Sometimes, cars come around that you just know are going to be special. It’s funny, quite a few of those timeless classics came from a specific place at a specific time. In this case, we’re talking about Japan in the 1990s. During the time, Japanese manufacturers had their priorities straight as far as affordable, powerful, and modifiable sports cars were concerned.
While Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Subaru were all pumping out classics themselves, two manufacturers really stood above the rest in terms of creating cars that would stand the test of time: Mazda and Toyota. By the early 90s, the RX-7 nameplate had already been around for nearly 15 years. The same can be said for the Supra. In their initial form, the two were dramatically different. The RX-7 was fun-oriented from the get-go, while the Supra was a wedge-shaped grand tourer. That changed in the generations to come, as the Supra eventually matched the RX-7’s sporty energy.
The RX-7 vs Supra rivalry came to a head in 1993, with the release of the FD RX-7 and the MkIV Supra. At that point, both were refined beasts, providing comparable performance at a similar price. While the two were certainly a good matchup on paper, they achieved their widely-touted performance in very different ways.
RX-7 vs Supra – Mazda RX-7 History
Over the course of the RX-7’s 24-year life, Mazda has applied multiple strategies of approach over three different chassis generations. While the history of the RX-7 can unquestionably span multiple pages, we’ll keep it short and general here.
The RX-7 nameplate originated in 1978 with the first generation SA22C chassis. Mazda’s goal with the RX-7 was cut and dry; they wanted to make a lightweight, affordable, well-balanced sportscar. That’s exactly what they did. The SA was the second car in Mazda’s catalog to utilize a Wankel rotary engine. Despite only producing 100 horsepower, the 1.1L 12A rotary that powered the SA is a blast of an engine. High rev performance in a light chassis was the SA’s formula and really set the precedent moving forward.
The FB followed in 1981, with some notable changes to the SA chassis. While the FB is generally considered to only be a half-step beyond the SA, the updates separated the two quite a bit by 1985. The primary changes between the SA and FB include updated cosmetics, better 5-speed manual transmission, and engine tweaks that upped performance by 10 horsepower. In 1984, a more significant engine upgrade took place, replacing the FB’s 1.1L 12A rotary with a larger 1.3L 13B RE-EGI rotary producing 135 horsepower.
The FC generation RX-7 followed in 1986. While the SA and FB generations focused heavily on weight savings, the FC ditched the diet. As a result, the FC was significantly heavier than its older brethren. To compensate, Mazda chose to incorporate a more powerful version of the 13B engine found in the FB, leading to an overall power figure of 145 horsepower. While the FC was aimed at the sport-tourer market, its independent rear suspension, precise steering, and adjusted handling characteristics made it a solid performer. A twin-scroll turbocharged model was also available, which increased horsepower to 180.
The third, and most well-known, version of the RX-7 was released in 1992 and received the FD chassis code. In comparison to the FC generation that preceded it, the FD was a return to the RX-7’s roots. The FD got back on the diet that the SA and FB were on, reducing weight significantly compared to the FC. It was also powered by Mazda’s most powerful production rotary at the time, the 13B-REW. The REW was the first mass-produced sequential twin-turbocharged engine to be exported out of Japan and increased the FD’s power to 252 horsepower. Its unique engine setup made its handling characteristics a bit of a handful.
Toyota Supra History
Like the RX-7 nameplate, the Supra brand is rich with history and quite a few methodology tweaks over the years. The initial four generations of Supra were produced between 1978 and 2002, coinciding identically with the production run of the RX-7. The Supra was initially so deeply intertwined with Toyota’s Celica range that it went by both names until 1986. An inline-6 engine format has always been a staple of the Supra range, carrying from the first generation all the way to the current 5th generation.
The first A40 chassis Supra was based heavily on the Celica’s chassis, sharing a majority of body panels from the front doors back. The front panels were elongated to fit the larger inline-6 M-EU, 4M-E, and 5M-E engines. Carrying a lot of weight with only a little power, the first generation Supra wasn’t performance oriented. It was designed to be a grand-tourer and its look and overall character matched that sentiment. In 1980, the A40 Supra received an engine upgrade to the 2.8L 5M-E engine, which increased horsepower to 116 horsepower.
