‘Zoom Zoom’… it’s a slogan plastered on billboards, splashed across glossy brochures and whispered through TV advertising. So for the Mazda RX-8 to live up to its own vision, every aspect, from the way it responds to driver input, to the way it feeds back through the steering wheel should induce an involuntary grin and emotional connection.
The formula is rather simple and somewhat dictated by Mazda’s history of rotary-engined sports cars. The front-mid mounted rotary engine is connected to the rear-wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. Producing a silky smooth 177kw of power at 8,200rpm yet only 211Nm of torque at 5,000rpm, the key to performance is to utilise the full extent of the engine’s ability to rev.
But lets start first with that emotional connection which, let’s be honest, should begin with love at first sight. The low-slung coupe appears as a two door, with big 18 inch alloys pushed to each corner and wrapped in low profile rubber. Purists will instantly recognise the use of rounded triangle details which pay homage to the distinctive rotor shape, providing clues to what lies beneath. Overall, it manages to achieve sharp looks, balanced with a classic silhouette.
The sporty cockpit includes red and black leather seats and a stubby (rotor shaped) shifter with a busy but logical dash with 6 stack CD player and climate control air-con. An electrically adjustable driver’s seat provides flexibility, making it easy to find your ideal driving position. One of the coupe’s party pieces is the rear-hinged ‘suicide’ doors which reveal two usable rear seats.
From first impressions then, this car could be ‘the one’, but a relationship isn’t built around looks or convenience. Where the rubber hits the road, if you’ll pardon the pun, is in the drive.
Driving around town in traffic and treating it like a ‘normal’ car, it is subdued and perhaps even under-powered; the lack of torque making it a chore rowing through the gears. It rides firmly and thumps a little over Sydney’s myriad of potholes and speed humps.
But as you reach the city limits and snake your way along a twisty road, any thoughts that your love is fading quickly dissipate. Perhaps one of the greatest joys of this car is hearing the warbling engine come alive at a lofty 6,000rpm. As momentum rapidly increases, you glance at the centrally mounted tachometer and realise you’ve still got 3,000 rpm to play with. The precise gearbox keeps the engine in its element as the tacho needle dances to the sound of the whirring rotors. As a driver, it makes you feel like an integral part of the machine, in a way the optional four-speed automatic (with reduced 141Kw) never could.
The steering is perfectly weighted and the brakes have great initial bite into the four-wheel ventilated disks providing consistent retardation even on a demanding drive. In fact, despite race track punishment the brakes showed no signs of fade; a trait the Porsche Boxster S driver in front of me was clearly longing for as he left the track on turn one.
On a dry road, there are few cars that hold the RX-8s cornering speed and even fewer which provide such an endearing blend of feedback and involvement. Things are not quite so joyful however, in the wet and suddenly the quick steering and rear-drive power become too much for the tyres.
While on the topic of downsides, there is another one… fuel economy, or rather, the lack of it. Even with a light foot it’s a challenge to achieve more than 400km from the tank, filled with requisite 98 Octane fuel. Dealer servicing is about par for a higher-end Japanese car. Just keep an eye on the oil level as the engine can drink a little between services.
Competition is not so easy to define. The Nissan 350Z offers a trademark Japanese front-engine/rear-drive experience, but only offers two seats and a cheaper plastic interior, at a much higher price. Europe can’t match this formula for the price, and perhaps closer to home, a Commodore SV6 has the seats, power and value but cannot compare with the Mazda’s handling.
For those looking for a car, not to move the body, but to move the soul, the RX-8 takes some beating. While ensuring there is enough practicality to keep it relevant, Mazda has continued its rotary lineage alive with a formula of finely tuned dynamics, engaging handling, beautiful balance and smooth power. Or, in Mazda speak; zoom zoom.