Mazda RX4 Luce Rotary
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
The Mazda RX4, known in its home market the Luce Rotary, was one hell of a car, whether it be in sedan or hardtop form. The RX4 featured the 130 bhp Capella Wankel engine, and unlike the previous RX3
, this was the very first Mazda to have been designed by Toyo Kogyo as exclusively Wankel powered. It was a bigger car than the Capella, being within a whisker of the TC Cortina
in external and internal dimensions. It also broke new ground in terms of interior appointments and general comfort.
Though the coupe was no sluggard, neither was it a true sports car. One of the disappointments was the amount of over-complication that Mazda deemed necessary to meld the car into a family friendly flyer. Entry by wide doors lead to deeply padded comfortable seats – comfortable but not supportive. From behind the wheel there was an impression of complication about the array of dials and switch gear.
Perhaps taking a design feature from Boeing, there was an overhead console containing switches and warning lights. These controlled a very good interior light and a useful swivelling map reading light – both much better than what was being fitted to the local product. The warning lamps covered seat belts, low fuel and open doors. It may have appealed to a pilot, but for the sports car lover it was seriously over complicated. Mazda had yet to learn the mantra they found with the development of the MX-5, where less is more.
The individual front seats were divided by the usual Mazda centre console. This located the gear shift lever, a push-button radio and cigarette lighter (or, to be more politically correct, iPod charge point) . Above, there was an eight-track stereo (standard fitting, and 8 track produced seriously good sound when compared to the cassette) plus levers for the heater. And of course there was comprehensive instrumentation, three small dials contained oil warning lights, water temperature gauge, fuel gauge and a clock. Two large dials contained the tacho and speedo.
On the Inside
Stowage space for oddments was at a minimum, with a relatively small glove box in front of the passenger seat. The driver only had a tiny cubby to the right of the steering wheel, which nevertheless was sufficient to hold a packet of cigarettes (or, to be more politically correct, an iPod). A shallow parcel tray was provided on the passenger's side. The RX4 also had Mazda’s multi-purpose steering column stalk, which at the time was one of the best of its type fitted to any car, regardless of price. When pressed in, it operated the washers together with a pre-programmed number of strokes from the wipers. Twisting the tip, two wiper speeds could be selected for continuous operation, with the rear window heater coming into action at the same time to prevent misting.
The engine was identical to that used in the rotary Capella models, producing 130 bhp at 7000 rpm and displacing 1146 cc. Maximum torque (115 ft./lb.) came in at 4000 rpm and because the RX4 was some 200 lb. heavier than its Capella equivalent, the car was slightly sluggish off the mark - but the power came through with a rush as the revs increased. Domestic versions of the Luce Rotary initially used the 12A engine, but this was replaced by the larger 13B in 1974
. Through-flow ventilation had become a standard feature by 1973
on most cars, particularly the Japanese, but the RX4 went one step further in having a central air outlet on the radio console as well as the two individual multi-direction outlets at either end of the fascia.
Entry to the adequate rear seating area was achieved by moving the front seatbacks forward. On the passenger's side, the complete seat released itself and slid well forward, giving a very simple trip-free access. Once the front seat back was pulled upright, the seat slid back to its original position. Rear seat passengers were not over-endowed with headroom, but the RX4 was not alone with this complaint when it came to mass produced mid-sized coupe bodies. Rear quarter windows wound down to give a good flow of fresh air in warm weather. Again, as was common with most coupes, boot space was not all that generous and fell a little short of what would be required to cater to a family for four heading off on a holiday.
On the Road
was by McPherson struts and coil springs
, while the rear had antiquated but effective leaf springs and live axle. 13" x 5 1/2" wheels were fitted with Bridgestone radials, while disc brakes
were fitted at the front and drums at the rear. Motoring journalists were unanimous in claiming the RX 4 to be sure-footed at low speed, but a little less so as the speed increased. Some also noted that the wind noise became intrusive over 70 mph. In the twisty stuff, the RX4 proved itself to be a neutral handler. Pushed to its limits, it could tend toward marked roll over-steer characteristics which, once recognised, were easy to control. If nothing else, this feature enabled the car to be driven quickly and with confidence ... provided you didn’t use the throttle too hard.
The RX4’s handling was helped by good steering
response. The wheel felt good, and response was instantaneous. On smooth roads directional stability was acceptable, little wheel movement being necessary to maintain a straight course. Over bumps the RX4 was prone to thumping from the front suspension, this being transmitted through the steering wheel in the form of a very slight amount of kickback. The brakes
had to be pushed very hard to induce even a hint of lockup, although the built-for-comfort springing ensured the car's nose dove markedly under heavy braking. But the brakes
were exceptionally good, perhaps the cars best feature, after the Wankel rotary of course. Few road testers were able to induce any real brake fade.
Gear changing was slightly marred by the long clutch travel. Nevertheless the change was good and smooth, the lever moving without undue stickiness. Acceleration was sluggish up to 3000 rpm, then the engine got busy as it raced toward 7000 rpm. There was the usual marked lack of torque common to the rotary engine. This meant that the rpm had to be kept in the 3500 to 4500 range in order to return good punchy acceleration. But that was not necessarily a flaw, or criticism, of the rotary. Rather, it was a different driving style which you needed to adopt, and one where you had to ignore comparisons to the standard reciprocating engine. If everyone drove a rotary, it is likely they would have been underwhelmed by the performance of the reciprocating engine in the power band range. And, after all, is that not what is the more important?
On rough gravel roads the RX 4 was not a happy camper. The rear end would be prone to bouncing around far more than most others. Speed, then, was best reserved for the bitumen. And that was not such a bad idea, given 85 mph was attainable in third gear, top being good for 105 at 6000 rpm. The tachometer went to 6500 rpm in the clear, the yellow going to 7000. Around town the RX4 was docile enough, being both smooth and quiet, supplementing the luxury of its interior to give a feeling of quality well above the cost of admission.
The RX 4 may not have been a true sports car, and nor was it a particularly high performance car. It was however, a very comfortable and interesting road machine with a well designed interior perfect for the kind of individual that thought outside the square. It had contemporary and attractive styling, and considerable thought went into the packaging (such as the radio antenna being a thin wire embedded around the windshield.) At release, the RX4 Hardtop cost A$4165.