The second generation A60 Celica Supra was based on a revised Celica chassis, as can be assumed by the name. While still considered a grand-tourer because of the presence of rear seats, the A60’s more angular and aggressive design signified a slightly more pointed focus on performance. Standard editions for the world market still featured the 5M-E inline-6 with a power output of 145 horsepower until 1983 when power was increased to 150 horsepower, then again in 1984 to 160 horsepower. Between 1981 and 1986, Toyota clearly got the hint that the public preferred sporty attributes over luxury ones, and the A60 adapted over the years to accommodate that.
The third generation A70 Supra finally saw got its own unique identity, cutting ties with the Celica nameplate entirely. Like the second generation FC RX-7, the late 80s marked a time when integrated technology was all the rage. As a result, the A70 was heavy. Toyota did compensate for that, however, by throwing in a beefy 3.0L inline-6 which produced 200 horsepower in base trim. A turbo version of the A70 was introduced in 1987 and featured the now legendary 7M-GTE, which put out 231 horsepower.
The fourth generation A80 Supra, often called the Mk4, arrived on the scene in 1993 with a significant performance-focused overhaul. Dramatic weight-saving measures were taken, with the engineers ensuring that the Mk4 had a balanced chassis. Additionally, the Mk4 received a new powertrain. One of the most famous powertrains in history, as a matter of fact. The 2JZ inline-6 replaced the 7M and was available in both naturally aspirated and sequential twin turbo trim.
RX-7 vs Supra – Engine
Both the FD RX-7 and MK4 Supra are known for their engines. The RX-7 is famously powered by a 1.3L 13B-REW rotary engine. The Supra is powered by an equally famous inline-6, the 2JZ-GTE. While both cars and engines are unquestionably legendary, they are notorious for very different reasons. Obviously, it’s hard to compare a rotary to a traditional inline-6 in terms of actual technical specs because they operate in very different ways. But, we’re gonna try anyway. The following sections cover RX-7 vs Supra engine specs.
Mazda RX-7 13B-REW Engine
If Mazda is known for one thing, it would be their implementation of the rotary engine in many of their cars. Mazda’s first rotary-powered car was the Cosmo, which was released in 1967. So, they clearly have a handle on the rotary formula. The rotary, or Wankel, engine defined Mazda for decades, as it provided a different experience and new engine characteristics to the world market. The 13B-REW is the pinnacle of Mazda’s road-going rotary lineup and became one of the most famous examples of the Wankel format due to its placement in the FD RX-7. Here are the specs of the 13B-REW:
|Engine||Mazda 13B-REW Engine|
|Displacement||1.3L (1,308 cc)|
|Bore x Stroke||N/A|
|Torque (lb-ft)||217 lb-ft|
How Does a Rotary Engine Work?
If you don’t know what a rotary engine is or how it works, let’s just say that you’ll have to throw out all that you know about traditional piston engines. In very simple terms, a rotary engine follows the same combustion and exhaust formula as a regular piston engine but does so in a completely different way. Unlike regular piston engines that use the pressure within the cylinders to push a piston back and forth, combustion pressure in a rotary engine is contained within a chamber created in the space between the engine’s housing and internal triangular rotor.
Fuel and air are introduced into the chamber in a similar way to a conventional engine. At that point, the mixture is ignited within the combustion chamber with two spark plugs. The combustion process spins the triangular rotor within the engine housing. The internal rotor makes contact with the engine housing at all times at each of the rotor’s three apexes, and each chamber on all three sides of the triangular rotor serves a purpose. As the rotor spins, air and fuel are introduced into one of the three chambers. It is then rotated to the ignition side of the engine where the combustion takes place. Then the rotor rotates to let the exhaust gasses escape.
One of the main faults with the rotary engine’s design relates to the seals on each apex of the rotor that make contact with the engine housing. If not properly lubricated, the sharp apex seals can mar the inside of the engine housing. That causes an eventual loss in compression within the engine. Apex seal failure is a primary downfall of the 13B-REW. If you are interested in learning about more 13B-REW engine problems, check out our 5 Most Common Mazda 13B-REW Problems Guide.
