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Mazda CX-7 diesel,  put fun in family time

By Michael Bettencourt [email protected]

Michael Bettencourt is an award-winning freelance journalist who covers automobiles, technology and green issues for The Globe and Mail newspaper, Canada’s largest national daily, as well as for MSN Autos and various magazines.

There’s family time, and then there’s time to party it up. The former’s what we do on vacation with our now seven and three year-olds; the latter is what we did in our carefree single days. Until we hit a water park in the southern Algarve region of Portugal this summer, we had never seen a place that combined both.

But there was the outdoor wave pool, full of inner tubes, pre-schoolers frolicking about in the sunshine, parents and grandparents standing over them, especially vigilant when the waves started. And on a stage just above them, a hyped-up DJ spinning high energy dance music, complete with flashing disco lights, with a couple of logo-splashed, spandex-clad ladies next to him, promoting a local nightclub.

And strangest of all, at least to us apparently staid North American types, was the sight of doting Moms and Dads, seemingly taken over by the music, getting down with their young kids. Right next to them, groups of teens and 20-somethings were doing much the same thing – and they knew more of the coordinated dance moves, unsurprisingly. So that’s why it’s called Aquashow Park.

This mix of traditional family values and youthful enthusiasm was reflected nicely in our wheels for the trip there, a loaded Mazda CX-7. As a midsize crossover, née SUV, the comfortable and refined five-seat CX-7 offers lots of room up front for the kids, a wide enough back seat for three child seats, or as we usually had it, two seats plus grandma.

But unlike so many SUV-ish family haulers, the CX-7 also offers a strong sense of youthful energy, starting with its looks, but also under the hood, and from the driver’s seat. The aggressively curved contours of those fenders, huge wheels and the steeply laid back windshield scream out that the CX-7 owner cares about style and performance, even if they have to give up some headroom or interior space to get it.

Driving from Faro to the touristy Albufeira region that’s chockfull of English, Spanish and German visitors, this European model furthered that energetic feel with a six-speed manual transmission, and its four-cylinder turbodiesel engine. Although the 173 hp figure won’t excite anyone used to the CX-7’s turbocharged gas engine of 244 ponies, it’s the diesel’s 400 Nm of torque at a low 2000 rpm that impresses most.

Not only by the immediate thrust of this engine, but its smooth refinement, to the point where one can barely hear any diesel clatter from inside the vehicle, even soon after a chilly morning start. That is, “chilly” being relative to most warm and sunny August mornings in southern Portugal.

Then again, the all-wheel drive CX-7 had better be comfortable and refined, because it starts at just over €57,000, making it a full-blown luxury machine there. This price may include the country’s harsh 23% sales tax, but still, that sounds like a typo. For that price, even in economically depressed but still strangely pricy Portugal, you could get a similarly sized but much more luxurious Audi Q5 or even an A6 wagon quattro for thousands less than the CX-7’s €57,095 starting price, which converts to a staggering £49,189.

Our trek for family fun was originally going to include some cousins from nearby who also have a young boy, but when they heard we were going to this waterpark, they begged off. Citing two-hour lineups for rides and a major lack of parking for all the folks that would surely be there at the busiest time of the year for tourists, from other countries as well as those from further north up the country, locals tend to avoid these spots in summer.

We had by then done quite a few beach days though, and were determined to escape the serious August heat. Even at the most southern tip of this southern European country, most homes still don’t have air conditioning.

Those cousins were right about the impossible parking, as there were cars parked on top of every sidewalk, walkway and grass area within sight of the park’s entrance, even within a half hour of it opening. Looking over the throngs of people at the park, the line-ups of folks at concession stands and the crowded gift shop at the exit – which you thankfully didn’t have to walk through on your way out –  it certainly doesn’t seem like Portugal is a country lacking for economic activity.

Even with this packed park, we didn’t encounter any two-hour lineups, though we didn’t do any of the amusement park rides, and stuck mainly to the wave pool, the water-spouting jungle gyms, and smaller waterslides – which weren’t worth lining up for, as they were insufficiently waxed and/or watered, to the point where many folks would actually stop sliding halfway down. And suddenly became very conscious of all that yummy food they’d been enjoying on vacation.

Perhaps it was time for more partying, and cardio, at that rocking wave pool.