Crucial Cars: Mazda RX-7, Part Two

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

For this installment, Street Talk continues to shine the spotlight on a sports car with a strong, well-deserved fan base – the Mazda RX-7.

Back in the fall of 1978 when Mazda’s RX-7 sports car debuted (for the ‘79 model year), new wave music began shoving disco aside on radio, Space Invaders had kids shoving each other aside in video game centers, and Japanese cars accounted for about half of all new car sales in the U.S.

With its rotary engine and lightweight and agile chassis, the RX-7 was as big a hit with driving enthusiasts as those video games were with teenagers. We’ve already covered the first two generations of the Mazda RX-7, so now with Part Two of this retrospective, we pick up where we left off.

Crucial Cars 1993 Mazda RX-7

1993 Mazda RX-7

Sleek, Sophisticated, and Speedy

Unveiled for the 1993 model year, the third generation of the Mazda RX-7 was a leap forward in sophistication. With its low, flowing body stretched out over the wheels, the organic form of the newest rotary rocket was a study in how form following function can yield something bordering on motorized sculpture. Mazda had the goal of making the car lighter and more powerful, and it was emphatically met. At about 2,800 pounds, the new Mazda RX-7 weighed over 200 pounds less than a comparably-equipped previous-generation RX-7. And the rotary engine, still measuring just 1.3 liters—but now sporting twin turbochargers—spun out 255 eager horsepower.

This RX-7 was initially offered in three trim levels: the well-equipped base, the luxury-themed Touring, and the hard-core performance R1. For most folks, the base or leather-lined Touring version was ideal, while the stiffly-sprung R1 (and its successor, the R2) was geared towards track-day enthusiasts willing to put up with a harsh ride in exchange for maximum handling performance. In any event, the cockpit was all business, if a little tight for larger folks.

The numbers generated by the third-gen RX-7 were nothing short of stunning. With the ability to hit 60 mph in the low-five-second range and rip down the quarter mile in about 14 seconds flat, this Mazda was as speedy as a Ferrari 348. Yet true to its heritage, the RX-7 really came into its own on a twisty road, where its lightweight, superb balance, athletic chassis and communicative steering made it a blast.

Available in the States for just three model years (1993 through 1995), due to the car’s ever increasing price (the result of a strong yen and weak dollar) and resultant decreasing demand, the third-gen RX-7 nonetheless made a big impact on enthusiasts, as well as Mazda’s history book.

The numbers generated by the third-gen RX-7 were nothing short of stunning, with the ability to hit 60 mph in the low-five-second range and rip down the quarter mile in about 14 seconds flat.

Mazda’s Rotary Car Takes a Different Road

After a nearly 10-year hiatus in the states, Mazda’s rotary-powered sports car returned for 2004 with a slightly different name and slightly different mission. Now called the RX-8, the latest version of Mazda’s flagship performance car dropped the turbochargers, gained a functional back seat and emerged as a considerably more practical, if less elegant, sports car choice.

Crucial Cars 2004 Mazda RX-8

2004 Mazda RX-8

With its higher roofline and bigger cabin, the RX-8 lost much of its former visual pizzazz. But the benefit of its bulkier physique was a much larger interior that allowed a pair of adult-rated seats in the back. Accessed by a pair of reverse-opening rear doors, that rear compartment could comfortably carry a pair of six-footers, an unheard of feat in a genuine sports car.

The complex twin-turbo rotary engine of the previous generation gave way to a redesigned, simpler, naturally-aspirated rotary dubbed “Renesis”. It made a solid 238 hp when matched to the six-speed manual gearbox, and 197 hp when running through the available four-speed automatic. The tach’s redline was marked at an impressive 9,000 rpm.

Although it expectedly gained weight compared to the RX-7, the RX-8 at around 3,030 pounds was still respectably light, especially for a genuine four-seater. Naturally, its acceleration wasn’t quite as thrilling as before. But with a 6.6-second 60 mph time and a 15.1 second quarter-mile performance, it was still swift enough to induce grins, especially once the tach’s needle swung past 5,000 rpm.

Available through 2011, the mostly unchanged RX-8 enjoyed a long run that spanned eight model years. And make no mistake, even with its ability to transport four full-size adults, Mazda’s rotary-powered sports machine was still plenty of fun to drive as it retained the loveable, light-on-its-feet and connected to the driver personality it had since day one.

Mazda RX-7 enthusiasts looking for advice, upcoming events, and classifieds should check out rx7club.comas well as rx7.org.

Comments

  1. I had the rx 3 back in 1980 . That was an impressive car back then. My only draw back was being mechanically inclined but with the dual points , I never could get them right . Always had to take it to the shop for a tune up. Fast also . It was so guiet you some times had to take a glance at the tack to make sure you had after to the last gear.

  2. In my opinion the 93 thur 95 was the best looking RX built to date. But out of my price point, so I had to settle for the Miata. It was the substitute for my dream R1
    But maybe one day I will find a survivor and make it my own.

  3. James Koski says:

    I bought the first mazda rotary pick up in the Washington DC area in 1974, It was so new back than that the mechanics were still scratching their heads on how to work on it. So I worked on it myself and advanced the timing 2 or 3 degreas and this made the truck run better than the first day I bought it. I even auto crossed it!!!

  4. Minor correction but the RX-8 has a 6-speed manual, not 5-speed.

  5. Michelle Osborne says:

    I have a question for all you Mazda owners. I just purchased an 04 Rx8 w/rotary engine 4cylinder.worth his and her shifters.I have been wondering which is the best motor? Rotary or a standard motor? Cheapest to keep up with? Because I also have an 03 Mitsubishi spyder eclipse,3.0l AT with his and her shifters, need to sell one but don’t know which is the better car. They both drive amazing. The Mazda has 93,000 on it, eclipse has 159000. Both in emaculate body and interior condition. Any advice?

    • James Lukocevich says:

      Get the Eclipse. The rx8 has engine issues. I have a 93 rx7 with 83k miles, only driven 4 miles in 8 years.

  6. El rx8 es un sport personalizado muy bien hecho.En el manejo , estabilidad, en paradas o frenadas y su estilo único. El acondicionador de aire es bien bueno, buena capacidad para remover calor pero el motor no es duradero ( carbones) son débiles y se avería pronto!!!!

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