Thursday, April 19, 2007

Review: Mazda CX-7 (2007)

The SUV you never saw coming or just another fancy mom-wagon?

April 16, 2007 - We've been hopping in to a lot of these new-fangled "crossovers" lately, and to be honest, it's getting tougher and tougher to write about them. All of these "CUVs" kind of blend into each other and there are a limited amount of ways we can talk about these tall shoe-shaped wagons on stilts. Every single one of these CUVs shares the same basic traits: car-like build for a car-like driving experience, decent (but not a mind-blowing amount of) interior room and a shoe-like shape.

We won't lie here: you can take any CUV review we've done in the past, change a few nouns and get a pretty accurate review of any other CUV we've driven - including the Mazda CX-7 we're reviewing today. We must stress that this isn't a bad thing; this "sameness" actually means that all of the CUVs we drive come very well-equipped and are decent to drive. Not mind blowing, but decent is okay considering the market. That said, we do know that the devil is in the details, so we'll do our best to talk about what makes the Mazda CX-7 unique. All we ask is that you forgive us if you read any sentences that sound eerily familiar...

Mazda's CX-7 takes the now-familiar "rolling shoe" shape and smoothes things out a bit. Rather than looking bulbous in all the wrong places, Mazda's "zoom-zoom" CUV looks more like a rounded wedge, and as we all know, wedges are sporty. (Triumph's TR-7 ads from the '70s tell us so...)

While other CUV manufacturers try their best to make their glorified kid-haulers look "upscale" and "sophisticated" by adding a rap video's-worth of chrome to the exterior, Mazda opted to keep things simple and tasteful. We must say that Mazda did an excellent job of bringing its sports car-inspired aesthetic to its first-ever crossover ute. The nose looks like a fatter version of the schnoz found on the RX-8, and the buff front and rear fenders convey a real sense of power and sportiness. Keeping with the company's "zoom-zoom" mantra, a black plastic honeycomb grille finds a home between the headlights and on the lower air dam, visually adding more hints that the CX-7 really is a sports car at heart.

Power and Performance
Most CUVs on the market come equipped with reasonably-powered V6s so that CUV manufacturers can give people the illusion that their tall mom wagons are truck-like, which in turn gives CUV owners the illusion that these vehicles have the power to do "tough" and "manly" things like tow boats. Of course, we all know that a CUV will never see such strenuous hauling duty, meaning that this V-engine-induced illusion will never come back and bite said manufacturers in the ass.

Rather than jump in the CUV V6 wars, Mazda went its own way and dropped a 2.3 liter turbocharged inline four into the CX-7's engine bay. This is the same direct-injected spark ignition (DISI) MZR found in the MazdaSpeed6 and MazdaSpeed3, only (and we shouldn't have to say this) it isn't as awesome in the CX-7. We feel that this "less-than-awesome" performance is due to three reasons: One - in the CX-7, the "Dizzy" motor is tuned to just 244 horsepower; Two - this lower-powered "Dizzy" motor has to pull a lot more weight - 3,929 pounds in our AWD tester; and Three - the CX-7 comes only with an automatic slushbox.

Now, the overall feeling of power and acceleration is on-par with other CUVs, meaning that it's not mind-shatteringly quick (or fun), but it's not slow enough to get one into trouble while merging onto freeways. Mazda does get things right by giving the CX-7 a sport shift mode, where downshifting is accomplished by bumping the gear select lever up (as in a proper race car), but we still often found ourselves longing for MazdaSpeed6-like bursts of power.

Handling is decent for a CUV. We're still not bold enough to really push a high-riding vehicle through corners (we're not about to risk a rollover in a press car, thank you...), but the CX-7 certainly felt planted enough while cornering. We'd say that the CX-7 handles more like benchmark "sports" CUVs like the Infiniti FX and Acura RDX than it does "soft roaders" like the Ford Edge or Hyundai Santa Fe.

Comfort and Convenience
The cabin of Mazda's CX-7 is put together surprisingly well; it certainly feels more "high-end" when compared to other Mazda cockpits (such as the RX-8's). In terms of things like the look of the plastics and the overall fit and finish, the CX-7's interior is almost Volkswagen-like in terms of perceived quality. It's surprisingly good. Of course, the interior of our test car was all-black instead of the creamy-white you see in this press photo, which probably helped things a little.

