2001 Mazda RX7
The zoom-zoom brand’s prescription for corner-carving vigorby Jonathan Lopez, on
Although it sold in the U.S. for just three short years, the third-generation Mazda RX-7 is widely regarded as one of the best Japanese sports cars of the ‘90s, if not all time. Also known as the FD, the third-gen boasts the same fundamental performance attributes as the first two generations, with world-class handling, a feathery curb weight, and zero reciprocating pistons. However, the FD improves upon the original with a double helping of turbocharged Wankel power, plus one of the sexiest bodies ever produced in the Land of the Rising Sun, and as a result, it’s nothing less than a four-wheeled superstar.
Unsurprisingly, the FD has enjoyed success in a variety of motorsports, including endurance racing, touring cars, rally racing, and in particular, drifting. Its legendary capabilities on the race track have even extended into the realm of fiction, with a slew of appearances throughout automotive pop culture, from movies, to manga, to video games.
Fans of the FD are an enthusiastic bunch, exhibiting an almost fanatical devotion to the eccentricities of this rotary-powered icon. But why? What exactly makes it so incredibly good? Read on for the details.
Continue reading to learn more about 1991 – 2002 Mazda RX-7.
2001 Mazda RX7
Engine:13B twin rotor
Transmission:5 speed manual
Horsepower @ RPM:280@6500
Torque @ RPM:5000
0-60 time:4.8 sec.
Top Speed:156 mph
History And Background
The RX-7 was first put into production in March of 1978, replacing another rotary-powered two-door, the RX-3. Also known as the SA22C (and later, the FB), the first-gen RX-7 was equipped with a 1,146-cc twin-rotor Wankel engine, complementing Mazda’s other rotary-powered offerings, the Cosmo and Luce.
But while the Cosmo and Luce were both considered luxury cars, the RX-7 touted its performance credentials from the very start. Curb weight was very low, rated between 2,300 and 2,500 pounds. What’s more, Mazda’s engineers tucked the engine behind the front axle, making for a ground-hugging center of gravity and stellar weight distribution. These features, in conjunction with a RWD layout, made for phenomenal handling characteristics.
In Japan, the RX-7 was also considered highly affordable for its segment.
In Japan, the RX-7 was also considered highly affordable for its segment. Thanks to its diminutive exterior dimensions and low engine displacement, the first gen skirted certain taxes, lowering costs for fun-seeking customers.
The SA/FB RX-7 sold in ludicrous quantities, with 478,018 units produced by the end of its production cycle in 1985, beating production numbers for both the second and third generation combined.
The RX-7 was particularly successful in the U.S. market, with nearly 80 percent of sales occurring stateside. This set the stage for the second-generation model, a.k.a., the FC, which was aimed specifically at American buyers. The FC was equipped with a more powerful rotary engine, once again including both naturally aspirated and turbocharged variants. However, along with the extra output came a significant weight increase – up to 800 pounds more than before, depending on trim and equipment.
While the extra power and weight made the FC more of a tourer than a sports car, it was still considered an agile corner-carver.
While the extra power and weight made the FC more of a tourer than a sports car, it was still considered an agile corner-carver. Improvements included a new independent rear suspension, replacing the FB’s old live axle, plus rack-and-pinion steering and standard disc brakes. The result was handling balance that was closer to neutral, with less of the snap oversteer of the old model, plus more precise steering and predictable braking.
Styling-wise, the FC was fashioned after the Porsche 924, once again reiterating its focus on the U.S. market. Previously only available as a coupe, Mazda introduced a convertible variant in 1988, complete with a power-operated top, windblocker, and optional headrest-mounted speakers.
While not quite as popular as the SA/FB, the FC was still a strong performer sales-wise, with 272,027 units produced in total.
Finally, Mazda introduced the third-generation RX-7 in 1991. Dubbed the FD, the new RX-7 came at a time when Japanese sports cars (Nissan 300 ZX, Mitsubishi 3000 GT, etc.) were edging in on territory traditionally occupied by the old guard of European brands (Porsche 911, etc.).
