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Retro road test: Mazda RX-7 FD. Image by Mazda.

Retro road test: Mazda RX-7 FD
Mazda’s rival for the Porsche 968 has good looks and smooth rotary power on its side.

 



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Mazda RX7 FD

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The third generation of Mazda's rotary-engined RX-7 is far more hardcore than the older, softer versions. It packs serious punch from its tiny rotary engine, and wraps its mechanicals in a slinky, low-slung body. Aside from a lack of back seats, and a thirsty engine, it makes for serious competition for Porsche.

Test Car Specifications

Mazda RX-7 Mk3
Pricing: Ł33,9955
Engine: 1.3-litre two-chamber twin-turbo rotary
Transmission: five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Body style: two-door, two-seat coupe
CO2 emissions: N/A
Combined economy: 18.3mpg (15.4 litres/100km)
Top speed: 156mph
0-62mph: 5.6 seconds
Power: 233hp at 6,500rpm
Torque: 294Nm at 5,000rpm
Boot space: Not quoted
EuroNCAP rating: Not invented yet

What's this?

This is Mazda's third go-around at a coupe with an engine that goes around and around, rather than up and down. It's the RX-7 FD, and at a stroke (not that its engine has a stroke) it reverses the weight gain and portliness of the previous FC model. The original FB version of the RX-7, introduced in 1978, was light, lithe and clearly inspired by the Porsche 924. The Mk2, introduced in 1985, became progressively heftier and softer, something that not even optional rear-wheel steering could help fix. Now, though, Mazda has gone back to the drawing board, put the RX-7 on a major weight-loss plan, and added twin turbocharging to the 1.3-litre rotary engine. The last versions of the Mk2 also had a turbocharged rotary, but here in the Mk3, power rises to a not-inconsiderable 233hp, a gain of almost 20hp over its predecessor. Meanwhile, weight has fallen by close to 200kg, bringing the kerbweight down to 1,300kg.

Inside, you'll instantly find one of the major contributors to that weight loss - there are no back seats, just two small lidded boxes which may or may not prove useful for storing some of your personal items. In Japan and some other markets, the rear seats are available as an option, but considering how little space there is back there, you're probably not going to want them anyway. Space up front is a mixed bag - there's plenty of legroom and headroom (thanks partly to the 'double-bubble' roof with its twin humps) but the unadjustable steering wheel sits a bit too low in your lap for our tastes. The bucket seats, covered in leather in our test car, are comfortable though.

The dashboard is made of largely high quality plastics, and fitted with a number of gauges and buttons which sweep around the tops of your knees in a horseshoe pattern. It's not unlike the cabin of the Toyota Supra, actually, and is similarly well made. There's a slot for a standard DIN stereo system, and such niceties as electric windows, a sunroof and air conditioning are included.

The exterior really does bear some remarking, though. This is an exceptionally low-slung car, essentially wrapped tightly around its compact engine and cabin, and its pop-up lights and smooth, aerodynamic shape look startlingly modern. It's good looking enough to send a shiver through the boardroom at Weissach, I'd say, and possibly even the one in Maranello...

How does it drive?

The RX-7 Mk3 drives exceptionally well. Previous versions made good use of their smooth engines and light steering and were pleasant sports-coupes to drive. This one is closer to supercar performance, with the twin turbo arrangement (one small turbo for low rpm, and a larger one for top-end power) filling in the torque 'hole' that normally afflicts high-revving rotary engines. While the peak torque figure is delivered rather high up the rev range (at 5,000rpm out of a redlined 8,000rpm) there is now sufficient power low down to make the RX-7 feel much more responsive on a tight B-road.

There's no big, sudden kick of high-end turbo power either, rather the rotary engine (which retains its almost eerie smoothness) just gathers pace, almost in the manner of a turbine engine. Indeed, Mazda officials have, sotto voce, told us that there have been some customers who've had unfortunate interfaces with ditches in their RX-7s. They were, apparently, waiting for the power to come to a piston-style peak, only to find that rotaries don't work like that... It's something of a bewitching engine, far, far smoother than a conventional piston engine, with a whooshing shriek at high rpm that is really quite addictive.

The RX-7 Mk3 has already gained a reputation for being rather tail-happy, but even in the changeable conditions of our test drive, and the somewhat leaf-strewn nature of some of the roads we were driving, our test car proved stable and sure footed. The steering must come in for high praise here - hydraulically assisted, it is one of the first power steering systems we've tried that has genuinely good feel and feeback. Thanks to the low weight of the car, and especially the lightness of the engine itself, the nose reacts smartly to inputs, and the driver very quickly feels at one with the car.

There are some downsides, though, and the biggest one is fuel economy. The official figure is a rather shocking 18mpg, and when you're pressing on you're likely to get as little as 15mpg. Returns in excess of 20mpg will be reserved for gentle motorway runs. There is a price to pay for that rotary power and smoothness, it would seem.

And a reliability price? Certainly, rotaries have a poor reputation for both longevity and for excessive oil consumption, but Mazda is a brand that has built its reputation on reliability, so we have hopes that the engineers in Hiroshima have at least cracked those issues.

Verdict

The FD RX-7 is a very expensive car, and there will certainly be those who will baulk at the prospect of paying Porsche money for a car with a Mazda badge. Those of us in the know, however (and especially those of us who saw the rotary-engined 787B race car thrash the Porsches at the 1991 Le Mans 24 Hours) will think differently, because this low-slung, sexy coupe may have a humble brand on its rear end, but it's every inch the rival to the Porsche 968, and has a more intriguing, more interesting (if thirsty) engine to boot.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

3 3 3 3 3 Interior Ambience

2 2 2 2 2 Passenger Space

2 2 2 2 2 Luggage Space

4 4 4 4 4 Safety

3 3 3 3 3 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Neil Briscoe - 21 Dec 2017









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1992 Mazda RX-7 FD retro drive. Image by Mazda.1992 Mazda RX-7 FD retro drive. Image by Mazda.   







 

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