Costing only £150 more than the original version, Mazda’s revised rotary eninged coupe is a great improvement on a car which was already excellent value for money. The revision is not confined to cosmetic details, although these will be the most noticeable, but covers all aspects of the car, making it a very refined, smooth, comfortable and rapid vehicle.
Outside, the RX7 has acquired a new front air dam, a revised bumper which is less obtrusive than previously, broader side mouldings which will give the side panels an increased level of protection against car park chipping, a flexible moulded spoiler mounted across the flat back of the car, making the rear view considerably more attractive, and cast alloy wheels. It is claimed that these styling alterations provide a very significant improvement in the aerodynamics of the car, reducing the oft-quoted drag coefficient from 0.36 to 0.32, thus helping to improve fuel consumption at high cruising speeds.
Inside, there is a complete revision of the trim. The interior of the original car came in for quite a bit of criticism (although Motor Sport liked it – see the issue for September 1979), and it is to prevent further adverse comment that new seats, providing greater degrees of support for thighs and back, have been provided. These are cloth trimmed, and matching material covers the door panels above knee level, below which the same deep pile carpet as on the floor is used. The seats are fitted with adjustable head rests, and suit the medium sized driver very well. Large men might well find the degree of adjustment limited, and therefore find the car rather cramped. This feeling will not be helped by the low roof line, and heavy people might find that the extra support tor thighs and back is at the expense of padding for the seat base. The rear seats are fit for the children only, there being very little leg room if the front seats are anything other than in the forward position. The luggage area under the glass rear hatch (openable only from within the car) can be extended by folding the rear seats, and a roll-up cover is provided to conceal any items which may. tempt the light-fingered. A sunshine roof is provided as standard equipment and can either be tilted open, by turning a large knob, to provide additional ventilation or may be removed completely.
The instrument panel has undergone its share of revision, with new-style instruments neatly laid out and arranged in such a way that there was absolutely no dazzle in the screen at night. The centre console is largely taken up with a high quality stereo cassette player and radio, fitted as standard for the UK market and linked to four speakers. Other standard fittings in keeping with a high quality coupe are electrically operated windows, electrically adjustable mirror, electric aerial, internal control for the fuel filler lock and an adjustable map light. Verging on the gimmicky, but perhaps useful for the absent minded (provided they are not deaf) is the chiming tune played if the driver’s door is opened when the lights are on or when the key is left in the ignition switch.
The engine has been refined and improved to give more power (10 b.h.p up at 115 b.h.p.), increased torque and smoother operation. The braking system has been beefed up, disc brakes being fitted at the rear in place of the earlier drums, and the servo diameter being increased from 7 to 8 inches.
On the road, the immediate impression is one of smoothness. The engine whistles up to the red-line of just under 7,000 rpm (when a very audible warning device sounds, urgently recommending an upward change) with turbine like facility and stays equally smooth on the overrun – gone are the pops and bangs from the exhaust which were wont to accompany deceleration on the earlier version. The clutch is smooth but has long movement, only part of which is effective. The gear lever has heen moved back an inch an two, giving it a neater shape and making the change rather more precise, although rather slow in the lower ratios.
The ride is generally good, although running over the after eftects of some Belgian roadworks created a fair amount of bump-thump and made me realise how close the seat is to the floor. Handling, particularly in damp conditions, has been more than somewhat improved by the fitting of Japanese rally-style Dunlop tyres whose characteristics suit the RX7 admirably and enable high speed cornering in poor conditions to be undertaken with confidence. A spell thrashing the car around both the old and the new Spa Francorchamps circuits demonstrated just how chuckable this car is. It corners with very little roll and, when pushed hard, tends towards oversteer which is quickly and easily corrected in a satisfying fashion. The steenng is of the variable ratio, re-circulating ball and nut variety, and although not having the feel associated with a rack and pinion arrangement, it is precise and coupled with the excellent handling, enables the driver to place the car very accurately on the road. The brakes are powertul, and it is easy to lock-up the wheels on a dry surface.
However, it is not for extremes of driving that the RX7 will be bought, but it is an ideal car for covering long distances fast and comfortably. I was lucky enough to be asked to bring an RX7 back to the UK from the Belgian launch. Setting out from Brussels at 5.30 a.m. (BST), the manual choke was needed for starting and for the initial mile or so, but by the time the autoroute came up, the car was running very sweetly even though the temperature gauge was still showing cold. A couple of miles of gentle driving brought the temperature up to normal, and I was soon cruising at slightly over 100 m.p.h., the engine running very smoothly at 5,000 r.p.m. at this speed. Wind noise was apparent from about 90 m.p.h., but was easily drowned by the powerful radio. The 120 or so miles of autoroute to just west of Ostend were soon covered, leaving only the run down the coast to Calais along the narrow, lorry-laden N1. Third and fourth gears proved very useful for taking whatever overtaking opportunities presented themselves, and Calais came up in plenty of time to catch the 7.30 a.m. ferry to Dover, enabling me to reach the outskirts of London shortly afterr 10.00 a m., only to spend the next hour travelling the remaining seven miles to Standard House. The RX7 ran just as smoothly in the stop-go of London traffic as it had done bowling along the autoroute. The fuel consumption had been a shade better than 20 m.p.g, overall, which is not bad and means that the average owner, driving relatively legally, should achieve around 25 m.p.g. For me, the car is spoilt only by an inadequate tank capacity – a car as comfortable at high speed cruising as this one should be capable of a range of 400 miles, or five hours between stops, whereas the 11 1/2 gallons of the Mazda Coupe will only manage just over half that figure.
At £8,700 inclusive of all taxes, the RX7 must represent exceptional value for money, being better equipped than and having equal characteristics to some cars with fancy names costing nearly twice as much. The new version should go on sale in the UK on June 3rd. – P.H.J.W.