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400 Horses for a 2017 Mazda RX-7?

July 30, 2014 by Matt

Mazda 16X New Rotary Wankel Engine Motor

With a rumor mill almost as productive as the one prophesying the return of the Toyota Supra, the latest scoop from the “new RX-7″ cloud of unsubstantiated gossip foresees 400+ horsepower from a next-generation rotary powerplant.

People tend to forget that car specifications—power, weight, grip and the like—are driven more by what market niche the car is intended to fill rather than what’s technically possible. So let’s assume for a moment, contrary to all actual and official evidence, that Mazda really does plan to unveil a true RX-7 successor in the next few years. A better way to speculate about the new car’s eventual output would be to “think like a marketer” and determine which corner of the sports car spectrum the car would be designed to occupy. I can think of three possible targets for Mazda’s new performance flagship:

  1. Toyota/Subaru GT86/BRZ competitor: Unlikely. The Toyotaru Twins offer slightly better performance than Mazda’s own Miata but adhere to a similar “driver-first” ethos. Making what amounts to a marginally faster hardtop Miata with a rotary engine would be a lot of fun, and would take advantage of the current mini-backlash against the current crop of overpowered, inert speed appliances, but fundamentally, such an approach would still edge too closely to the Miata’s territory.
  2. Pony car / Corvette killer: The article alludes to this possibility when it conjectures that a new RX-7 would “seriously challenge the Porsche 911.” The problem with this theory is that the high-end performance car market segment is currently engaged in a DEFCON 1, no-holds-barred arms race, outputs soaring above 600 hp with roadholding to match. In theory, Mazda could make a strong showing in this category by replicating yet amplifying the third-generation RX-7 formula: A high-strung turbocharged rotary offering competitive power in a lightweight chassis with hair-trigger reflexes. They certainly have the technical chops. But the matter of resources rears its ugly head: The automaker simply doesn’t have the capital to develop and support such a car on a mass-production scale. The fact that residents of this market segment like the Mustang, Corvette, Viper and Camaro are upping the power ante practically ever other week doesn’t help either. Besides, this niche is the obvious choice, and while Mazda’s approach to it would be unique, I’d like to think their target selection would be a little more…nuanced.
  3. Porsche Cayman / Nissan 370Z alternative: This makes more sense. Does it basically take over from where the RX-8 left off? Yes—but with the power and styling the RX-8’s chassis always deserved. If an RX-7 successor can take what actually worked about the ‘8—and given Mazda’s track record, there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t—and shore up the areas in which it was deficient, sharpening the car’s focus by axing the back seats and giving us a bonafide sports car, they might have a winner on their hands. Here’s the recipe for success in this niche: A direct-injected, 300+ hp rotary; 2 seats; perfect (and I do mean perfect) looks, transcendent driving dynamics and a curb weight under 3,000 lbs. The time is ripe; the 370Z’s basic platform has been around since 2003 and has always been somewhat awful when pushed to 10/10s. And while the Cayman is as dead-nuts perfect as a sports car can be, it’s been rampaging alone in its market segment for far too long. It’s time, Mazda.

Image credits: hkcarworld.com

Filed under: Mazda, News, Rotary

10 comments

  1. Aaron says:

    “…Rampaging alone in its market segment”. Love the hyperbole. Hopefully someone from Mazda will read this :)

  2. Chris says:

    When is Mazda going to for once & for all ditch the money pit called the Rotary engine?

    The cars that they could have built without the resources, time & money that was xxxxed away on that dead end………….

    • Matt says:

      Well they’ve “ditched” it for the time being—it’s been out of production since the demise of the RX-8.

      Otherwise, I and many other enthusiasts applaud Mazda for trying something new and different and persisting with an engine with a number of marked advantages over a reciprocating configuration, in short: Being creative.

      The automotive landscape would be pretty desolate if every automaker hewed to the “one right way” to design an engine and never tried to think outside the box, don’t you agree? :)

  3. John D says:

    I think they need to reintroduce the 3rd gen with upgraded internals. I mean seriously…that was about the best looking body on the face of the earth. They need to update the mechanics, give it about 450hp, and unleash it on the world. I’m still not sure what was wrong with people who didn’t go ape **** over them when they first came out, based on looks alone. The only reason I can think of is that someone didn’t want to pay a premium for a gorgeous (yet complicated) import just to have it bested by any redneck with a Mustang or Camaro. If they had come out with a 315hp FD back in the early 90’s, I am convinced that history would have been dramatically changed. I, for one, just want that car back with a less complicated and more powerful engine. (Preferably a rotary. Excessive revs gave it more character, as well.)

