Review of Mazda\'s rotary-powered sports car.
A facelift hasn't changed one of the neatest packages on the sports car market.
Design; handling; engine note; pricing; brakes.Snap oversteer; missing some features; fuel consumption.
- by Paul Maric
One of the most iconic cars in sport car history, the Mazda RX-8, has received a minor facelift.
Mazda had previously sold more than 165,000 RX-8s, and wanted to keep the same formula, so the facelift was restricted to modifying the headlights and tail lights, along with the front and rear bumpers.
I was meant to be driving the six-speed manual GT version, but was instead put into the six-speed automatic Luxury version. I was a bit disappointed at first, considering the automatic has 12 kilowatts less of power, but nevertheless, I trucked on, prepared to give the automatic RX-8 a chance.
One of the key things about the RX-8 is that it’s not a car built just for performance and handling, it’s an all-round package. When you open the driver’s door the optional red leather really jumps at you, and it looks quite stunning.
The driving position is very low-slung and the feeling of the dashboard is one of confidence and robustness. The suicide doors open in opposite directions to save space – while also looking cool when loading and unloading passengers.
Further to the driving position, it mimics that of a go-kart, hugging the ground for the ultimate centre of gravity reduction and increase in driving feel. I felt as though the steering wheel could move a bit higher, due to the somewhat cramped leg space on the driver’s side, my thigh would constantly rub against the bottom of the steering wheel.
Most of the fun begins when driving though. When you turn the engine over, a characteristic rotary whine can be heard from both inside and outside the cabin. The whine sounds like an old-school supercharged V8 starting up, as if oodles of effort needs to go into turning the twin-rotor engine over.
Instantly noticeable is the light, but not overly light, steering at low speeds. It’s only when you start picking up pace that you get a real feel for the car. The light steering at low speeds helps with parking and manoeuvring the car in tight spaces, the tight turning circle also helps immensely.
Anyone who has driven a rotary knows that there isn’t much torque without a turbo. Most people would assume that just 211Nm would be a deal-breaker, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Once above 3000rpm, the 158kW, 1.3-litre RENESIS motor starts singing. The engine note is superb and the higher it revs, the punchier it becomes. Keeping the revs high in the rev range returns sharp throttle response and on demand power out of corners.
I was initially dreading the automatic gearbox, but it’s one of the best on offer in a sports car. The shifts are flawless and the steering wheel paddle shifters are perfectly placed.
Rev limiter beeps tell you it’s time to upshift and unlike some other automatic equipped sports cars, the RX-8 is happy to downshift high into the preceding gear’s rev band.
The RX-8 also can’t be faulted when cornering. The chassis is incredibly rigid, the tyres extremely grippy and the power delivery superb. The lack of body roll means that you can fly into a corner with speed, knowing the car won’t shift under pressure and begin feeling heavy and uncontrollable.
The limits of the car’s grip seem endless. The lack of power also means that you can confidently slam down the throttle on the corner’s exit without the fear of oversteer.
Communication through the steering wheel is very good mid corner. Bumps in the road are felt through the chassis and steering wheel, lending to the car’s impressive design. The brakes held up a hefty torture test down a mountain, pedal feel is also constant and proportional with each application – even when the brakes start warming up.
The stability control doesn’t come into effect unless you start getting overly silly, which is good news for punters after a thrilling ride with no intrusions. But, switch off stability control and the RX-8 breaks into snap oversteer when intentionally pushed.
The RX-8 is the type of car which handles and is composed when within grip limitations, but becomes touchy and quite aggressive when the limits are breached.
Fuel consumption varies greatly depending upon how much throttle you use. Expect combined fuel use to sit around 12.1 litres per 100km. It seems like a lot for a small capacity engine, but it’s not too easy to drive under 3000rpm.
Rear passenger leg room is quite limited – as you would expect in a car this size. But, I believe the rear seats are really there as an excuse for suicide doors. They look great when you’re tasked with moving people in and out of the cabin and give the car the coupe look with four door versatility.
I was a bit disappointed with the Bose sound system. It lacks bass and needs a sub-woofer to get the bass portion amplified.
The stereo is easy to use though, as are the climate controls. But there is a distinct lack of dual-zone climate control, along with automatic headlights and automatic windscreen wipers, which have become the norm in many cheaper cars on the market.
The RX-8 is available in three models, RX-8, RX-8 Luxury and RX-8 GT. They are priced at $49,720, $55,520 and $57,625 respectively.
The six-speed automatic gearbox is only available on the Luxury model as a $1645 option.
Although parking is a bit touch and go with the lack of parking sensors, the RX-8 really is a superb package.
It delivers when thrown through a few bends, likewise when putting around the city to take care of shopping. It’s one of those cars which isn’t built for straight line speed, it’s built for continuous thrills when lashed through corner after corner.
The Mazda RX-8 really is one of the best sports cars in this segment. The reliability of a Mazda, along with flowing design lines and a ripper engine note make this low-key car a highly desirable apex slayer.
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