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Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Mazda RX-7 Will OFFICIALLY Return In 5 Years!

2002 Mazda RX-7
It's a good time to be longing for automotive comebacks. First the AE86 gets a spiritual successor, then the Honda NSX is announced to return (as a hybrid...), then Alfa Romeo Duetto/Spider is confirmed to return with a Mazda MX-5 chassis and Italian styling and power, and then the Alpine brand is confirmed to be revived by Renaultsport and Caterham in the form of a small lightweight MR sports car within the next three or four years. And now we have it from Mazda's sports car chief that the gorgeous rotary-powered RX-7 of the '80s and '90s will be back with us - and still sporting a peculiar Wankel engine - in 2017. Hallelujah!

But wait, wasn't there an RX-8? Shouldn't this be the RX-9? Well you'd think so, but Mazda probably want to use the name people remember fondly to draw a few more people in. What's more, the RX-8, while a very interesting car, wasn't the best-loved RX model ever, with its lack of turbo and extra weight from the addition of rear seats (and consequently those suicide doors) making it slower than the car it replaced. They can also chew through engines like nobody's business, an unfortunate potential drawback of rotary power. So RX-7 it is, then, to reassure you it's not an evolution of a flawed car. Well hey, if Porsche can replace the 997 with the 991, why can't Mazda go back a number?

People remember the RX-7 fondly because its light weight and unique high-revving engine made it an exciting sports car, and in the 1992-2002 FD generation it was one truly beautiful machine... right up until it's modified mercilessly by Vin Diesel or a drifting enthusiast. An earlier generation also entered Group B rallying in the '80s, and sounded like a swarm of hell's own bees. Finally, the car gained widespread popularity along with all the other Japanese sports cars when Gran Turismo swept the gaming world in the late '90s and the '00s. Some will love it purely for the oddball rotary engine, while others just want more affordable sports cars in the world (not that the RX-7 was the cheapest Japanese sports car around).

But what can we expect if they were willing to replace the 2002 FD RX-7 with a four-seater? Well, not a four-seater. This is a 7, not an 8, so it must be a light, two-door, two-seat sports coupé. We can however expect it to use Mazda's 16X engine, which I've rambled about before (fifth paragraph). It's basically an attempt to fix the flaws of the long-serving 13B rotary engine - low torque, unreliability and such like - as well as adding direct injection and a special catalyst that will mean it passes the strict Euro VI emissions rules that will come into effect in 2017, the year this car will appear. However, while the cons will be lessened, the pros will remain; this small, light, high-revving naturally-aspirated 1.6-litre engine will make a good 300 horsepower, which in a car set to weigh around 1250kg (the same as a Toyobaru GTBRZ86 and lighter than the last RX-7) should be plenty to be getting on with. Mazda sports division chief Nobuhiro Yamamoto says that a turbo version may come along later if necessary, although sharp throttle response and linear delivery are the aims for this engine, two things a non-turbo engine is best at. The weight figure will be obtained by extensive use of aluminium (sitting atop a stretched and modified next-gen MX-5 platform) and the joyous lack of a hybrid system or KERS, because Mazda sports cars are about purity. We can also expect a manual gearbox for that reason, I say, although a paddle-shift option wouldn't be surprising.

While it may weigh the same and could be roughly the same size as the Subarota FRBRZ-S86, it won't cost the same. The RX-7 was meant as a competitor to Porsche - and not just because they had originally copied the 944 for the styling - with the price reflecting that aim. While this "FG" RX-7 won't be chasing the 911, it's more likely to rival the Nissan Z, BMW Z4 and other such cars in the £30-35,000 range. Any more and badge snobbery would deny them success, I reckon, although it is meant as a premium product.

Mazda, you have five years to get this right... and I have five years to start saving up for one.

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