What’s So Great About Rotary Engines?
Obviously, that wasn’t an entirely comprehensive rundown of how a rotary works, but that should give you a general idea. So, you might be wondering, why does Mazda love the rotary format so much and why did they choose to put one in the FD RX-7? Good question. The Wankel engine, while unorthodox and a bit finicky, has some unique and interesting characteristics that actually make it a very good performance engine.
While the logistics of making a rotary engine that works well are extremely complicated, the overall design is pretty simple when compared to a regular piston engine. Generally speaking, most conventional engines have quite a few more moving parts than a rotary. With a rotary, pistons, connecting rods, camshaft, valves, valve springs, rockers, timing belts, timing gears, and crankshafts are all non-existent. There are multiple benefits related to that, but the most significant is weight savings. Rotary engines tend to be significantly lighter than their traditional counterparts and have fewer parts that can fail overall.
Rotary’s are also smoother than traditional piston engines in multiple ways. Since the main driving components of a rotary are counterbalanced and operate in a fluid cyclical motion, they don’t vibrate as much. They have a smoother power delivery too.
Rotary engines are extremely efficient and can produce a lot of power with very little. The 13B, for example, produces 178 horsepower per liter. That means that even with a 1.3L displacement, the 13B-REW is capable of producing 252 horsepower in stock form. That kind of efficiency is typically relegated to high-performance supercars, so it’s very impressive in a car that initially cost a third of the price of cars producing similar figures.
Toyota 2JZ-GTE Engine
Almost every car enthusiast in the world is familiar with – or has at least heard of – the legendary Toyota 2JZ-GTE engine. It was a special engine in stock form when Toyota first released the 2JZ in 1991. It’s a 3.0L DOHC twin-turbo inline-6 engine that offers 320 horsepower straight from the factory. While it might not have the same exotic characteristics that the 13B-REW has, it is still one of the best traditional piston engines ever made. Here are the specs of the 2JZ-GTE engine found in the MK4 Supra:
|Engine||Toyota 2JZ-GTE Engine|
|Displacement||3.0L (2,997 cc)|
|Bore x Stroke||86mm x 86mm|
|Torque (lb-ft)||315 lb-ft|
What Makes the 2JZ-GTE Such A Good Engine?
The 2JZ-GTE has a relatively low compression ratio of 8.5:1 which helps the 2JZ-GTE handle big boost. The square cylinder design offers a great balance between torque and top-end power. Toyota’s closed deck, iron block in the 2JZ is insanely strong. Pistons were cast rather than forged, but remain very strong and beefy. They were also fitted with oil spray nozzles for piston cooling. A beefy forged crank and rods finish off the list.
The point is – the Toyota 2JZ is clearly built for strength and durability. These are almost the exact specs you want to see on any high-performance engine. Tuning and aftermarket potential is where the 2JZ really made a name for itself. The 2JZ-GTE’s unparalleled strength makes it one of the most in-demand engines in the aftermarket community as it can take a lot of abuse. That translates directly into some crazy Mk4 Supra builds that frequently dip into four-digit power figures.
Regardless of if you modify a 2JZ-GTE or keep it in stock form, Toyota’s overengineering makes it an extremely reliable engine as well. There aren’t very many notable issues with the 2JZ and even fewer that can cause significant engine damage. All of these factors culminate to make the 2JZ-GTE a legend. As a result, the Supra received legendary status with it.
RX-7 vs Supra – Performance
Now that we’ve covered the engines that power these two beasts, let’s talk about how both of them are to drive. Despite always being put into the same class when speaking about performance, there is a pretty significant difference between how the two drive in a performance setting. Here’s how the RX-7 vs Supra battle pans out in terms of performance.
