When Mazda took us to Belgium earlier this year to try the revised version of the RX7, the rotary engined coupe, we were, on that brief trip, very impressed with the improvements which had been made to the car within a very modest price increase of £150 (see June issue). Since the beginning of August we have had an RX7 for a longer assessment and have now covered some 6,000 miles in the car, during which it has proved itself a completely reliable, elegant and (for the most part) practical mode of transport.
The engine, with its twin rotors, is happiest when rotating fast, so the Mazda is relatively low geared, fifth giving just on 20 m.p.h. per thousand r.p.m., but it is so smooth and quiet that there is no feeling of the car being undergeared or buzzy. In fact, a watchful eve has to be kept on the tachometer to ensure that gear changes are carried out at the appropriate time — it is all too easy to remain in fourth, or even third, for quite long distances without realising it, especially if one is taking advantage of the excellent stereo cassette player or radio (standard fittings for which you could expect to pay hundreds of pounds in other cars).
Cold starting is easy, requiring full choke only until the engine has fired and no choke at all after half a mile of gentle driving, even on frosty mornings. Traces of the pops and bangs, accompanied by strong burning oil smells, which characterised the progress of earlier RX7s are evident on the overrun until the engine is thoroughly warm (about five miles) and these exhaust detonations were getting more noticeable as the car approached the time for its 6.000 mile service, reducing in both quantity and intensity after this routine check-over.
Low speed engine torque is not brilliant, with the consequence that full use has to be made of the easy-to-change, if sometimes ponderous, five-speed gearbox if the best in performance is to be obtained. This makes foes car which is delightful on the open road where free rein can be given to the engine and the gearbox used to find the best balance in corners or to provide the optimum acceleration for overtaking, but it does mean scar which is somewhat fussy and tiring to drive in dense stop-go traffic.
Noise levels inside the car are low, wind-noise only dominating conversation at speeds above 90 m.p.h. and road rumble being apparent but not obtrusive at lower speeds. Engine noise is only noticeable when accelerating hard although there is an ever present hum, and apart from one intermittent and very aggravating tick from a piece of loose trim in the luggage area, the car is free from squeaks and rattles.
The ride is on the hard side, this feeling exaggerated perhaps by the lack of padding on the well contoured seats, and poor road surfaces make themselves apparent to the occupants all too easily. From the driver’s point of view, the combination of ride and road-holding is good, but passengers are likely to wish for a slightly, softer set up. Steering is precise and very pleasant and the handling a delight — easily correctable oversteer making itself apparent if encouraged. The brakes are, if anything, too powerful and care has to be taken not to lock the wheels, especially in wet conditions where this can happen very easily.
The RX7 is easy to live with. The interior appointments are first class. and. although some passengers have commented on the “poor taste” of the trim. I find it pleasing. The switches and instruments are all easy to master, even if they are scattered around the cockpit. Heating and ventilation are good, and the tilting roof is of great assistance in keeping the car cool in hot weather. This panel can be removed altogether, if desired. but it then causes a problem of storage. A plastic bag is provided to prevent the paint from being scratched, but this roof panel then takes up much of the available luggage space and is rather unwieldy, so was left in place after one experimental removal.
Despite four seats being provided, the RX7 is very definitely a two-seater — on one occasion I tried to carry my wife and two of her friends, all small people, and found that I had to drive with the steering wheel in my chest, just to provide minimum leg room in the back, and the luggage area behind the rear seats was so full with three handbags and a couple of carriers of shopping that rear vision was limited to what could be seen from the external mirror, which is, by the way, adjustable electrically from within the car.
Oil consumption is heavy by modern piston engine standards, and we have found it necessary to check the oil level at least every third tankful, oil being used at the rate of about 500 miles per pint. Fuel consumption has varied between 19.8 m.p.g., for a flat-out journey across country early one Sunday morning, to 27.2 m. p.g. for gentle motoring in the Welsh countryside. High speed M4 commuting followed by the trans-London crawl regularly returns figures in the mid 23s, while continued town driving is slightly worse and long distance, high speed cruising slightly better, giving an overall average for the 6,000 plus miles of 23.8 m.p.g.
Snags? Apart from the lack of space, the only problems we have encountered so far are the failure of the electric headlamps to rise one frosty morning, the lack of a nearside mirror in traffic and I have found the RX7 the most easy car to run out of petrol, its safe range being only some 250 miles, which is too little for a car which is as comfortable to drive for long distances. P.H.J.W