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Road & Travel Magazine: Sports Car or Sexy Sedan?

I'm confused. Some would say that's nothing new for me, but in this case I believe I have a valid reason.

By its very nature, a sports car should only have two doors and rear seats capable of handling nothing more than a few small grocery bags. So why then does the Mazda RX-8 offer four doors and comfortable seating for up to four adults? Surely some engineer somewhere in Japan, is having a good laugh at the expense of his automotive colleagues around the world.

As a seasoned automotive journalist, I am left then to ponder such a great mystery and decide for myself the best way to categorize this most ingenious automobile. Is the all-new Mazda RX-8 a real sports car, or rather, is it one of the sexiest sedans ever built?

On the road, the RX-8 has few rivals. It feels quick and agile on its feet, turning into corners like a race car, with very little body roll through the tight twists on my favorite country back road.

A double-wishbone suspension setup rides on gas filled shocks up front, while in the rear, Mazda graces the RX-8 with an independent multi-link design resting on low mounted coil springs. Steering is rack and pinion with direct-drive electronic power assist.

The Mazda RX-8 is rear wheel drive and offers a well-balanced 50/50 weight ratio. The addition of limited-slip to the rear wheels increases performance and improves overall safety.

Few sensations compare to the wonderful feeling of aggressively driving a rear-drive sports car through a tight corner. Try this little exercise the next time you find yourself behind the wheel of one, but of course as always be careful.

Enter a corner with as much speed as you feel comfortable with; tap the 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS to load the suspension properly, crank the steering wheel and aim for the apex, then let the power take you out of the corner and on to the next challenge. Of course it never hurts to be familiar with the roads you're driving, but even on uncharted highways, the RX-8 will leave you begging for more.

The heart of the Mazda RX-8 is the all-new 1.3-liter Renesis, 2-rotor engine. Power from the rotary is progressive and strong, pulling off the line with ease and making short work of any commute, or extended road trip.

Available in two engine configurations, which one you opt for, depends solely on your transmission preference.

If you decide on the smooth shifting, 4-speed automatic, the RX-8 provides you with a stirring 197 hp, 4-intake rotary engine. Torque is rated as 164 lbs.-ft @ 7,500 rpm. Two steering mounted shift paddles allow for easy gear changes and 16" wheels, reasonable grip for spirited maneuvers.

If on the other hand you require something with a little more "zoom-zoom," the 6-speed manual with short-throw shifter, ups the ante by increasing the horsepower to 238 hp. Torque is decreased slightly to 159 lbs.-ft., but this is more than compensated for by a stratospheric rev-limit of 9,000 rpm.

The difference in horsepower between the two rotary engines is due mostly to the addition of two extra intake ports found on the manually equipped RX-8, one for each rotor on the Renesis engine. At 6,250 rpm, the complex variable-volume intake system takes full advantage of the added airflow to dramatically improve performance.

Why offer the high horsepower only on the manual transmission? It turns out the automatic has a fairly strict rpm limitation, so for now Mazda has decided to limit the free-revving rotary to the more flexible 6-speed manual.

Climbing into the RX-8 is easy. Two free-swinging rear doors, one on each side, butterfly out together with the front, allowing rear seat passengers to enter through a pillarless opening. Strap on a seat belt, wiggle yourself into place and you will be amazed at the amount of leg, shoulder and headroom. 2004 Mazda RX-8 Interior

Once inside, the RX-8 surrounds you with a rich combination of techno gadgetry and opulence. Deep set, round gauges monitor everything from oil and water pressure to fuel consumption and ambient air temperature.

Opting for the leather interior provides seating experiences that even a Prada® enthusiast could be proud of. Rich, contrasting inserts of red on black, or tan on black, meld together with the matching 3-spoke tilt steering wheel in a pleasing collage of color.Aluminum foot pedals, gear knob and headrest inserts, piano black trim and plush carpeted floor mats offer the perfect finishing touches.

Of course you expect a full compliment of power features to be standard and the RX-8 doesn't disappoint. Power window and mirror switches are logically located on the door, while the steering wheel houses both the cruise control and stereo buttons. A 300-watt Bose® 9-speaker stereo system doesn't come cheap, but the sound quality makes it worth every penny.

The 8-way power driver's seat with power lumbar support is part of the leather package and offers excellent back and thigh support. Seat cushion length is very good, which is important for a 6' plus person like me. Headroom is also superb, even with the available power sliding-glass moonroof. Additional options such as a 7" screen navigation system and 18" wheels and tires round out what is in my opinion one of the finest automobile packages available at this time.

