As if the ultra-popular MX-5 Miata and rotary engine-powered RX-8 aren’t enough evidence, you have to admit Mazda’s comely and curvaceous CX-7 is a prime example of a company that “thinks outside the box.”

Unlike some so-called “crossover” vehicles that are simply boxy SUVs relabeled for trendy marketing reasons, the description is right on the money in the CX-7’s case.

Physically, it’s bigger than a sedan, though not as bulky as your typical SUV. Despite its outward dimensions, the CX-7’s proportions look just right and with its accent on handling it performs a lot more like a car than a truck.

For those who like their “crossovers” spicy, the CX-7 is one hot tamale.

There are two CX-7 trims to choose from: the $32,095 base GS model or the step-up GT version at $35,295. The latter adds some shiny brightwork, Xenon headlamps, fog lights, automatic climate control, a power sunroof, heated leather seating, eight-way power driver’s seat and a cargo cover to the nicely appointed standard equipment of the base GS model.

Whichever one satisfies your needs, the CX-7 uses the same engine in each. It’s a turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder unit — shared with the potent little Mazdaspeed3 but detuned to deliver a still stout 244 horsepower.

This output is routed to the front wheels — via a six-speed automatic transmission (with manual shift mode) — but all-wheel-drive is available as a $2,000 option, which sends as much as 50 per cent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels on demand.

While it’s suitably docile for everyday commuting and routine family driving chores, the CX-7 can hold its own when there’s a need for rapid acceleration — on highway on-ramps, for instance. Lots of low-end grunt is available off the line and right up to around 5,000 rpm, where the turbo engine’s peak horsepower lives. The six-speed box shifts smoothly while anti-lock braking, traction control and stability control systems help keep everything else in check when road or traffic conditions spring their inevitable surprises.

But where the CX-7 revels is in its handling. It feels taut and well controlled with little perceptible body roll into a turn or nose-dive under heavy braking.

Inside, comfortable and supportive seats (leather-clad in the GT) keep driver and passengers suitably in place. Rear legroom is good enough to handle most adults. The dash and centre console feature nice big, easily-read electroluminescent gauges plus straightforward large rotary knobs for the climate control, though some of the secondary buttons for things like the audio system might seem a bit fiddly for some.

That said, the CX-7 is clearly a creative cross between comfort and agility with an entertaining sporting flavour that delivers surprising fun for a family hauler.