lamps or a fancy audio system either. Still, these features won’t be missed since the most important stuff is still here such as a complete array of safety equipment. You also get leather seating and even cruise control. In short, the Mazda CX-7 has all of the features needed for a true driver’s car and that’s what’s important. How Mazda has priced the CX-7 competitively with such an equipment level is a mystery. Nonetheless, it makes great value.

Value for Money Winner: Mazda CX-7
Score: Mazda CX-7 (4) / Subaru Forester (5)


It’s hard to choose between the Mazda CX-7 and the Subaru Forester as both of these are equally excellent family cars. Both of these pass the criteria of offering flexibility and space utilization along with agility and fun-to-drive factor. If you’re on a budget and unwilling to spend additional money, the Mazda CX-7 is as good as it gets. And it’s not half bad. It’s got the flashy looks plus it’s highly economical. The fun-to-drive factor may not be as high as that of the Subaru Forester, but for 90 percent of people out there, it’s more than enough.

However, for those privileged enough to spend a bit more money, the Subaru Forester delivers the Full Monty. Sure, it doesn’t look as special or quick as the Mazda CX-7, but it’s the better driver’s car. Some people say it’s ‘the better BMW X3’ and it’s not hard to see why. As if the turbo engine isn’t addicting enough, the Subaru offers a much more solid, much better driving experience. The fit and finish is much better as well as the interior room is marginally better than the Mazda.

Verdict
Winner: Subaru Forester (by a hair)


By Ulysses Ang | Photos By Ulysses Ang
Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010) Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010) Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010) Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010) Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010) Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010) Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010) Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010) Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010) Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010) Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010) Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010) Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010) Mazda CX-7 vs. Subaru Forester XT (2010)

 