I started out by saying I was confused as to how to categorize the new Mazda RX-8. With four doors, it blurs the line between traditional sport cars and sport sedan. The fact that up to four people can sit comfortably in the RX-8 and enjoy all the benefits of this fine performance car, probably make the choice of what to call it irrelevant. Only your insurance company is going to care.

However you decide to categorize the Mazda RX-8, be it a coupe or sedan, sports car or sexy sedan, you can rest assured this car is both fun to drive and practical. In my book, what could be more categorically correct than that? Mazda RX8 (2003 TO DATE)

Wed Nov 22 05:53:21 Europe/London 2006 (First written on 2005-10-11) MODELS COVERED: (4dr coupe, 2.6 petrol with either 189 or 228bhp)


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Mazda had long had a reputation as innovators, but the launch of the RX-8 elevated their reputation still higher. Not only did it boast a rotary engine in common with all the RX series sports cars but it was also a four-door coupe. Whilst other car manufacturers scratched their heads and stroked their chins, Mazda made hay and sold thousands. Can a used RX-8 be anything other than a potential for big bills or does Mazdas sweet handling coupe promise stress free reliability? Find out here.

There are certain terms that car manufacturers love to use when pushing their latest wares. Words like extreme, radical, groundbreaking, and distinctive are often used to describe cars that are anything but. We grow immune to this hyperbole, a healthy amount of cynicism protecting us from the worst excesses of the press offices. Every now and then, however, something arrives that genuinely does break the mould.

The Mazda RX-8 has certainly lived up to that particular billing. Here is a car that provides even greater impetus to Mazdas ongoing renaissance. Four-door coupes are pretty thin on the ground, the term practically reading like a contradiction, but this one has been carefully thought out. The rear-hinged back doors create a pillarless profile and despite their truncated dimensions, allow easy entry and egress to and from the rear pair of seats.

Its an idea that Rolls-Royce have adopted for their Phantom and it works very well. The doors may attract the causal observer but as anybody who knows anything about Mazdas RX series of cars knows, the real Unique Selling Proposition lies under the bonnet in the form of a compact rotary engine. Rather than use a conventional internal combustion engine in which a number of pistons pump up and down in their respective cylinders to provide the motive power, a rotary engine like the one used by Mazda instead adopts a completely different engineering solution. Two triangular rotors spin in ellipsoidal chambers which, as any student engineer will attest, is a very elegant theory.

Why? Because constantly spinning a rotor is a far more efficient use of energy than the wasteful, reciprocating motion of a piston accelerating from 0mph at the end of its travel up to around 40mph and then decelerating to 0mph at the other end of the cylinder, all in the space of a hundredth of a second. Thats the theory. In fact rotary engines have a reputation for being thirsty, dirty and difficult to maintain. Mazda claimed to have addressed these issues with the RENESIS engine found in the RX-8, the powerplant winning the 2003 Engine Of The Year award.

As well as building on the traditional virtues of rotary engines, namely their smooth revving nature, their low weight and their flat, broad spread of torque, Mazda ironed out many of the bugbears. The efficiency of the engine was improved by a fundamental redesign of the way air and fuel are pulled into the combustion chamber and the way that exhaust gases are ported out. Cleanliness was improved as well, with unburnt hydrocarbons being recycled back into the chamber for another torching. As regards durability, Mazda worked hard to exorcise the demon of rotor tip wear using high tech materials and their engineers obviously had a clear understanding of the thermodynamics at work in the engine.

The result was an engine that can rev to 9,000rpm without ever feeling strained. It settles to a hum at idle but then just zings straight up to the redline with turbine-like smoothness.

Although lower specification import models can be found from around £13,000, most customers prefer the additional trim, security features and rustproofing of a UK car. These open at around £15,270 for a 189bhp car and £16,695 for a 228bhp model. Both cars have held onto their initial value extremely well, confounding many who thought that the RX-8 would be a disaster in terms of depreciation. A low up front price from new and reasonable insurance ratings have both helped to ensure that theres a big pool of used cars from which to choose.

The RX-8 is still so new and is built using new technology, so rotor tip wear has yet to rear its head. Many of the bugbears of the RX-7 have been well and truly addressed with the RX-8 but it has a few quirks of its own. One of them is an appalling thirst for oil. At first Mazda were recommending checking the oil every 1,000 miles but many owners have taken to having a gander at the inaccessibly located dipstick every time they fill their car up with fuel.

Youll probably be doing this a great deal as the RX-8 is still quite thirsty. Few owners average over 20mpg from their cars. Check the wheels for signs of kerbing and also take a look at the back end for signs of parking damage. The RX-8 isnt fitted with a rear wiper and the high tail often renders delicate manoeuvres mere guesswork.

