When it was first debuted in 1978, its light, compact fastback design, and rotary engines proved popular with customers. It was followed in 1986 by a larger and heavier FC model with a more GT bent, but it failed to amuse like the preceding car. Finally, in 1989, Mazda returned to its lightweight beginnings with the third and, so far, last generation FD.
The Mazda RX-7 had evolved from a lively Sportster to a true near-supercar by the early 1990s. It was built amid the height of the economic bubble, which also gave rise to iconic vehicles such as the Toyota Supra, Nissan GT-R, and Acura NSX.
There had never been anything like it before, and there hasn’t been anything like it since. The smoked, one-piece, full-width tail lamp still stands out, as do the pop-up headlights, which are pure ’90s nostalgia. They were definitely necessary to make the automobile stand out from the crowd because of the low-line form of the nose.
The interior, with its organic shapes, reflects the exterior, although technological advancements have rendered the RX-7’s black-plastic cockpit obsolete. It doesn’t appear to be of great quality, yet it’s a comfortable place to be owing to soft seats that yield well and allow you to burrow into them for support. The doorknob is unusually high above the waistline, nestled near the B-pillar.
Mazda RX-7: twin-turbo Wankel rotary engine
The RX-7 is powered by a twin-turbo 13B-REW Wankel engine. Mazda’s RX-7 received a 2.6-liter engine with two rotor chambers (654cc each) and turbo equivalency. The unit was simple to package below the front axle line and deep in the chassis due to its tiny size and moderate weight. This resulted in a weight distribution of 50:50 and a low center of gravity.
The Nissan RX-7 of the 1990s had a four-cylinder engine that produced 237bhp at 6500rpm and 218lb-ft of torque at 5000rpm. It could achieve 60 mph from a standstill in 5.4 seconds and 156 mph in a straight line. That was quick in the early 1990s.
The RX-7 had the world’s first mass-produced sequentially turbocharged engine. There are two turbos, but they work separately and in phases, rather than putting more air into the engine at the same time. As a result, the first begins at 1,800rpm, followed by the second at 4,000rpm. The transition is extremely smooth, and the power delivery isn’t noticeably different from that of a modern turbocharged car.
The engine has a characteristic chunter, and the clutch is light, with tremendous, measured resistance to the throttle. The stubby gear lever indicates rapid, short-throw shifting that’s clean and accurate, but the five-speed gearbox has a passable rather than outstanding shift.
Although the steering is heavier, the RX-7 is a communicative car with well-matched control efforts and well-calculated responses. The cast-aluminum pedals are visually attractive, comfortable underfoot, and equally distributed throughout the footwell. The connection between the brake and throttle was undoubtedly approved by someone who enjoyed heel-and-toe work, and the exhaust begins popping and crackling delightfully with each effortlessly blipped downshift.
The 13B engine, of course, was what set the RX-7 distinct from its competitors, and it’s what makes the vehicle intriguing today. Although there are substantial technical differences between rotary and conventional internal combustion engines, the visual differences behind the wheel are surprisingly modest. Of course, this is due to the engine not being in a screaming state of tune, as compared to the famed Mazda race cars.
Mazda’s FD RX-7 is no longer the force it once was, but it is still a fully appealing, intriguing, entertaining, and moderately fast vehicle. It unusually accomplishes things, as one might anticipate, but it does them well. Let’s hope that last year’s beautiful RX-Vision concept makes it to production and recaptures some of this car’s immense appeal.