It Just Feels Right; Passion for the Road; Get in. Be moved; Zoom-Zoom; Driving Matters.
These are the various slogans Mazda has used over the years to convey that the manufacturer’s cars are fun to drive. Although not every vehicle to roll off a Mazda assembly line has been a joy to operate (I’m looking at you, first-generation Mazda MPV), the little automaker from Japan has had a disproportionate number of fun-to-drive vehicles in its lineup since Day One.
So what’s the best of the best? Here is our Top 10 list of the best Mazdas ever made, and no, they are not all rotary-powered.
10. Mazda Carol (1962-1970)
Although the Mazda R360 was the company’s first real production car, the four-seat P360 Carol is the one that really put Mazda on the map. Designed for the special Kei class of automobiles in Japan that enjoy tax and insurance benefits, the P360 Carol was small. It measured just 117.7-inches in length and weighed a mere 1,157 lbs. That allowed a tiny 358-cc four-cylinder engine to be shoved in the rear of the car.
Although the car looked fairly normal from the front, the rear window of the car was actually set at an inverted incline, giving it a very distinct profile. If a bit more power was needed, there was also the P600 Carol offered for a few years in the early 1960s.
9. Mazda B-Series Rotary Pickup (REPU)
In 1974, Mazda was rotary crazy and decided to install one of these engines into its B-Series pickup truck. Although the idea of a low-torque engine in a workhorse pickup truck may sound crazy, the REPU was intended to be more of a sport truck than a heavy lifter.
The 13B two-rotor engine was equipped in trucks featuring a few changes like an upgraded dash and wider fender flares. The easiest way to tell this truck apart from regular B-Series pickups was the not-so-subtle “Rotary Power” badging painted across the truck’s tailgate.
For two years in the mid-2000s, Mazda offered a special version of the company’s mid-size sedan that was more than just a trim and paint upgrade. Called the Mazdaspeed6 in North America, the regular Mazda6 engines were ditched in favor for a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine making 274 hp.
But Mazda wasn’t done there. Sending power to the ground was an all-wheel-drive system that could route up to 50 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels. Also included in the Mazdaspeed6 was a six-speed manual transmission and unique styling in the front and rear.
7. Mazda RX-3/Savanna
Based on the Mazda Grand Familia/808, the Savanna/RX-3 were sportier options that used rotary engines in place of the standard four-cylinder units. Available as a coupe, sedan or wagon, the RX-3 was smaller than the RX-2, but in some markets shared the RX-2’s 12A two-rotor engine. Otherwise, it made due with the smaller 10A two-rotor engine.
Like almost every rotary-powered Mazda, the RX-3 was used extensively in racing and achieved a lot of success.
6. Mazda RX-8
What may well be the last of the rotary cars from Mazda, the RX-8 was a well-balanced dream. Introduced for the 2004 model year, the RX-8 came with a 1.3-liter two-rotor engine that was originally rated at 247 hp.
SEE ALSO: Top 10 Rotary Powered Vehicles
Unlike the Mazda RX-7 that it succeeded, the RX-8 did not feature a turbocharger but did come equipped with four seats. The RX-8 also had rear half doors that helped back passengers get in and out of the car.
But the real charm of the RX-8 was the way it drove. Capable of ripping to 9,000 rpm, combined with amazing steering and a well-balanced chassis, the RX-8 was incredible to drive down twisting mountain roads.
5. Mazda Eunos Cosmo
Introduced in 1990, the Eunos Cosmo was a luxurious grand touring flagship. Available only with a four-speed automatic transmission, the rear-drive 2+2 coupe
could be had with a choice of turbocharged rotary engines.
Sitting at the top of the food chain was a 2.0-liter three-rotor engine that produced a healthy 300 hp and 297 lb-ft of torque. Just as impressive, the Eunos Cosmo could be had with GPS navigation and a color touchscreen interface … in 1990!
Fast, smooth and luxurious, the Cosmo’s high price tag was only matched by its incredible thirst for fuel.
4. Mazda Autozam AZ-1
Kei cars are meant to be no-nonsense, practical commuter cars that help consumers in Japan avoid potential taxes and insurance premiums. But none of this mattered for Mazda when the brand introduced the Autozam AZ-1.
Actually built by Suzuki, the AZ-1 was a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive two-door coupe that was more sports car than commuter. Powered by a 63-hp turbocharged three-cylinder engine, the AZ-1 only weighted 1,587 lbs. For a little more style, there was also a Mazdaspeed version of the car that added a limited slip differential, upgraded suspension and a more aerodynamic body kit.
The Autozam AZ-1 was like a baby Honda NSX for those who couldn’t afford the Honda supercar.
3. Mazda Cosmo L10A/L10B
This is the car that started it all for Mazda when it comes to rotaries. After an extensive prototype testing period, production of the rear-wheel-drive coupe began in 1967. Initially, the car was powered by 1.0-liter two-rotor engine making 110 hp.
When the Series II version of the Cosmo came along, power increased to 128 hp. That may not sound like a lot, but the Cosmo Sport only weighed around 2,000 lbs. Like most Japanese sports cars of the time, the Cosmo featured a slippery shape, complete with aerodynamic headlights.
2. Mazda MX-5 Miata
What hasn’t been said about the MX-5 Miata? Around since the 1990 model year, the MX-5 has become the best-selling roadster of all time and just entered its 26th year of production. Spanning four generations, the MX-5 Miata has always been about open-air motoring that maximizes fun.
The formula has remained simple. A peppy four-cylinder engine sending power to the rear wheels in a lightweight, lightly sprung roadster body.
With countless special editions over the years, it’s hard to pick a favorite model. But the Mazdaspeed MX-5, the only factory-equipped turbocharged model, holds a special place in many fans’ hearts. The MX-5 has achieved iconic status the world over. The fact this car is only listed in the No. 2 position on the list will probably cause a lot of outcry.
1. Mazda RX-7
To be listed above the MX-5 Miata, a car needs to be truly special. The RX-7 was such a car. Introduced in 1978, the RX-7 enjoyed a 25-year production run, which is impressive enough for a sports car. But, the RX-7 spent all of those years equipped with an engine that defied conventional wisdom and the mainstream.
Using various renditions of the brand’s rotary engine in either naturally aspirated or turbocharged form, the RX-7 didn’t just survive as a sports car, it thrived. With a weight and balance advantage over many similarly powered competitors, the RX-7 was an amazing handling machine that could out run many more expensive machines on the racetrack.
Such is the legacy of the RX-7 that still to this day do rumors continue to pop up that Mazda will revive the nameplate sometime in the future.