Despite the limited success of the FD, the third-gen RX-7 is still considered one of the greatest enthusiast cars ever made,
Unfortunately, a slew of setbacks pummeled RX-7 sales in the ‘90s. Tightening restrictions on emissions and perceived unreliability plagued the quirky rotary engine, while market trends turned away from sports cars to instead focus on SUVs. Pricing ballooned, and in the end, U.S. sales were limited to the ’93, ’94, and ’95 model years. However, the FD soldiered on in other markets until 2002, when the line was finally ended for good. Production figures for the FD came to 68,589, bringing total units produced across all generations to 811,634.
Despite the limited success of the FD, the third-gen RX-7 is still considered one of the greatest enthusiast cars ever made, landing a spot on Car And Driver’s Ten Best list no less than five times. In a bid to rekindle some of the old magic, Mazda launched a successor, the RX-8, in 2003. Under the hood was equipped a new rotary engine, while Ikuo Maeda, whose father designed the original RX-7, penned the design.
Simply put, the FD is one of the best-looking cars Mazda has ever built, if not one of the best-looking Japanese cars ever built. It’s sensual and curvy, exuding an air of almost hand-built refinement, like a modern Ferrari 250 GTO or ‘60s Jaguar E-Type – it really is that good.
The FD is one of the best-looking cars Mazda has ever built, if not one of the best-looking Japanese cars ever built.
The aesthetic is meant to epitomize the Mazda brand and its unique rotary powerplant, with a two-door coupe body style that entices onlookers with promises of tire smoke and counter-steer fun. The hood line is long and wide, rising towards the fenders to swallow up large running gear in the corners. Vents are placed just behind the front wheels, leading the eye back to door lines that enhance the car’s swoopy profile. Up top is an “Aero-Wave” double-bubble roof, which terminates in an absolutely iconic rear end. Straight lines are nowhere to be found, even in the taillight section, which stretches across the top edge of the rear, visually widening the car even further.
A host of features are implemented to give the FD a cohesive, ultra-slippery appearance. For example, the headlights pop up when needed, but fold down into the fenders to keep the nose looking sleek. In profile, the door handles are integrated with the blacked-out portions of the B-pillars, making for a buttery shoulder line front to back.
Unfortunately for Japanese buyers, the FD is also about 2.5 inches wider than its predecessor, which meant it was considered a high-level luxury sports car and was no longer exempt from taxes regulating vehicle dimensions. Consequently, it incurred additional yearly taxes, and domestic sales suffered for it.
The FD’s interior look and layout is extremely driver centric, with a center console and tunnel that seems to connect with the instrument cluster in a single continuous band of gauges, switches, knobs, and buttons. And while Mazda offered the option for rear seats, they’re simply too small for use by normal-sized adults.
But that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the FD’s obvious focus on speed and performance. Much more space could be had in front, where reclining bucket seats decked out on sporty upholstery secured passengers with sizable lateral bolsters.
Vitals like oil pressure and engine coolant were positioned near the centrally mounted tachometer, while leather wrapped the three-spoke steering wheel, handbrake, and shift knob. Aluminum was used for the pedals.
Comfort and convenience is upped thanks to power windows, power locks, air conditioning, and a heater, plus cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls. A five-speaker stereo and AM/FM/cassette delivers the tunes, assuming it wasn’t ditched to save weight.
The FD uses a front-mid-engine, RWD drivetrain layout. Under the hood is the famous (or perhaps infamous would be more appropriate) 13B-REW engine – a twin-turbocharged 1.3-liter Wankel powerplant. Essentially a revised iteration of the older 13B side-port rotary, the 13B-REW uses twin rotors, each displacing 654 cc (hence, total displacement is rated at 1,308 cc, or 1.3-liters).
The compression ratio comes in at 9.0:1, while a front-mounted intercooler keeps the intake charge nice and chilly. Redline is rated at an eye-widening 8,000 rpm (7,000 rpm on models equipped with an automatic transmission), which is reached very quickly thanks to the speed with which a rotary can spin.