(approx based on a 2004 RX-8 ex Vat) A rear exhaust box and tail pipe come to about £285, while front brake pads weigh in at around £85 a pair, with rears retailing at around £70.A new windscreen is £215 and a new starter motor will cost you around £320.

If anything, the 228bhp RX-8 feels a good deal livelier than its rest to 60mph showing of 6.0 seconds would suggest. The chassis offers the same sort of taut feel that made the last RX-7 such a favourite amongst those who appreciated a proper rear-wheel drive sports car. Although RX-7 diehards groaned with disappointment when they saw that their darling was being replaced by a car with four seats and a more upright profile, the result is a more rounded car in every sense of the word.

Yes, the sensitivity of the steering and the feedback through the seat of your pants has been dialled back a few degrees, but the RX-8 still knows how to entertain in a way thats proved beyond the ken of cars like the Audi TT and the Mercedes C-class Sports Coupe. Fuel consumption still isnt what youd describe as stellar, although its certainly a good deal less thirsty than the RX-7. Expect to average 25.6mpg in the 189bhp version and 24.

3mpg for the 228bhp car. In reality, it will require a very disciplined right foot to return such figures over the course of an ownership spell as the RX-8 is one of those cars with an infectious nature that tempts you into frequent right boot to the bulkhead progress.

Theres a lot to like about a used RX-8 but do make sure you know what youre getting into. If you equate Mazda with low involvement, hassle-free motoring, the RX-8 may not suit your tastes. Its a car that rewards keen drivers and diligent owners. Find one thats been well looked after and put the effort in yourself and youll be amply rewarded.

Car and Driver: Mazda RX-8 - First Drive Review

Mazda RX-8 - First Drive Review Return of the rotary.


There's a fairly long straightaway on the handling course at Mazda's Miyoshi proving ground that encourages a bit of leg stretching, but the sweeping left-hander that leads to it is blind because of hedges that surround much of the track.

Luckily, the corner has broad paved shoulders so we could take a long, wide line, letting the new RX-8 drift comfortably across the track as it barreled onto the straight. Then it was just a matter of burying the throttle and watching the digital speedometer wink upward through the numbers, reaching 190 kilometers per hour (about 119 mph) before running out of racetrack.

As the speed creeps up, so does the intensity of the sound, changing from a flat ripping note to an angry drone as it reaches for its 8500-rpm power peak. An almost indiscernible vibration at the controls grows to a subtle trembling, as if the car were firing an ultra-light-recoil machine gun. The experience is unlike anything else.

This, then, is the return of the rotary. For a while there we thought green zealotry had killed off the only viable gas-burning alternative to the ubiquitous reciprocating engine. But a brilliantly straightforward modification to the rotary engine's design has improved fuel economy by 20 percent, according to Seiji Tashima, the engineer in charge of the so-called Renesis engine project, and cleaned up emissions so they meet LEV II and Euro 4 standards.

Mazda engineers simply moved the exhaust ports (there are no valves in a rotary engine) from where they had been on the peripheral face of the rotor housing and placed them on the side plates. At a stroke, that reduced the overlap between inlet and exhaust ports, minimizing the amount of air-fuel mixture lost directly out of the exhaust port.

In turn, this modification yielded lower fuel consumption and produced cleaner exhaust emissions. In the process Mazda made the naturally aspirated 13B twin-rotor Renesis engine about as powerful (at a provisional 247 horsepower) as the previous-generation turbo motor. One of the tweaks is a 30-percent increase in port size. Other additions are a variable-volume intake system and an electronic throttle. The rest is Mazda magic.

But before you start mentally calculating how much more power a turbo version of the Renesis engine will punch out, we have to tell you that relatively cool exhaust gas from turbocharged rotary motors prevents efficient catalytic conversion, making it unlikely we'll see one soon, if ever.

But never say never. Hey, they brought back the rotary, didn't they? And in this new RX-8, it embodies an unusual concept: the four-seat sports car. Yeah, we know that Nissan once called the Maxima a four-door sports car, but let's get real here. This RX-8 actually runs and steers and feels like a convincing spiritual successor to the quick-witted but slow-selling RX-7.

It's easy to say four-seat sports car, but what does it mean? In this case, it means feeling light and nimble, turning in like a race car, and resisting roll in corners. It means splitting its mass 50/50 over the front and rear axles and crouching on an independent suspension all around, with rear toe-control links to keep the tail from wagging the dog. (A stability-control function is now included for the faint of heart.) It means rear-wheel drive, a slick six-speed shifter, and a warning buzz when the roaring rotary hits nine grand.

