THE introduction of Mazda's new generation RX-7 late last summer caused quite a stir. Near-supercar acceleration at a price that undercut Europe's hottest contenders suddenly made the Japanese roadster the best performance car bargain around. Although the superb twin-turbo rotary powerplant which punches out 255 horsepower and rockets the RX-7 to 100 km/h in 5.3 seconds caught the attention of the slide-rule crowd, it was the highly distinctive bodywork that seized the imagination of the motoring public. With the help of its supercomputer, the Mazda design team had broken new ground. Quite simply, there was nothing else around that looked like the new RX-7. But I was not overawed by the lines of the third generation RX-7. I was raised on a diet of traditional automotive styling inspired by freehand renderings from grey-haired gentlemen who sipped tea while they sketched and who had never heard of a wind tunnel. On first release I missed the chance to drive the RX-7 and in doing so, avoided being immediately swept off my feet by what many called the ''consummate driving experience''. Despite efforts to remain aloof, however, it soon became apparent that I was drawn to the curvaceous performer. Each time I saw an RX-7 on the street, it seemed to give me a coquettish nod and by the time an excuse came around for requesting a second chance for a test drive, I was well and truly hooked. The excuse was the introduction of the automatic transmission model into Hongkong. Although the manual gearbox of the RX-7 is reputed to be one of the most user-friendly about, history has clearly shown the territory's preference for two-pedal operation and Mazda Motors Hongkong felt there was enough interest shown to warrant the decision. Aside from the four-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission, there are a few subtle differences in the two models, the most noticeable being upgraded air-conditioning with climate control and the replacement of the more practical storage compartments behind the front seats with two small and impractical jump seats. Fog lamps, an option on the manual, are standard on the new model and under the bonnet one of the twin engine oil coolers now does the same duty for the transmission fluid. The interior envelopes the driver with womb-like security. Seat, dashboard and centre console fold supportively around you and the three-spoke leather wheel sits exactly where it should. Every gauge, switch and dial inclines helpfully towards you. The RX-7 automatic may be slightly off the blistering pace of its manual stablemate, but when the throttle is stood on, there are few earth-bound conveyances that make the adrenalin rush with such intensity. You are literally pinned to your seat, as with barely a whisper, the twin turbo engine picks up the 1,300-kilogram chassis and flings it down the road. Mazda's sequential turbo operation sees one unit constantly in motion and the second gradually coming on-line at around 2,800 rpm. The resulting boost comes as an irrepressible surge as opposed to an explosive kick, which makes the RX-7 deceptively smooth. For truly hair-raising getaways, the automatic transmission can be directed, by flipping a switch on the gear stick, to hold the rotary up in the 3,000 rpm thrill zone in either the drive or sport mode. The key to this blinding acceleration is a high power-to-weight ratio, accomplished by putting the car on a stringent diet, eliminating every extraneous milligram and using alloys wherever possible. Placing the compact engine just behind the front axle gives the RX-7 near-perfect 50/50 front/ rear weight distribution and this, combined with stiff suspension, makes for handling to match the power available. As ex-Formula One racing driver Jacky Ickx put it: ''It behaves like a race car, yet seems comfortable at any speed.'' Corners rush up at astonishing speed, but the car remains stable and poised. After a period of nerve-tingling acclimatisation, you become aware the RX-7's abilities far exceed your own and you get down to the not-so-serious business of hanging out the tail at every opportunity. The RX-7 automatic is not an inexpensive speed mistress, but passion seldom fosters practicality. Which is why I'm now busy figuring out the interest on a $688,000 bank loan.