Mazda’s relationship with Ford has typically been a two-way street even though Ford owns a big chunk of Japanese manufacturer.
Mazda’s B-Series truck is essentially a rebadged Ford Ranger and the Mazda Tribute is an Escape with some appearance and trim changes. Mazda also gets Ford’s 3.0-liter Duratec V6 engine, which it uses in a number of models. On the flip side of the coin, Ford gets the Mazda3 and Mazda6 platforms that have become the basis for a variety of Ford, Mercury, Lincoln and even Volvo models, and the Mazda-developed 2.3-liter four cylinder engine that has similar widespread applications within the Ford realm.
The next shared effort will also be based on a Mazda platform (two of them, actually). This new “crossover-utility vehicle” (CUV) will be a combination of Mazda6 (from the firewall forward) and the Mazda3 (from that point back). By using both, the resultant vehicle has a front end that will accept a variety of engines and transmissions. It also has a long wheelbase that makes for a more spacious interior.
The Ford version, to be built at Ford’s Canadian facility, will appear next fall as the Edge and in Lincoln stores as the MK X. It will have a new 3.5-liter, 250-horsepower version of the Duratec V6 mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission jointly developed with, of all people, General Motors.
But Mazda will beat Ford to market by a full six months with its version of a “CUV.” The Mazda CX-7 will arrive this spring wearing a $23,750 base price and a turbocharged and inter-cooled 2.3-liter four-cylinder Mazda engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. This is the same engine used in the MazdaSpeed6, producing 244 horsepower in this application. Like the Edge and MK-X, the CX-7 will offer both front and all-wheel drive. The vehicle will be produced in Japan although it has been designed for, and to be sold only in, North America.
Mazda is on the cusp of a new model binge specifically directed at North America. As one of the few prosperous entities under the Ford umbrella, Mazda will develop more products for North America, beginning with the CX-7. The CUV segment is forecast to be the next growth area, displacing traditional sport-utility vehicles with slightly smaller and more fuel-efficient and car-like “utility” vehicles. Industry analysts are projecting as many as 50 CUVs will be on the market by the end of 2007.
The five-seater CX-7, according to Jim O’Sullivan, president and Chief Executive Officer of Mazda North American Operations, is “crucially important to the Mazda lineup and to the success of Mazda as a whole.” He told a group gathered for a sneak peak at the CX-7 before it was shipped to Detroit for its public unveiling at the North American International Auto Show that the goal was to provide “an astute blend of sports car verve and SUV practicality.”
The CX-7 makes a dramatic styling statement, staking out Mazda’s territory. The prominent front fenders flanking Mazda’s signature trapezoidal grille, massive air intakes and A-Pillars rooted at the body’s leading edge, certainly say Mazda and hint at the RX-8 sports car. Massive 18-inch alloy wheels are standard, further accentuating the sporty nature. The long wheelbase allows plenty of rear-seat space and the car-based platform means a lower ride height and much sleeker profile than that of most SUVs or minivans.
The interior is equally dramatic with strong touches from the MX Crossport concept vehicle, including a three-dial instrument cluster and a unique gear selector. The CX-7’s extensive standard- equipment list will include power-adjustable driver’s seat, power windows and locks, air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, tilt wheel, cruise control, satellite radio and a pair of 12-volt power outlets. The option list contains leather interior, DVD-based navigation system, audio upgrades and a power sunroof.
The CX-7 is supposed to be an upscale alternative to the traditional SUV or minivan, and upscale it most certainly is as Mazda designers went to great lengths to impart this newcomer with both exterior and interior style that sets it apart from the pack.