But this time you can take three passengers along for the ride, thanks to a pair of rearward opening "freestyle doors" that allow access to a surprisingly spacious rear compartment. Because the front and rear doors marry without a center pillar, the two rear seats can be reached fairly easily through the large apertures. And since there are no external handles on the rear doors, the sports-car image isn't compromised by four protrusions. A system of interlocking lateral and vertical beams forms a tough skeleton inside the door skins to provide decent side-impact protection. In the process, they also lend the interlaced doors a great deal of rigidity.

The lack of a center pillar helps keep the wheelbase relatively short. According to Mazda's engineers and stylists, a center pillar would have added almost six inches to the car's length. At a comparatively short 174.6 inches, the RX-8 is exactly the same length as a Honda Civic four-door.

Despite its enlarged passenger cabin, the RX-8 is claimed to be twice as stiff in torsion and 1.7 times more resistant to bending than was the last-generation RX-7. After looking at the sturdy bridge that connects the gearbox and differential unit and the robust shock-tower braces front and rear, not to mention two underfloor tunnel braces, we can believe it.

Besides, the unibody itself has beefy front frame rails that divide to join a backbone frame in the center and longitudinal rails on the sides. This system was designed to transfer crash loads while collapsing in a programmed fashion. To further protect occupants, a roof gusset and floor crossmembers form a cage around the passenger compartment. All these features helped the RX-8 ace federal and Japanese new-car assessment program tests with maximum scores.

The RX-8 also has a framework of high-tensile longitudinal rails and crossmembers in its tail to anticipate a pending 50-mph offset rear crash-impact test. Despite all this reinforcement and buttressing, the RX-8 is expected to weigh just over 3000 pounds.

Along with the high-powered six-speed model we will see here as a flagship in the spring of '03, there will be a lower-powered (about 207 horsepower) version with a five-speed automatic transmission. A sport suspension will be offered as an option on either model, with 18-inch wheels and 225/45R-18 Bridgestone Potenza RE040 tires replacing the standard 16-inch wheels and 225/55R-16 tires.

Thirteen-inch front brake rotors are also to be an option over the stock 12-inch units. The car will come with Tokico monotube shocks and Bosch-supplied ABS and stability control as standard equipment. Steering assist is by electric motor, and the interior is clad in three contrasting molded textures with optional color leather inserts on the seats and steering wheel. The audio panel mimics a high-end CD player, and triangular rotor motifs abound. And the price? At an expected base of $27,000, the RX-8's value harks back to the early days of the RX-7.

Finally, for those utility addicts, there are cup holders fore and aft, and the trunk will hold two golf bags or two medium Samsonite suitcases. All of which begs the question: Is a four-seat sports car an oxymoron?

Car and Driver: 2009 Mazda RX-8 R3 - Short Take Road Test

The entertaining eccentric signs up for another rotation.


Highs and Lows

Highs: A pur-sang sports machine, fears no corners, doors for four.

Lows: Can we get some torque? A fuel sucker.

New sports coupes arrive like summer lightning and depart like uneaten guacamole: ignored, slowly fading to brown, awaiting the inevitable flush. The six-year-old Mazda RX-8 languishes through 2008 with sales the Hubble telescope wouldn’t register: just 2591 units through the end of August.

Mazda isn’t giving up, however. The Hiroshima headquarters considers rotary engines integral to its identity, so the RX-8 stays, a place keeper for a future all-new rotary engine currently code-named “16X” and due perhaps by 2012.

Meanwhile, the RX-8 gets a little stir to keep it green. Most obvious is the new front bumper that flares the grille and brake-duct openings for a more dangerous, grinning-cobra menace. Four glassy robot eyes now fill the taillight teardrops, the exhaust tips are bigger, and fresh wheel designs adorn the various trim levels.

Underneath, Mazda adds chassis stiffeners to further tighten an already athletic platform, and tweaked rear-suspension geometry settles the back end and helps sharpen steering response. The prop shaft also has been strengthened to reduce driveline vibration and noise.

Also new for ’09 is the R3. At $32,600, the RX-8 R3 is priced just $930 above the luxury Grand Touring and trades a few of the GT’s comfort bits—heated mirrors, automatic climate control, power seats—for go-fast bits such as 19-inch forged aluminum wheels, Bilstein shocks, and Recaro-brand leather-trimmed buckets. A spoiler, side-sill extensions, fog lights, and an even angrier front bumper also ride along, as does a 300-watt Bose stereo.