RX-7 vs Supra – MK4 Supra Performance
While the MK4 is unquestionably more performance-oriented than its predecessors, it still has quite a bit of GT blood running through its veins. That really becomes evident when you look at the MK4 Supra’s curb weight. The non-turbo version of the MK4, powered by the 2JZ-GE, weighs between 3,100 and 3,300 lbs while the turbo version weighs between 3,300 and 3,500 lbs.
All of that to say, the MK4 Supra isn’t a light car by any means. The Supra’s stock suspension isn’t anything to write home about either. The excess weight and floaty suspension hinted that the Supra is more at home on long highway stretches than on the racetrack. However, with sticky tires in the rear, you’ll have no problem thrashing a MK4 around the bends. When the MK4 was released, it was praised for its immense cornering grip. However, with so much power to the rear wheels, you have to be careful with throttle applications as too much can cause it to switch ends.
The Supra really comes alive when you introduce performance modifications to the equation. As we mentioned, stock Supra suspension is lackluster when compared to the modern suspension options available today. A good set of coilovers and some chassis stiffening modifications can transform a MK4 into a much more capable car. Obviously, if you are looking for more power and straight-line speed, there’s no shortage of 2JZ-GTE mods out there. If you are interested in learning more about modding a 2JZ-GTE Supra, check out our Toyota 2JZ-GTE Complete Engine Guide.
RX-7 vs Supra – FD RX-7 Performance
Unlike the MK4 Supra, the FD RX-7 was purpose-built to be a focused sports car. As such, it has all of the proper makings of one right from the factory. In terms of weight, the RX-7 has the MK4 beat by a long shot. Overall, the FD weighs close to 400 pounds less than the lightest MK4 and a whopping 600 pounds less than the turbo. That weight difference is a huge reason why the RX-7 performs much better in stock trim than the Mk4 around corners.
In addition, the RX-7 has a more sport-oriented suspension geometry, a more connected road feel, and loves high revs. In fact, that is one of the key defining characteristics of the FD. With an 8,000 rpm redline, Mazda expects you to be flirting with the top of the rev range continually. Most of the RX-7s power is generated through the 6,000-7,500 rpm segment, meaning that you really have to wring it out to maximize its performance.
The FD’s advanced Hitachi sequential turbo system makes for some interesting performance characteristics. One turbo provides boost from 1,800 rpm until 4,000 rpm when the second turbo takes over. The turbo changeover point forces drivers to adapt their driving style to accommodate for the dramatic burst of power once the second turbo spools up. The MK4’s sequential turbo system works in a nearly identical way, with one turbo supplying boost at 1,800 rpm and the other coming into play at 4,000 rpm. However, the MK4 feeds some exhaust gas into the secondary turbo before the changeover point which smoothes out the power band a bit.
RX-7 vs Supra Conclusion
While the FD RX-7 and MK4 Supra are often placed in the same class by most people, the truth is that they were developed to serve different purposes. Throughout the RX-7s 24-year run, it was always intended to fill a lightweight, exotic, sporty role in the Mazda catalog. The inclusion of a rotary powerhouse cemented it as one of the most unique sports cars on the market, not only back then, but now.
In contrast, the Supra has always been a grand tourer first and a sports car second. Looking at the first three generations of Supra, it is clear that Toyota had a desired path and role for the Supra that was more autobahn focused than Nurburgring-oriented. That isn’t to say that the MK4 Supra isn’t a good sports car, because it is. The MK4 is often praised for its immense levels of grip around corners and more than enough power. Factory suspension is the Supra’s biggest weakness in terms of performance handling is concerned. With some choice modifications, like upgraded suspension and sway bars, it is possible to get rid of some of the Supra’s body roll.
Overall, the decision between an FD RX-7 vs Supra boils down to what you are looking for performance-wise. If you are looking for an out-of-the-box sportscar that can do some damage on the track, an RX-7 will suit you better in stock trim. However, while the RX-7 is a brilliant car to drive the tradeoff is poor reliability and expensive repair bills. The Supra, on the other hand, is a fantastic choice for a fast cruiser. Supra can definitely be built to track spec with enough time and money. While they might not be as fast on track in stock form, MK4 Supras are endlessly modifiable and reliable as hell.