Output when new was rated at 255 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 217 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm. By the end of production in 2002, Mazda offered the FD with as much as 276 horsepower in certain configurations.
Transmission options included a four-speed automatic and a five-speed manual.
|0-to-30 mph||2.2 seconds|
|0-to-60 mph||5.1 seconds|
|Quarter Mile||13.8 at 100 MPH|
|Top Speed||160 MPH|
The 13B-REW came with the first mass-produced sequential twin-turbocharger system exported from Japan. First introduced in 1992, Mazda developed the system in conjunction with the Japanese multinational conglomerate Hitachi, evolving a similar set-up used previously on the JDM-exclusive Mazda Cosmo.
The system uses a smaller turbo for low-rpm boost, and a second, larger turbo for high-rpm boost. The first turbo makes 10 psi at 1,800 rpm, while the second hits at 4,000 rpm to maintain 10 psi to redline.
The 13B-REW came with the first mass-produced sequential twin-turbocharger system exported from Japan.
When the turbos switchover, there’s a momentary loss in boost, dropping down to 8 psi at 4,500 rpm as the second turbo gets up to speed. While this system does provide a fatter torque curve lower in the rev range, the lack of linearity in the power delivery can upset the car’s balance mid-corner.
Some owners found a fix by modifying the engine to deliver boost in parallel, rather than sequentially. This greatly increases low-rpm turbo lag, but makes the torque curve more predictable and simplifies the turbo system as a whole, also increasing reliability in the process.
At the end of the day, the RX-7 is really defined by its unique rotary engine. Like the car itself, the powerplant is lightweight and compact, making it ideal when it comes to handling. It also offers smoother operation, faster revs, and more power per displacement than comparable piston-driven engines.
But nothing is perfect, and the downside of a turbo rotary is that it has a tendency to, well, explode like a hand grenade.
For starters, the 13B-REW makes a lot of heat. Compounding the issue is the RX-7’s undersized radiator, which saves weight, but isn’t sufficient for hard track use. Additionally, the rotary’s apex seals (basically the part that makes compression with the tips of the spinning triangle) are notorious failure points, as are the turbochargers.
Long story short – a single ping is all that’s needed to toast the engine.
What’s more, the rotary isn’t exactly eco-friendly. Fuel economy for the FD when new was rated at 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Emissions ratings were equally abysmal.
Chassis And Handling
Despite its penchant for catastrophic engine failure, the FD RX-7 is chiefly remembered for the way it tackles a corner, ranking amongst enthusiasts as one of the best-handling passenger cars ever made. Not only can it pull almost 1 G on the skidpad, but its poise at and beyond the limits of grip is, in a word, sublime.
A lot of this comes to down weight. U.S. models were rated at around 2,800 pounds, but it’s where that heft is located that makes the real difference. The engine, for example, is placed behind the front axle, while unsprung mass is at a minimum, such as with the 16-inch, five-spoke wheels, each of which weigh just 13.5 pounds. The suspension arms are made from cast aluminum, and are attached with variable slide rubber bushings.
The chassis uses double wishbones in front, with a multi-link with an upper wishbone set-up in the rear. Like the Miata, the FD gets Power-Plant Frame bracing technology, which connects the engine and transmission with the limited-slip differential using a cross reinforcement. This makes the driveline more rigid, reducing wheel hop and shudder under hard acceleration.
Throwing the anchor are ventilated disc brakes at all four corners, including 11.6-inch rotors and four-piston calipers in front. ABS came standard.
Model Year Changes, Trim Levels, And Special Editions
The most successful FD RX-7 (at least in terms of sales) was the Series 6, which was produced between 1991 and 1995, and was exported globally.
North America got the Series 6 in 1993, with three trim levels available, starting with the base model. Next was the Touring, which got a sunroof, fog lights, leather upholstery, a rear window wiper, and the Bose Acoustic Wave system. The range-topper was the R model (also called the R1 in 1993, and the R2 between 1994 and 1995), which came equipped with a more aggressive suspension, new upholstery, an additional oil cooler, Z-rated Pirelli tires, upgraded aerodynamics, and a Torsen limited-slip differential.