Steering that answers to palm twitches remains the RX-8’s best selling point, the R3 cruising flat and neutral through the wiggles without tire squeal or shimmy. Call us surprised that our skidpad runs were lower, generating 0.87 g to our previous 0.92. Brake performance stays about even, and the R3 impresses as every bit the joy toy its predecessors were.

The six-speed-only R3 runs on the same 232 horsepower and 159 pound-feet of torque as other RX-8 manuals (autos have 212 horses) but has foam-filled front crossmembers linking the front-suspension pickups for better sound-and-vibration damping. At 3060 pounds, the R3’s curb weight exactly matches that of our last RX-8 test car [“Four of a Kind,” June 2007].

The low-torque RX-8 was always tricky to get rolling without a stall. A shorter rear-end ratio in all 2009s—4.78:1 versus 4.44—means less revving and clutch slip in everyday driving. However, the second-to-third shift is now perilously close to 60 mph, which likely slowed the acceleration runs (6.7 seconds to 60 mph versus 6.5). Fuel economy isn’t helped or, apparently, hurt. We averaged 15 mpg, same as before.

Sporty cars come and eventually go, but for now, Mazda’s entertaining eccentric is signing up for another rotation.

Car and Driver: 2009 Mazda RX-8 R3 - Comparison Tests

Third Place: Sports Center.

Highs, Lows, and Verdict

Highs: Balletic racetrack grace, loves the twisties, never-fade brakes, holds four.

Lows: Chronic anemia, fuel thirst, a noisy interior, hints of a harsh ride.

The Verdict: A great chassis that’s faster than its engine. Yes, we’re horsepower freaks, but we also value athletic response. And the RX-8 has long been our poster car in this regard. Mazda’s unique hummer was the slowest sprinter in both of its previous track meets, yet its fancy footwork prevailed on the score cards. Nimble, however, takes you only so far, and the RX-8 enters its seventh year largely unchanged.

Tweaks? Sure. Notably the R3 model ($5495 more than a basic RX-8), which includes a killer 300-watt Bose audio system, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, Recaro seats, traction and stability control, a rear wing, rocker-panel extensions, fog lights, xenon headlights, a stiffened front suspension crossmember, higher spring rates, firmer damping via Bilstein shocks, and 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels wearing Bridgestone Potenza RE050A 225/40-19 tires.

It’s the functional elements of that collection that add authority to the RX-8’s sports-car credentials. A little more grip, a little quicker turn-in, a little quicker recovery in transient response. On mountain roads, the RX-8 still holds its own among this more powerful pack, albeit with the driver rowing the six-speed gearbox in search of the cog that will grant maximum thrust.

Thanks to a body shell that verges on race-car rigid—remarkable, considering those rear demi-doors and the absence of B-pillars—plus the location of the engine’s compact mass (low and behind the front axle), the RX-8 has a refined level of balance and grace. The firm embrace of the Recaros and the precision of the electric power steering keep the driver aware of every nuance, creating that rare sense of man-machine partnership that’s the essence of sports-car fun.

The R3 enhancements, however, have provisos. Ride quality, already firm in other RX-8 versions, is firmer still, and there’s porpoising and expansion-joint whacking on patchy stretches of freeway. Plus, a lot of noise comes up through the suspension. Some of us like the turbinesque sounds of the rotary as it spools up and down, but the car can’t be called quiet. Another gripe: The bolstering of the Recaros is welcome on the track but becomes just short of oppressive, for some, on long freeway runs, putting relentless pressure on the hip bones.

The RX-8’s virtues are by now well known. Interior materials are top quality, the rear-hinged half-doors provide easy rear-seat access, and there’s room back there for two adults to travel in reasonable comfort. The combination of the rear door framing and the hefty C-pillars creates rear-quarter blind spots, but forward sightlines are exemplary, and there are no ergonomic mysteries.

R3 goodies include Recaro seats, snug for long hauls but tops for racetrack support.

Rear seats offer room for adults, a sports-car rarity.

Beyond that, the RX-8 still looks snappy with its freshened face and racy add-ons. The price, too, is attractive. But against an opponent that can match its finesse and leave it gasping for breath at the drag strip, the Mazda comes up short. The rotary engine makes the RX-8 unique, but beyond that, its benefits are difficult to perceive. It’s light on torque, short on horsepower, and thirsty when pressed (a dismal 14 mpg in this test). Mazda is reportedly working on a direct-injection rotary that will address these limitations, but that could be a couple of years away. In the meantime, this Mazda icon appears played out.

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