We named the Mazda RX-7 our 1986 Import Car of the Year, and there’s a big reason why. Not only did it get an independent rear suspension, it also had a clean look, drove great, and was powered by a rotary engine. Its styling was contemporary at the time—with a sweeping profile that caught many eyeballs. But the driving experience is what made MotorTrend crown the RX-7 with the top honors for foreign cars. As part of our Ultimate Car of the Year story, we recently got behind the wheel of an RX-7 that’s part of Mazda’s private collection, and these are four things that still surprise us in a car that’s over 30 years.
Despite its age, the RX-7’s all-new independent suspension featuring passive rear-steer geometry still gives the car a spirited driving shape today. The car feels light, well balanced, and sporty. Enter the corners, and the low body roll and suspension will give you confidence to enter at higher speeds. There’s something magical about the RX-7—from the moment I turned it on and pressed on the gas, the steering and suspension felt different, and if that’s the feeling you get today, just imagine what it was like back in the ’80s.
Electronic Power Steering
When we first drove the 1986 Mazda RX-7 we wrote about the electronic power steering, saying, “There’s a computer in charge of the steering boost, determining how much power assist is needed at any point, based on data from strategic sensors.” Whereas today’s power steering has the same goal of providing a constant steering effort across a wide range of speeds and conditions, our editors saw the RX-7’s steering as “mechanical wizardry” back in the day.
Although the 1.3-liter turbo rotary engine was pretty much a carryover from the previous gen, it received some changes that increased power to 146 hp and 138 lb-ft of torque. That doesn’t sound like much in today’s world, but the Mazda’s light weight makes the car feel potent and punchy. Step on the gas, and you’ll feel a bit of lag before the turbo compresses enough air to get going. Once that happens, though, the RX-7 will go at a speedy pace.
The attention to details—both inside and outside—is still remarkable today. The clean, uncluttered look of the first-gen RX-7 continued onto the second generation. The hatchback had certain elements of the Porsche 944 combined with a Camaro-esque rear, but it was still a looker. As far as the details went, the doors had a triple seal, the rear wiper was placed vertically for lower drag, and the RX-7 carried flash-to-pass ports, which consists of a small slush-mount window positioned ahead of the retracted quartz headlight that enabled the driver to flash cars ahead without actuating the headlights.
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