Are Mazda co-developing a new MX-5 and RX-7?

The cost of designing, engineering, and delivering a sports car in today’s world is well documented. If you went on the journey Toyota took in creating the latest generation Supra, the challenges all centred around cost viability, necessitating a partnership with BMW. Unfortunately, that resulted in a lot of negative press, mostly aimed at Toyota for not investing in the creation of their own engine and drivetrain, or at least looking within their expansive range of engines in use to deliver a pure Japanese motoring experience.

But if costs were to be shared between two giants of the automotive world, then an existing drivetrain needed to work. Had Toyota provided such a solution, it’s doubtful BMW customers would’ve accepted their $100,000+ Z4 was being powered by a Toyota. The drivetrain needed to serve both cars and along with that came BMW’s integrated software and infotainment system. They are inexorably linked.

And Toyota are at it again. Even before the Supra came the GT86 and Subaru BRZ pairing, now just launched as a second generation as the Toyota GR 86 with Subaru retaining the BRZ moniker. With a host of improvements and a rather sizeable performance increase they should make for an interesting review and push the MX-5 performance even further.

Mazda also are no strangers to a shared development platform. Most recently this has been with Fiat whereby the current generation ND MX-5 was used as a base for a more premium Italian offering in the Fiat 124.

Fiat 124 Spider in front of a luxurious house
The FIAT 124 shared Mazda’s MX-5 platform

But there’s one share development platform the t came before which saw the production of two unique cars developed internally at Mazda. We’re talking the NC MX-5 and RX-8. As then partners Ford were looking at ways to lower cost, the idea of two separate sports cars with a relatively small production output having their own production lines and engineering solutions just wasn’t feasible. So underpinning the NC MX-5 was the RX-8, the last rotary powered car Mazda has produced. This meant the MX-5 followed the RX-8 hard points and underpinnings becoming larger and slightly heavier than before. Some have suggested it ruined the light weight ethos of the MX-5 but those are somewhat exaggerated. 

When will the next Mazda MX-5 reach production? Given the NC generation was in production from 2006 – 2016, with previous generations having 8 year cycles, we should expect the next generation MX-5 no sooner than 2024, but more realistically 2026. Some have suggested there’s no guarantee another MX-5 will make it to production, but the MX-5, perhaps more than a rotary powered Mazda, has come to define Mazda’s Zoom Zoom brand philosophy. 

2023 will mark 45 years since the first RX-7, but 50 years sounds a lot better. Even if the RX-7 is in production before the 50 year anniversary that will give them time to develop something special. It could work. It’s a huge marketing opportunity that surely Mazda won’t want to miss.

Series 1 Mazda RX-7 in green in a studio
The first generation Mazda RX-7. It’s time for a new one.

The biggest issue Mazda have is making the rotary a reliable, fuel efficient, and low emission unit, something they have struggled with on each and every incarnation. We get hints from Mazda that they are working on a new rotary engine but it will have to meet the incredibly tough emissions standards every manufacturer is now having to align with, particularly for the European market.

Previous reports suggest an RX-7 is being developed as an electric car with a rotary ranger extender. While this may seem plausible it’s also unlikely. Mazda practically own the rights to the rotary engine as the only company to continuously use and develop the rotary and serve it in their halo cars. If they resign it to an assistive power source it doesn’t exactly project the degree of confidence in their engineering knowhow, and isn’t exactly a marketable prospect.

Red Mazda RX-7 FD shot in a studio
The FD RX-7 is becoming highly sought after

Mazda executives have stated that the rotary is core to their brand and while we may yet see some form of electrification, it’s unlikely it will be the dominate power source. Patents from Mazda have hinted at an AWD solution using capacitors in conjunction with a rotary engine to send power to the wheels. Whatever the solution, the rotary is simply Mazda’s heritage and differentiator in the sports car market. 

That’s not to say the MX-5 isn’t important, in fact given the amount of units that have shifted continuously over the last 32 years with over 1 million sold worldwide, it could be deemed even more important for Mazda as a product.

That’s why if a new RX-7 is to be engineered and designed, and to keep the project viable in terms of cost, the NC solution of the RX-8 determining the footprint and underpinnings will most likely be flipped on its head. Using an MX-5 platform as the base for an RX-7 also bodes well for the RX-7, traditionally a small sports car in its own right.

There is precedent to some degree. While Toyota haven’t exactly used the GT86 platform to build the Supra, the dimensions were often recalled as the Supra is actually shorter in length than GT86. A larger, more premium offering squeezed into a small package.

Will Mazda want to give up the marketing opportunity for a 50th anniversary RX-7? Maybe not, but it’s not a strong enough case to spend a billion dollars in realising it. 

Mazda RX-Vision concept in a dark studio
The most beautiful concept to come out of Japan in decades. The RX-Vision.

The hope we could see a new RX-7 may have been supported by the absolutely stunning RX-Vision, a show stopping homage to the best of RX-7s of past while expressing the Kodo design philosophy of current Mazdas. It does suggest that Mazda haven’t stopped thinking about the RX-7 and indeed place a lot of value on its potential existence. 

Mazda surely want to compete against the likes of Toyota with their Supra and Nissan with their new Z car. Forget Honda’s NSX, that’s on a whole other engineering and performance, not to mention price level. It really is the second coming of Japanese sports cars and final opportunity to show what they can do before electric powertrains homogenise the sports car.

The question remains, is the small convertible footprint of the MX-5 enough to build upon? Is it big enough to create a more luxurious, high performance RX-7 offering? Taking the FD dimensions into account and the fact they did it before with the NC and RX-8, yes it probably is. But the RX-Vision concept was quite a bit larger than the FD with many more regulations to satisfy as well, even though it was seen in concept form.

Sharing platforms is the only way to make comparatively small volume sports cars, and Mazda could potentially have two cars that fit the bill.

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