We like the overall ergonomics of the cabin; the steering wheel is placed in just the right position (a BIG thing for us), the controls are easy to figure out and adjust and the seats actually have a bit of side support. (We're glad that Mazda stepped things up and gave the CX-7 a touch-screen navigation system as its prior point-and-click nav units are a pain to use). Back to the CX-7 at hand, its cabin was a genuinely comfortable place to be. It was nice and quiet inside, it felt spacious (even the back seats weren't so bad) and Mazda didn't make the mistake of trying to fit this thing with an unusable third row. The CX-7 actually has a usable cargo space in the back, meaning that the vehicle is actually somewhat functional, too. A functional back area in a crossover utility vehicle? How novel!

Mazda's CX-7 is a sporty crossover with a good bit of utility thrown in. Of course, we just described nearly every crossover utility vehicle in existence with that last sentence, so take from it what you will.

We like Mazda's CX-7 as it gives an enjoyable driving experience and it doesn't even try to front like it's a "truck". Mazda's CUV is what it is and it's all it aims to be. There's nothing wrong with the vehicle that we can think of, but even with its "zoom-zoom"-iness, it doesn't do much to really set itself apart from the rest of the CUV pack. If we needed a people/stuff hauler, we'd rather do time in the Mazda5 (seriously) or Mazda6 wagon; we could save a few bucks and get a bigger driving bang for the bucks we do spend. Still, when it comes to CUVs, the Mazda CX-7 isn't bad. Here's hoping someone gets around to building a MazdaSpeed version of the car.

Chrysler sale could be wrapped up by May: source

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - DaimlerChrysler could wrap up a sale of its ailing U.S. arm Chrysler as early as next month, a source familiar with the situation said on Thursday.

Corporate strategy chief Ruediger Grube was in New York for talks with potential buyers, the source told Reuters, adding that a deal in May was likely but not definite.

The source said the talks would not produce a deal in time to present it to the carmaker's supervisory board this month. "This will take some time. There are a lot of aspects to take into account," he said.

German workers' representatives on the carmaker's supervisory board are not opposed in principle to selling Chrysler as long as the buyer agrees to protect as many jobs as possible, sources familiar with the board's thinking said.

That contrasts with comments on Wednesday by Ron Gettelfinger, head of the powerful U.S. United Auto Workers union, that the UAW opposed any sale of Chrysler and enjoyed lots of support from the supervisory board, of which he is a member.

"We have always said we want a solution that preserves jobs, both here and there. We have never favored any particular option" on what to do with Chrysler, one person said.


Sources have told Reuters that bidders for Chrysler include private-equity firms Cerberus Capital Management , Blackstone Group and Canadian auto parts maker Magna International Inc .

Billionaire Kirk Kerkorian has also made a $4.5 billion bid.

Gettelfinger, who told reporters on Wednesday he has met potential Chrysler buyers, said the UAW was opposed to any bid from "strip-and-flip" investors, using a pejorative reference for leveraged-buyout firms.

"I am very concerned about equity companies moving more and more into the industry," he said. "They are hovering overhead right now."

One source close to the carmaker said the board would not necessarily block an offer from a private-equity investor as long as the buyer guaranteed jobs at Chrysler.

"I don't think you can say every private-equity firm is a devil. There are some that act in a way that we reject and others that are all right," the source said.

Rival U.S. carmaker General Motors , on the other hand, never stood a chance to buy Chrysler because workers' representatives knew such a purchase would have triggered mass layoffs, the source said.

DaimlerChrysler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche said in February all options were open for Chrysler, which lost nearly $1.5 billion in 2006 as buyers shifted away from the light trucks and sport utility vehicles that generated two-thirds of its total sales.

Chrysler plans to cut 13,000 jobs as it seeks to return to profitability by 2008.

Local insurance agent Partners with Auto Theft Task force by ethcing windows and giving away FREE "THE CLUBS" to prevent auto theft in Las Vegas

Las Vegas has the second-highest auto theft rate of any city in the United States, and a local American Family Insurance agent is sponsoring an effort to help motorists avoid auto theft.

Free antitheft steps available at Auto Theft Prevention Day event

/24-7PressRelease/ - LAS VEGAS, NV, April 19, 2007 - Las Vegas has the second-highest auto theft rate of any city in the United States, and a local American Family Insurance agent is sponsoring an effort to help motorists avoid auto theft.

The James C. Miller Agency of American Family Insurance is sponsoring the second annual Auto Theft Prevention Day on Sunday, April 22. Volunteers from the Metro Police Auto Theft Task Force will be on hand from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to install two antitheft features in vehicles for free. The event takes place in the Eastern Beltway Plaza at Eastern and Interstate 215, in the parking lot adjacent to the Home Depot store.

