The Mazda RX-4 debuted in April 1973 with a similar body shape to that of the Series 1 version of the long-running Mazda Capella, with differences apparent in the larger dimensions of the RX-4, coupled with a more powerful engine and a sportier feel. The RX-4 was produced until 1977 and remained on sale until 1978 when it was superseded by the RX-5.
The RX-4 was made available to Australians in four-door sedan and two-door coupe versions. A choice of a 4-speed manual gearbox and a 3-speed automatic gearbox was available for the sedan, whereas the Coupe was only available with a 4-speed manual transmission. The sedan was equipped with a flatter nose and dashboard than those on the coupe, which was equipped with a pointed nose, cockpit-style dashboard, and a more personalised interior.
Despite its relatively short lifespan of 5 years, the RX-4 was subject to 3 exterior and interior changes. The first of these changes came in April 1974, when the Series 2 RX-4 was released, with the most significant change being the replacement of the Wankel 12A rotary engine with the more powerful 13B engine.
The second change came in April 1976 when the Series 3 RX-4, but the RX-4 was unfortunately on borrowed time, arguably as a direct result of this anti-pollution stance. The RX-4’s Wankel engines were not very economical, and as the Saudi fuel crisis (beginning in 1975) began to be of major concern to both manufacturers and to consumers, sales of the RX-4 plummeted and as a result it was withdrawn from sale in 1978.
Mazda’s decision to place paramount importance on anti-pollution production methods meant that the RX-4 did emit a lower volume of pollutants than some of its rivals.
As with all of its contemporary Mazda brethren, the Mazda RX-4 was equipped with a Wankel rotary engine, which was well known for being small and powerful but at the expense of poor fuel economy. The Series 1 RX-4 included the Wankel 12A rotary engine. The top speed of the two-door manual 4-speed sedan was impressive for the time, at 190km/h and acceleration was also striking, with the car reaching 0-100km/h in 11.9 seconds. Torque was 156Nm at 4000rpm and 70kW of power, and fuel consumption was 14.4L/100km.
In terms of handling, the RX-4 Series 1 was notable of the responsiveness of its steering, which was remarkably accurate, although it was inadvisable to take corners at speed due to its propensity for wheel-spinning in such situations. Gears changes could also be a little difficult to those not accustomed to the long travel of the clutch in the manual cars.
The RX-4 Series 2 version included the Wankel 13B rotary engine which was in fact an extended version of the original RX-4 12A engine and would be used for the remainder of the RX-4’s lifespan. The 4-speed manual gearbox variant had a top speed of 195km/h, an acceleration time of 0-100km/h in 10.4 seconds, a torque of 160Nm at 4000rpm, and an advertised power output of 85kW.
Despite these improvements, fuel economy still arguably left something to be desired and in fact actually worsened, with the RX-4 Series 2 sedan now using 15.6L/100km.
Handling was also improved on the Series 2 version through the reworking of the body to handling the powerful 13B engine, as well as the use of torque rods to give the car extra stability on corners, which was just as well considering its fearsome acceleration and speeds. The Wankel 13B engine would be used in the RX-4 until the end of its run and would provide the basis for rotary engines produced for 30 years.
Directional accuracy on smooth roads was more than acceptable, with little need to move the wheel. On bump-laden roads, the Macpherson Strut front suspension would often lead to thumping and kickback that could be felt through the steering wheel.
In 1976, the Series 2 sedan variant of the Mazda RX-4 had a retail price of $5,014 and the Coupe retailed at $5,195. Although prices had actually increased from the previous year, the RX-4 was still very reasonably priced compared to its competition. Indeed, the Chrysler Centura GL cost $5,162 and the Ford Cortina XLE cost $5,753. All of these cars were heavier, arguably less fun to drive and less equipped.