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E.U.:Mazda RS Coupé

Auto Express
by Peter Lyon
Pictures: Masanobu Ikenohira

From top secret design study to headline-grabbing show star. It's been 10 years since Mazda put the finishing touches to its stylish MX-5-based coupé concept. But until now, the sleek machine has remained little more than a dream.

Now that's set to change. Mazda has at last decided to put the car into production. The firm even invited Auto Express to drive the newcomer before it goes on sale in November - and we didn't need to be asked twice!

Based on an evolution of the coupé concept revealed at January's Tokyo Auto Salon, this is the final production version, built by a team led by project manager Fumiaki Yamane at Mazda Engineering and Technology (E&T).

Until now, this 20-year-old Mazda subsidiary has been building special products, including vehicles for business use and the disabled. The RS Coupé is its first attempt at sports car customising. And what a superb effort it is. Enthusiasts will soon notice styling hints from Ferrari and Aston Martin.

That's no coincidence, as design boss for the original 1989 MX-5, Yoshinori Fukuda, who heads up E&T's styling section, is a fan of the European marques. While he won't officially admit to borrowing ideas from the companies, one look will tell any Ferrari fan that the grille oozes Daytona, and the C-pillars and rear bumper bulges are reminiscent of Aston Martins.

Whatever the similarities, we think that the facelift looks great and suits the contours of the car's original lines to a tee. It's out on the road, however, where the RS Coupé really shines.

Based on the bodyshell of a 1.8 six-speed MX-5 - which is actually stiffer than the 1.6-litre version - the Coupé sports Bilstein suspension and 17-inch alloys. By adding the roof, Mazda has nearly trebled the rigidity of the body.

Performance delivered by the standard 146bhp engine is unchanged, and the car sprints from 0-60mph in 8.5 seconds. But that doesn't mean the newcomer is not faster. The structural and suspension changes improve the handling significantly, so you can throw the RS into a corner quicker than in the MX-5, yet still expect lots of grip. Meanwhile, the stiffer body and dampers mean less roll and more accurate steering. The extra rigidity also gives the Mazda greater grip and maximises stability when braking. In fact, chassis flex is so low that the RS is crying out for 25-30 more bhp. But strangely, the rest of the car is standard. As Yamane said: "We didn't need to make any more changes. The new car is that good already." Scheduled for a December launch in Japan, the RS Coupé is likely to sell for £2,500 more than a standard 1.8 MX-5, giving a price of around £17,500, and will be available only in limited numbers. Although no official export scheme has been considered yet, personal imports are a possibility.

Frist Opinion
It's been 10 years in the making, but the RS Coupé feels right up to date. Good to drive, and even better to look at, a few could come to the UK as grey imports. Even though it's likely to be hard to find and expensive, the car would be a fine addition to any Mazda fan's driveway.

At a Glance
* Mazda RS Coupé is based on the 1.8-litre MX-5
* Built by Mazda's Engineering and Technology subsidiary

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My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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