Task force members will etch vehicle identification numbers (VIN) into all of a vehicle's windows. This step permanently marks the vehicle's windows, requiring thieves to replace all of the auto glass and making the car much less attractive to steal. VIN-etched cars have a 64 percent lower theft rate than non-etched cars, and an etched car has an 85 percent better chance of being recovered, according to Vehicle Identification Inc.

Motorists who have their vehicle VIN etched will also receive a free steering wheel lock, The Club , while supplies last.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NCIB), the Las Vegas area is among the top two areas in the nation for vehicle theft. NCIB recommends taking several steps of prevention, with the most basic being to always lock a vehicle and park only in well-lit areas.

Other measures recommended by NICB include VIN etching and active theft deterrents such as an alarm, ignition kill switch or devices like The Club .

Based in Madison, Wis., American Family Insurance offers auto, homeowners, life, health, commercial and farm/ranch insurance, plus financial services, in 18 states. American Family ranks 323rd on the Fortune 500 list and is the nation's third-largest mutual property/casualty insurance company.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Baghdad Car-Bomb Attacks Kill at Least 166 People

April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Car bombings in Baghdad killed at least 166 people in the worst violence in the capital since the U.S. military began a troop ``surge'' two months ago aimed at ending attacks.

A car bomb at a market in the mainly Shiite Muslim district of al-Sadriyah killed at least 127 people and wounded more than 100 others, President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said in a statement on the party's Web site. The same market was targeted on Feb. 3. in a suicide truck bombing that killed at least 130 people and injured 305.

President George W. Bush ordered more than 26,000 more soldiers and Marines to Iraq to join Iraqi troops to bring security to the capital and the neighboring western province of al-Anbar. The violence has included sectarian attacks by rival Shiite and Sunni Muslim factions and the targeting of coalition and Iraqi forces by insurgents.

Earlier today, a car bomb killed at least 30 people near an Iraqi army checkpoint in the Shiite Sadr City area in eastern Baghdad, Talabani's party said. Another car bomb in the central Karrada district killed nine people and wounded 15, security forces spokesman Brigadier Qasim Ata told state television.

Agence France-Presse reported another seven deaths in two bombings in the center and on the western outskirts of Baghdad.

`Horrifying Thing'

The high number of deaths in today's attacks is ``a horrifying thing,'' U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said at a news conference with Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz in Tel Aviv on a tour that has included stops in Jordan and Egypt.

``I think it's important to highlight their efforts to interrupt the process of reconciliation, to try and prove the Baghdad security plan a failure and we intend to persist to show it is not,'' Gates said of the bombers. ``We can only hope that the Shia will have the confidence in their government and in the coalition that we will go after the people that perpetrated this horror,'' he said of the carnage in Shiite neighborhoods.

Admiral William Fallon, the new commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said the attacks give insurgents ``an opportunity to really set us back in a big way.''

``How we turn the tide so these become not regular occurrences I think is really significant,'' he said in an interview following testimony to the House Armed Services Committee in Washington.'

`Last Opportunity'

Fallon, who took over as head of the U.S. military's Central Command on March 16, told the committee that the new wave of U.S. troops gives Iraq's government a ``last opportunity'' to stabilize the nation.

The U.S. and its allies ``have made an extraordinary commitment'' to give the new government ``the space to be able to make the decisions to try to move this country forward,'' he said. ``This is really the Iraqi leadership's major and potentially last opportunity to take this ball forward.''

The five extra U.S. combat brigades of 21,500 troops will be in place by early June. There are about 145,000 troops in Iraq today, which includes three of these brigades.

An additional 4,600 support, aviation and military police personnel are also deploying to Iraq, bringing the total ``surge'' in U.S. forces to more than 26,000.

In southern Iraq today, National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said the country's forces will assume control of all 18 provinces by the end of the year.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the handover of the southern province of Maysan by U.K. forces, al-Rubaie said three provinces in the Kurdish north will be transferred to Iraqi control next month, followed by the southern governorates of Karbala and Wasit. The ceremony was aired on state television.


ConocoPhillips and Tyson to make diesel fuel for US

Houston: Oil major ConocoPhillips and Tyson Foods, the world's largest meat producer, said they are teaming up to produce and market diesel fuel for US vehicles using beef, pork and poultry fat.

They said they have collaborated over the past year on ways to combine Tyson's expertise in protein chemistry and production with ConocoPhillips' processing and marketing knowledge to introduce a renewable diesel fuel with lower carbon emissions than conventional fuels.