In Europe, only one trim level was offered, with features including twin oil coolers, cruise control, sport suspension, and an electric sunroof.
Meanwhile, Japanese customers got a plethora of trim levels to choose from, including the Type R, Type RZ, Type RB, A-spec, and the Touring X.
In 1995, Mazda brought the high-performance RX-7 SP variant to Australia for homologation in endurance racing, GT racing, and rally racing. Only 35 units were produced. Essentially a road-legal race car, each came equipped with a new intercooler, ECU, and exhaust system, boosting output from 236 horsepower and 217 pound-feet of torque, to 274 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. Inside are Recaro bucket seats, while carbon fiber was used extensively for the bodywork and aerodynamics, cutting 70.5 pounds from the curb weight. Further upgrades include 17-inch wheels, bigger brakes, and a 4.3:1-ratio rear differential, plus an upsized, 120-liter carbon-fiber fuel tank.
Produced between 1996 and 1998, the Series 7 got a small 10-horsepower boost thanks to an improved intake and upgraded ECU. However, the extra power is found high in the rev range, which means models equipped with an automatic transmission (and thus, limited to a 7,000-rpm redline) can’t take advantage of the newfound output. Additional upgrades include a new spoiler and revised taillights, while the RZ model got bigger disc brakes and 17-inch wheels from BBS.
Produced between 1999 and 2002, the Series 8 was the final run for the FD RX-7. Offered only in Japan, the Series 8 got updated turbos, plus improved aero in the front fascia for greater efficiency from the radiator and intercooler. An adjustable rear spoiler was added to the exterior, while the cabin benefitted from a new steering wheel, gauge cluster, and seats.
By far the most desirable model of the Series 8 run (and the FD line as a whole) is the Spirit R. A little over 1,500 units were produced, each coming loaded with extra features, including exclusive Titanium grey paint. Mazda offered three levels of the Spirit R – the Type A (a two-seater with a five-speed manual and red Recaro seats), the Type B (2+2 configuration with a five-speed manual), and the Type C (2+2 configuration with a four-speed automatic transmission).
In 1993, you could pick up a brand-new RX-7 from a U.S. dealer for $32,500. By 1995, that price had ballooned to $37,800.
These days, despite a resurging interest in mid-‘90s Japanese sports cars, you can still pick up a decent FD RX-7 for less than $20,000, while well-kept examples go for roughly $25,000.
Big, bad, and brutal – this is the Supra way. Easily recognizable thanks to its uncluttered design and sizable rear spoiler, the Supra is a RWD monster waiting to be unleashed. Under the hood is the venerable 2JZ-GTE powerplant, an inline six-cylinder capable of four-digit output figures on stock internals. Slap in a new turbo, mash the accelerator, and when the boost hits, try to hold on.
Read the full review here.
More of a grand tourer than a sports car, the 300 ZX carried the Fairlady torch with an impressive list of go-fast technology, including a new double-boosted V-6 engine, variable suspension, and four-wheel steering. In 1992, the 300 ZX went from a coupe a T-top. Throughout the model years, output was rated at 300 horsepower and 283 pound-feet of torque.
Read the full review here.
These days, as automated systems take the wheel and drivetrains focus on efficiency over output, we occasionally hear automakers boast about creating an “uncompromised” sports car. However, only a precious few can actually back the claim, and those that do usually come up with a formula similar to the FD RX-7.
But the question remains – when will Mazda deliver a worthy successor? The RX-8 never really captured the same magic as the FD, and despite endless teasing (2015’s RX-Vision is one good example), nothing definitive has risen to the top.
That said, considering the passion behind this Japanese icon, it’s really only a matter of time before we get a proper heir to the throne. And when it arrives, rest assured it’ll serve as a reminder of what a sports car is supposed to be.