I finally drove a Mazda RX7 and it was awesome
As far as perfect roads go, this one’s up there. I’m deep in the English countryside, the sun is casting dappled shadows through the green leaves of the tree canopy above me, and rolling hills straight out of a Forza Horizon 4 ultra-mega HD highlights reel greet every break in the hedgerow.
The road rises and falls with the scenery, a mixture of gentle curves and challenging bends that require a dab of brakes and a downshift to negotiate. Or at least they would if I wasn’t sat at 35mph behind the biggest tractor I’ve ever seen. That’s something about British driving Forza doesn’t quite convey
The only positive is that it gives me time to get acquainted with my transport for the morning. To psyche myself up for a drive I’ve genuinely waited the best part of two decades for.
As a Japanese car nut, the third-generation Mazda RX-7 has always held icon status for me. I’d argue it’s one of the prettiest cars ever made, with subtle curves and perfect, purposeful proportions that give the impression the body is wrapped tightly around the cabin and oily bits.
There’s nothing extraneous here, just the minimum required car for the job of going fast, carved into something simple yet gorgeous. Modern crash regulations have stolen much to make us safer.
Its appeal isn’t metal-deep, though. Under the low bonnet sits a rare Wankel rotary engine that fizzes its way north of 7,000rpm with the urgency of a startled cat and the sound of a wasp nest moments after you’ve kicked your size nines through the front door.
Unlike conventional engines, rotaries have a single ignition chamber using a spinning triangle to create the suck-squeeze-bang-blow magic that makes cars move. The upsides are that they’re simpler and smaller than piston engines, but the downside is they require more careful maintenance. (And drink oil like an alcoholic necking wine at a free bar.)
Mazda UK has been kind enough to chuck us the keys to its early 1994 UK-spec model. It’s a well-used example, its 90,000 miles showing through faded paint and interior trim that rattles so relentlessly you wonder if someone’s hidden boxes of nails throughout the cabin. However, an important thing to note is that the mileage shows rotaries really can be reliable if they’re properly looked after.
As the tractor driver politely pulls into a lay-by and greets me with an empty road ahead I forget the minor irritations and potential oil bills – it’s time to find out if the RX-7 can live up to my internal hype.
I blip down a couple of gears using the chunky gearstick, which isn’t as precise or short in its throw as modern counterparts, and put my foot to the floor. The rotary engine is known for its rev-happy nature, and as I wring the neck of its triangles it’s easy to see why.
There’s a small delay as you wait for the turbos to spool before its power is delivered in a subtly violent wallop. That might sound illogical, but the power band takes some getting used to, with the mid-range pickup pushing you back in your chair without ever feeling like it might get away from you.
UK cars of this era were only available with the lesser engine tune of about 230bhp – Japanese-market models had an optional 276bhp version – and it’s easy to see why the faster model’s the more sought-after version. Despite the initial kick in the coccyx, the swarm of angry wasps get louder but progress doesn’t feel quite so relentless on your charge towards the upper reaches of the tachometer.
However, that’s only really noticeable in a straight line, and the RX-7 is not a straight line car. Let's compare it to a contemporary rival: my personal 1994 Nissan 200SX, which was admittedly long in the tooth when the Mazda was newly released, likes to lean heavily into corners, while the RX-7 settles flatly even when you overcook it into tight bends. The steering ratio is also quicker than the Nissan, so your hands do less work and gives you real confidence that the car’s working with you.
As lunch time approaches I bimble back to the nondescript warehouse in rural Kent where the RX-7 is stored, and I’m wearing a big smile on my face. I’ve loved the RX-7 since I first started getting into cars as a teenager, and today I got hands-on with an automotive hero.
The pretence for the drive was that my urge to scratch the ownership itch had become overwhelming. I was worried that I might be disappointed given how much I’ve hyped it up to myself over the years, and didn’t want to sell my lovely Nissan and dump a load of cash on something that was ultimately meh.
On this evidence, though, I needn’t have worried. The RX-7 is a joyous thing, from its fizzing engine to the way it gobbles up corners without drama, and the fact it’s just so damn pretty. The only thing I’d change is getting the faster one, because more power is always better, right?