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Generation RS: Ford Lynx (2004)
November 4, 2003
All You Want, All You Need: Volvo XC70 Cross Country (2003)
October 13, 2003
Optimal Solution: Chevrolet Optra (2003)
October 13, 2003
Go West: Mitsubishi Lancer (2003)
September 7, 2003
X-Joe: Nissan X-Trail (2003)
September 7, 2003
City Sleeker: Ford Explorer Sport Trac NBX (2003)
September 7, 2003
Slippery When Wet: Honda Civic (2003)
August 9, 2003
My Funny Valentine: Honda City (2003)
August 9, 2003
Boxy Logic: Nissan Urvan Estate (2003)
July 7, 2003
Perky Little Number: Toyota Vios (2003)
July 7, 2003
Version 2.0: Ford Ranger XLT (2003)
June 11, 2003
Falcon Quest: Ford Falcon (2003)
June 11, 2003
There She Goes: BMW Z4 3.0i (2003)
May 5, 2003
Substance Over Form: Toyota Revo (2003)
April 20, 2003
The Anti-German Solution: Volvo S40 (2003)
April 20, 2003
Great Expectations: Mitsubishi Lancer (2003)
March 25, 2003
Personal Isolation: Toyota Camry (2003)
March 25, 2003
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Honda Accord (2003)
March 25, 2003
Flair Game: Isuzu Hi-Lander Crosswind SUV (2003)
February 3, 2003
Rule Them All: Ford Expedition XLT (2003)
February 3, 2003
Room with a View: MCC Smart (2003)
February 3, 2003
Mitsubishi Pajero (2002) Driven
January 1, 2003
The Replacement Killers: Ford Escape XLT vs. Honda CR-V vs. Toyota RAV4
December 4, 2002
The Sky's the Limit: Peugeot 206 CC (2002)
November 3, 2002
Class of the Titans: Lynx GSi, Civic VTi, Corolla 1.6 J (2002)
November 3, 2002
Any Given Sunday: BMW 318i (2002)
October 1, 2002
Sexy Sensibility: Volvo S60 (2002)
October 1, 2002
Anti-Lexus: Toyota Echo (2002)
September 30, 2002
Borrowed Time: Mitsubishi Lancer (2002)
September 30, 2002
The Right Stuff: Ford Escape (2002)
September 30, 2002
Torque Wrench: Ford Focus (2002)
August 1, 2002
Siren Song: Nissan Serena (2002)
July 2, 2002
Top Level: Nissan Cefiro Brougham VIP (2002)
July 2, 2002
One More Time: Opel Astra (2002)
July 2, 2002
Staple Food: Toyota Hi-Ace Super Grandia (2002)
May 26, 2002
King of Plain: Toyota Camry (2002)
May 26, 2002
Energizer Bunny: Honda Accord (2002)
May 26, 2002
Conspicuous Consumption: Ford Expedition (2002)
April 28, 2002
Utility Sport: Honda CR-V (2002)
April 28, 2002
Fighting to Stay Ahead: Mitsubishi Adventure (2002)
April 28, 2002
The One: Honda Civic VTi-S vs. Corolla Altis (2002)
March 13, 2002
Welcome Mr. Hyde: Honda Civic Type-R (1997)
March 13, 2002
Better the Second Time Around: Ford Lynx (2002)
March 12, 2002
The Weakest Lynx?: Ford Lynx (2002)
February 19, 2002
Ultimate Toy Story: Porsche Boxster 2.7 (2002)
February 16, 2002
Spiritually Correct: Porsche 911 Cabriolet (1997)
February 16, 2002
Steady as She Goes: Hyundai Starex (2002)
January 21, 2002
King of the Hill: Ford Ranger 4x4 XLT (2001)
January 21, 2002
Lost in Space: Ford E150 (2001)
December 12, 2001
Not Quite Yet: Isuzu Crosswind (2001)
December 12, 2001
As Good As It Gets: Chevrolet Venture vs. Kia Carnival (2001)
December 12, 2001
Superman The Ride: Ford F150 (2001)
October 21, 2001
The X Factor: BMW X5 (2001)
October 21, 2001
RAVishing Performance: Toyota RAV4 (2001)
October 21, 2001
Viva La Carnival: Kia Carnival (2001)
September 10, 2001
Class Leader: Toyota Corolla Altis (2001)
September 10, 2001
Condition Normal: Honda Accord Long-Term Test Update
September 10, 2001
Four-Eyed Monster: Mercedes Benz E320
August 15, 2001
Different Road: Nissan Exalta Grandeur (2001)
August 15, 2001
Happy Endings: Nissan Cefiro (1998)
August 15, 2001
Ultimate Experience: BMW 318i and 325i (2001)
July 19, 2001
Slick Cat: Jaguar S-Type (2001)
July 2, 2001
Toyota RAV4 vs Honda CR-V (2001)
May 18, 2001
Slow Advancement: Toyota Revo (2001)
April 15, 2001
Below Expectations: Toyota Echo (2001)
April 15, 2001
Civic Revolution: Honda Civic (2001)
April 15, 2001
White Collared Brawl: Honda Accord and BMW 523i (2001)
March 12, 2001
Bus Driving 101: Mercedes-Benz MB100 (2001)
March 12, 2001
Everyday Transport: Toyota Corolla (2001)
February 5, 2001
Beautiful Day: Toyota RAV4 (2001)
February 5, 2001
Civilized Monster: Ford Explorer (2000)
December 18, 2000
Empty Space: Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000)
November 18, 2000
First Class Effort: Hyundai Starex (2000)
November 18, 2000
Service Please! Nissan Cefiro Classic Long-Term Test Update (1998)
November 18, 2000
Astra La Vista: Opel Astra (2000)
September 18, 2000
Old World Brute: Nissan Patrol Safari
September 18, 2000
Newly Hatched: Toyota Echo (2000)
September 18, 2000
Goodbye Beetle: Toyota Echo (2000)
August 15, 2000
Steer Flick'n Good: Audi A4 (2000)
July 9, 2000
No Lucky Stars: Ford Taurus GL (1998)
June 11, 2000
Simply Bulletproof: The Honda Accord VTi-L Long-Term Test Update (1998)
June 11, 2000
Still Life: Mitsubishi Lancer (2000)
May 13, 2000
Living with America: Ford F150 (2000)
April 16, 2000
Civic Minded: Honda Civic (2000)
February 20, 2000
Ford Lynx Ghia (2000) Driven
January 18, 2000
White Lightning: Honda Civic (1999)
December 18, 1999
The Lost World: Volkswagen Polo Classic (1998)
December 12, 1999
Against All Odds: Mazda 323 (1999)
September 29, 1999
Warp Speed Transport: Nissan Sentra Super Saloon (1995)
August 30, 1999
Complete Change of Mind: Nissan Cefiro (1997) Long-Term Test Update
August 30, 1999
Honda City LXi (1999)
July 12, 1999
Alternative Nature: Mitsubishi Galant (1999)
June 20, 1999
The Bavarian Delight: BMW 328Ci (1999)
May 15, 1999
Alpha and Omega: Opel 2.5 V6 Omega (1999)
February 5, 1999
Opel Vectra (2.0 (1999) Driven
January 1, 1999
The Daily Nightmare: Nissan Cefiro (1998)
December 1, 1998
VTEC with a Vengeance: Honda Accord (1998)
November 10, 1998