But some renewable-fuel advocates say Conoco-Phillips will be able to take unfair advantage of a tax credit designed to create new refining capacity for clean-burning fuels, even though they will be using existing refineries.

Major investment

ConocoPhillips planned to spend about $100 million over several years to produce the fuel, chairman and chief executive Jim Mulva said at a news conference. It hopes to introduce the fuel at gas stations in the US Midwest in the fourth quarter of this year.

Tyson said it will begin preprocessing animal fat at some of its North American rendering plants this summer. Tyson President and CEO Richard Bond said his company's potential investment would likely be less than that of ConocoPhillips.

The oil company and Tyson, based in Springdale, Arkansas, said the finished product will be renewable diesel fuel mixtures that meet all federal standards for ultra-low-sulfur diesel.


New Car Culture Stars in China Auto Show

Major automakers are pulling out all the stops at the Shanghai Auto Show starting this weekend, highlighting China's rapid evolution from "bicycle kingdom" into the world's second-biggest, fastest-growing vehicle market.

The show, which opens Sunday, comes five months after General Motors (nyse: GM - news - people ), Volkswagen AG, Toyota (nyse: TM - news - people ) and other companies showcased new vehicles at a packed Beijing convention center. Their willingness to spend so heavily on two auto shows just months apart clearly signals China's growing importance.

"Automakers are more and more considering the shows in China as A-level shows, alongside New York, Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt and Geneva," said Trevor Hale, a spokesman for DaimlerChrysler AG (nyse: DCX - news - people ).

Sunday is also Earth Day and growing public concern about pollution is reflected in automakers' plans to show an array of electric and hybrid models.

But even before the biennial event officially kicks off, there will be dozens of press events Friday and Saturday, when up-and-coming Chinese competitors hope they can grab some of the limelight.

China's Shanghai Automotive Industries Corp. says it will display a fuel-cell sedan that can reach speeds of 93 mph.

General Motors Corp., the market leader in China, says it will display the newest version of its Chevrolet Volt, a long-distance electric car, among 40 models at its 45,000-square-foot stand.

Ford Motor Co. (nyse: F - news - people )'s 52 models at the show will include a hybrid sport utility vehicle, the Ford Escape.

DaimlerChrysler plans to show 50 vehicles from its Mercedes, Chrysler and Dodge divisions. Japan's Nissan Motor Co. (nasdaq: NSANY - news - people ) will showcase a half-dozen models that it manufactures with a Chinese partner, plus its imported 350Z. Reports by the automotive press say Germany's BMW AG will unveil its new Z9 concept sports car.

Chinese automakers trying to ramp up exports hope the show will give them a global audience. They sold 325,000 vehicles abroad last year, mostly low-cost trucks and buses.

"We want to promote our brand in international markets, since our cars have already been exported to Africa, the Middle East and South America," said Zhang Xiaodong of Geely Group Ltd.

Geely will show 14 vehicles in Shanghai, double the number at the 2005 show, said Zhang.

The biggest Chinese producer, Chery Automobile Co., will be spotlighting 30 models ranging from a subcompact to an SUV, up from six in 2005, said company spokesman Zhang Dayong.

Nanjing Automobile Group Ltd. says it will display its Chinese-made MG sports cars. The company bought the iconic British brand in 2005 and began production in March.

Last year, China surged past Japan to become the world's No. 2 vehicle market after the United States. Vehicle sales, including trucks and buses, rose 25.1 percent to 7.2 million units, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers says. Passenger car sales were up 37 percent at 3.8 million.

That was up from 3.3 million vehicles sold in 2002 and just 1.6 million in 1997. U.S. car and truck sales fell slightly last year to 16.5 million units.

China's government-endorsed car craze has radically remade its landscape. Highways crisscross the country, and ancient city centers have been bulldozed to make way for car-friendly avenues.

But the car culture has left major cities choked by smog and rush-hour traffic jams. It has boosted dependence on imported oil, which worried communist leaders see as a strategic weakness.

Strong Chinese sales have brought relief to U.S. automakers, which are seeing weak demand at home. European and Japanese automakers report similar surges. Luxury producers such as Rolls-Royce (other-otc: RYCEY.PK - news - people ), owned by BMW, say sales to China's new rich are soaring.

Auto shows are so expensive that they typically are held in one market only once every two or three years. In Europe, the major shows in Paris and Frankfurt are held in alternate years. The Tokyo Auto Show takes place every other year.