    That’s my .02

    • Matt says:

      The only reason I can think of why people didn’t flock to the FD because of its looks has to do with the preference many car buyers have to decoration over proportion. The FD is stunning but isn’t flashy, if you know what I mean, and many (most?) sports car buyers want flashy. Also, most buyers are actually looking for vehicles a bit more “compromised” than the 3rd gen. It was too subtle (yet sexy), too pure.

      The “ticking time bomb” stigma it acquired after the first year or so of production didn’t help either. :)

      I think its looks, although beautiful, aren’t really in step with today’s tastes. That said, I think Mazda’s current design language would lend itself very well to another very attractive sports car, so I want them to build it NOW rather than 5-10 years down the road when they’ve resurrected the smiley face. Heh.

  4. AL says:

    I think the reason I didn’t take to the 3rd-gen RX7 is the 90s styling in general. It’s the same reason I never liked the 5th-gen Corvettes, or even the post-1990 facelifted 4th-gen Corvettes for that matter (and I’m a Corvette fan). It’s the no-edge/lozenge/used-bar-of-soap styling that plagued almost every automaker of the period. Granted, the RX7 probably did the best job of pulling it off with great proportions.

    I like the idea of the rotary in the sense that it is unique and different. BUT, they need to commit 110% to its development. It’s one thing to make a high-output engine. It’s another to make it last beyond the warranty period.

    • Matt says:

      I hate the bar-of-soap styling as well, but I think the 3rd gen’s shape transcends that generalization. In other words, if you look closely at its styling, there an organic quality that gives it a tautness, a tension where other cars of the era seem shapeless and blobby.

      The C5’s styling is probably my least favorite of all Corvettes. It just seems for all the world like a C4 sat underneath a heat lamp for too long and melted slightly around the edges. American automakers were definitely the worst offenders when it came to lozenge-like styling and details in that period.

      Agreed about Mazda needed to be committed. I don’t think commitment has ever been an issue, since the engine is at the core of the company’s identity, but I think they’ve had a resource problem for a long time. Heck, just the fact that a single automaker has developed the engine to the degree they have over a period of 50 years when hundreds of automakers have poured so many resources into improving the reciprocating configuration over 100+ years is pretty amazing, if you think about it.

  5. AL says:

    Perhaps commitment was the wrong choice of word. The rotary has obviously been a part of their identity for a long time but it would appear that their last attempt at a high-output version seems a bit half-baked considering the well-known failures. It needs commitment from a development/life-cycle testing/etc. standpoint. The novelty of a rotary would wear off pretty quickly if it self destructs. Not to mention the bad press and general negative sentiment it would likely attract to the marque as a result. The general, non-enthusiast, public will see Mazda = engine failure. Never mind that 99% of Mazdas are sold with “conventional” reciprocating engines.

    I guess my point is that to put a high-strung rotary in Mazda’s halo car is a risk and warrants better quality/development than the last time.

    • Matt says:

      The RX-8’s Renesis was fairly reliable as rotaries go. Certainly not the ticking time bomb the FD’s 13B-REW was. With the RX-8, I consider the car’s concept more compromised and half-baked than the engine, but it’s clear the marketers wanted to hedge their bets with a car that had more mass appeal than the “pure” 3rd gen RX-7. Mazda did end up with egg on their face when they initially advertised the Renesis’ output at 250 hp, which they were later forced to downgrade to 238. That certainly didn’t do the rotary’s reputation any favors.

      It’s tough to figure out where the engine’s future is even if Mazda had the capital to continue tinkering with it. It’s clear it will always be a niche powerplant and not a realistic alternative to the piston engine for basic transportation. The enthusiast crowd is a little more tolerant of less-than-appliance-like reliability from their cars, which helps, but the performance has to be there too in order to justify the inconvenience, so it’s a balancing act…

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