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Mazda updates RX-8

Meanwhile, the midlife revision of the world's only mass-produced rotary engined car will be unveiled at the North American International Motor Show in Detroit alongside the Furai concept.

While that revised RX-8 is not expected to reach Australia before June, enthusiasts need wait only until January for the strictly limited RX-8 rotary engine 40th anniversary edition.

The limited run model anticipates the midlife revision by bringing a contemporary automatic transmission to the model. The alternate to the manual is now a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters adapted from the MX-5 — a significant step up from the current auto which has but four cogs and is significantly detuned.

Mazda is the only marque to mass produce a rotary engine car. The 40th Anniversary model recognises an association with Felix Wankel's singular powerplant that dates from 1967's Cosmo Sport 110S.

The RX-8's interior is designed to evoke that car and includes exclusive black leather and light silver alcantara combination seat covers.

The exclusive body colours are Marble White or Metropolitan Grey with limited-edition side panel badges.

Refinements include exclusive Bilstein dampers and a urethane foam-filled front suspension cross member, a sunroof, high gloss 18-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler and blue reflector fog-lamps.

Mazda showed a larger capacity, more powerful 16x rotary engine at the Tokyo show, which is likely to power its future cars, though not any that will appear in the next 12 months or so.

Mazda is also working on a hydrogen rotary engine as part of its Sustainable Zoom Zoom program.

While RX-8 afficiondos are jostling for the 40th Anniversary examples available here, the Furai concept will be the high-flying Hiroshima manufacturer's star turn at Detroit.

Most concepts sit on a stand being evocative or, at best, putter around a carpark with minders looming menacingly, but the Furai is race-ready. Built on a Courage Le Mans chassis, it has a 335kW three-rotor engine and goes, according to a Mazda spokesman "like the proverbial".

Though the translation of its name — "sound of wind" — will no doubt cause guffawing, it is the fifth of the Nagare ("Flow") family on concepts named for the elements.

Mazda have released a teaser picture which hints at the sort of design departures featured byrecent Nagare concepts.

There are apparently more Mazdas and Mazda-powered cars road-raced in the US than any other brand, so the Furai has been built on the chassis of an American Le Mans Series racer, the Courage C65 which campaigned in the ALMS series only two seasons ago.

"Furai purposely blurs boundaries that have traditionally distinguished street cars from track cars," says Franz von Holzhausen, Mazda's North American director of design.

"Historically, there has been a gap between single-purpose racecars and street-legal models commonly called supercars that emulate the real racers on the road. Furai bridges that gap like no car has ever done before."

Mazda are riding high in Australia, having eclipsed their best-ever full year's result in October.

As of November 30, 71,292 Mazdas had sold here in 2007, making the marque easily the nation's favourite fully-imported brand.

With the release of the new CX-9 seven-seat SUV last week to positive reviews, Mazda continue their run with a range of vehicles that qualitatively sit at the top of their various segments.

Apart form the dual RX-8 releases, the second generation Mazda6 get here in in late February. Driven by Carsguide in France last month, the new model is class leading, improving on its forebear in every respect.

Later in the year, expect a facelift of the Mazda3 and a three-door version of the Mazda2. Mazda design chief Laurens van der Acker has said that the new Mazda3 will be ... "more eye-catching than the current model".

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