With other cities also planning competing auto shows of their own, China may be hurting itself by splitting public attention by having the Beijing and Shanghai events so close together, said Ashvin Chotai, who follows the Chinese industry for consulting firm Global Insight.

China leaders will have to focus on one and downgrade or eliminate the others if they want to be a premier auto industry site, he said.

"Beijing has to decide," Chotai said, "which location will be the showcase for the world."


Top 10 Fuel Saving Tips

Whether you drive a two-seat hybrid or a three-ton SUV, chances are you can squeeze a bit more distance out of each gallon of fuel. These ten fuel saving tips have served me well over the years, and they can help you improve your car's fuel economy and take some of the sting out of high fuel prices. Most of these tips will give you a very slight increase in miles per gallon (MPG) -- but use several together and the gas mileage improvements will really add up.

1) Check your air filter

A clean air filter is the key to good fuel economy. A dirty air filter restricts the flow of air into the engine, which harms performance and economy. Air filters are easy to check and change; remove the filter and hold it up to the sun. If you can't see light coming through it, you need a new one. Consider a K&N or similar "permanent" filter which is cleaned rather than changed; they are much less restrictive than throw-away paper filters, plus they're better for the environment.

2) Check your tire pressure

Next to the air fitler, under-inflated tires are one of the most commonly ignored causes of crummy MPG. Buy a reliable tire gauge, check your tires when they are cold (driving the car warms up the tires and the air inside them, increasing the pressure), and keep them properly inflated. Use the inflation pressures shown in the owner's manual or on the data plate in the driver's door jamb.

3) Slow down

As speed increases, fuel economy decreases exponentially. If you one of the "ten-over on the freeway" set, try driving the speed limit for a few days. You'll save a lot of fuel and your journey won't take much longer. Just be sure you keep to the right, so you won't impede the less-enlightened.

4) Hang with the trucks

Ever notice how, in bad traffic jams, cars seem to constantly speed up and slow down, while trucks tend to roll along at the same leisurely pace? A constant speed keeps shifting to a minimum -- important to those who have to wrangle with those ten-speed truck transmissions -- but it also aids economy, as it takes much more fuel to get a vehicle moving than it does to keep it moving. Rolling with the big rigs saves fuel (and aggravation).

5) Accelerate with care

Jack-rabbit starts are an obvious fuel-waster - but that doesn't mean you should crawl away from every light. If you drive an automatic, accelerate moderately so the transmission can shift up into the higher gears. Stick-shifters should shift early to keep the revs down, but don't lug the engine -- downshift if you need to accelerate. Keep an eye well down the road for potential slowdowns. If you accelerate to speed then have to brake right away, that's wasted fuel.

6) Get back to nature

Consider shutting off the air conditioner, opening the windows and enjoying the breeze. It may be a tad warmer, but at lower speeds you'll save fuel. That said, at higher speeds the A/C may be more efficient than the wind resistance from open windows and sunroof. If I'm going someplace where arriving sweaty and smelly could be a problem, I bring an extra shirt and leave early so I'll have time for a quick change.

7) Back off the bling

New wheels and tires may look cool, and they can certainly improve handling. But if they are wider than the stock tires, chances are they'll create more rolling resistance and decrease fuel economy. If you upgrade your wheels and tires, keep the old ones. I have fancy sport rims and aggressive tires on my own car, but I keep the stock wheels with a good narrower-tread performance tire in the garage. For long road trips, the stock wheels give a smoother ride and better economy.

8) Clean out your car

The more weight your car has to haul, the more gas it needs to do the work. If you're the type who takes a leisurely attitude towards car cleanliness -- and I definitely fall into that group -- periodically go through your car and see what can be tossed out or brought into the house. It doesn't take much to acquire an extra 40 or 50 lbs. of stuff.

9) Out with the new, in with the old

Many people keep their old cars around even after they buy a new one. A spare car, especially if it's an econobox, can be good insurance against temporary spikes in gas prices due to world events. The costs of keeping the car may or may not be less then the fuel saved, but it does allow for more predictability in your budget. My old beater doesn't look like much, but it goes 10 miles further on a gallon of gas than our regular car. For that, I can afford to look bad!

10) Don't drive

Not a popular thing to say on a car site, I know, but the fact is that if you can avoid driving, you'll save gas. Take the train, carpool, and consolidate your shopping trips. Walking or biking is good for your wallet and your health. And before you get in your car, always ask yourself: "Is this trip really necessary?"


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