Road Impressions

Mazda RX7

Why there are not more RX7s on Britain’s roads is a mystery. This year Mazda expect to sell 750 here – making the UK yet again the top European market for this elegant little coupe. Yet, healthy though this is for Mazda UK, putting them into contention with the Porsche 924, it represents only a fraction of the overall sub £10,000 market. Can it really be that nearly all potential purchasers need four seats, and must forgo the long-bonneted feel that epitomises a “sports car”? Do all of them want to carry self-assembly furniture kits in their hatchbacks, oblivious to the delights of fast touring with little luggage? Or is it the rotary engine which makes them hesitate, thereby missing out on the exhilarating smoothness of that free-revving and unique power plant?

Those who are already acquainted with the RX7 will be pleased to learn that changes for the ’84 models are relatively few. There are new alloy wheels of 14 in diameter with wider 205/60 Dunlop SP tyres, ventilated discs are now fitted to the rear as well as the front, together with cool air ducting to the front units, and a wider range of colours is now available. Under the bonnet, the twin-rotor is broadly unchanged, still producing 115 bhp at 6,000 rpm, but the oil cooler has been replaced by an intercooler which balances oil and water temperatures which are crucial to the efficiency of the rotary engine, whose economy is even now not its strong point. With the new larger tyres and revised gearing, the Mazda’s consumption has improved by a few per cent to 17.9 mpg urban, and 35.8 on a 56 mph cruise. More valuable than this, however, is that the fuel tank has been enlarged from 12.1 to 13.8 gallons, allowing the car to cruise for 399 miles at its 75 mpg figure of 28.8 mpg. In practice, replenishment proved necessary much more often when I recently had the opportunity to drive one of the new cars, since the journey from Northern Italy to London included climbing a minor Alpine pass, tackling traffic in Munich and Stuttgart, and long stretches on the autobahn. Such hard treatment produced a low of 17.5 mpg and a high of about 26 mpg, but it must be said that the RX7 was running for periods at 100 – 120 mph through Germany, where yet again the absence of a limit proved that this allows traffic to separate safely, rather than being bunched together.

Cabin comfort is of a high level, with all major controls comfortably disposed, and an exemplary instrument layout is visible at all times through the new and attractive (but perhaps a shade too large) wheel. Three column stalks look after indicators, lights and windscreen wipers, but the rear-screen wiper switch lets the ergonomic standard down by nestling too far back between the seats. Visibility fore and aft is excellent, with enough of the bonnet being visible to ease parking, but the thick B-post is a serious drawback when joining a main road, and one which the otherwise welcome addition of a passenger door mirror does nothing to alleviate.

A good driving position is easy to find, helped by generous leg-room (assuming the minimal rear seats are empty), and immediately on moving off the light clutch and precise, easy gearshift become apparent. It is in fact a very relaxing car to drive at all speeds, with steering hardly heavier at parking than at motorway speeds, offering sharp response though with less feedback than would be ideal. The rev counter is the important instrument to watch, as the power curve is relatively peaky on the rotary unit, with most of the action taking place between 4,000 and 6,500 rpm, and the famous buzzer warning the driver if he exceeds this. The higher gearing of first and second means that there is a little more headroom before triggering the buzzer, particularly valuable in the lower gears where the effortless surge of acceleration can catch out the unwary. The claimed figures are 8.7 sec for 0-60 mph, with a top speed of 120 mph, and on the autobahn the little coupe proved willing to wind itself right off the speedometer – an indicated 130 mph.

With its wide tyres, the RX7 can generate impressive cornering forces on dry tarmac accomplished with a mild degree of understeer which almost vanishes as the throttle is opened to give a near neutral exit from a bend. It is in poor conditions that such tyres on a relatively light car lose their advantage, and indeed in heavy rain the car became considerably more nervous, darting across puddles and momentarily breaking traction in a way that a heaver car or narrower tyres would not produce. Having said that, the responsive steering and overall good balance make for tremendous fun under all conditions – surely the prerequisites of a sports car.

There is only one specification for the RX7 in the UK, and that includes electric windows, two remote-controlled door mirrors, rear wash-wipe, a tilt-or-remove sunroof, and a sophisticated all electronic radio/cassette unit, although the latter is, as on so many cars, rather irritatingly wired so that the ignition must be left on when, for instance, the passenger wishes to listen to the radio while the driver is filling the petrol tank. The filler flap is released electrically from inside (far better than needing a key) the all-glass tailgate either electrically or manually, and Mazda deserve 11 out of 10 for their combination of a manual choke with an automatic return should the driver forget. The price rises this year by £400 to £9,999.

Reservations? The rear end is a little twitchy over bumps and at the limit of adhesion; there ought to be fixed lights for flashing (the pop-ups are surely better left alone during daylight) and the new seat, while giving very good lateral support, made my back ache. But as I said before, it is a mystery to me why more RX7s are not sold… -- G.C.