Mazda RX8 Review
Fancy a game of "spot the triangle"? The RX8 wants to play. I spotted a triangle between the exhausts, in the front spoiler, embedded in the bonnet, under the headrests and on the top of the gear lever. They're there to remind us that Mazda's top-shelf sports car has a rotary engine, which consists of two triangle-shaped rotors, four spark plugs and… that's about it. So what? Most drivers wouldn't care if their car was powered by racing hamsters – just as long as it doesn't break.
As you might expect from a car with a four-year, 50,000-mile, bumper-to-bumper warranty, the RX8 is reliable enough. Any doubts about this singular machine centre on its performance and handling, rather than its quirky propulsion. Sports car buyers want to know one thing: how's it drive? To which the only possible answer is "like a motorcycle".
Excluding the two-wheeled dinosaurs known as Harley Davidsons, motorcycles are known for their light weight and hi revs. In the hands of Japanese engineers, the combination creates the kind of visceral acceleration and telepathic handling that leads large numbers of speed-crazed kids straight into a tree. Still, it's fun while it lasts – the same sort of fun provided by the featherweight, rpm-mad RX8. Here's how it works…
Imagine you're zizzing along in third gear, waiting for an opportunity to put pedal to metal. The instant you floor it, the RX8's tacho needle begins an Olympic sprint around the dial straight to – hold on, is that really 9000rpms? "Nine", as in one before "ten"? After a few seconds spent listening to the binging rev limiter, you look down at the speedo and discover you're doing over 80mph, with three more gears available for your dining and dancing pleasure. All of which offer identical levels of blender-smooth grunt and go.
Slot the flyweight gearbox into fourth, fifth or sixth. Guide the RX8 into a bend. Notice that the turn-in is quick, crisp and accurate. As you seek out the apex of the turn, the RX8's perfectly-balanced chassis adjusts to your throttle and helm inputs both intimately and infinitely. You can change your attitude mid-corner without life-threatening repercussions.
Meanwhile, the 18" Bridgestones grab the tarmac with well-mannered tenaciousness. The suspension, though comfort-biased, absorbs surface imperfections with no appreciable loss of traction. Around you go; no fuss, no muss. More curves? A little over-taking perhaps? With just 2.9 turns from lock-to-lock, you can use the RX8's electrically-assisted rack and pinion steering to flick the car back and forth like a sports bike.
Put it all together, make liberal use of the RX8's serious stoppers, and you're free to thrash this 1373 kilo rice rocket to an inch of its/your life. It takes a major act of demented hooliganism to get the car bent out of shape – and even then a reasonable driver has an excellent shot at regaining control.
The RX8's sure-footed velvety prowess demands a bit of mental acclimatization. The lack of engine noise (up to 5000rpms) and vibration makes full acceleration so effortless that pressing on becomes the default option. Temperate throttle use (i.e. protecting your driving license) requires considerable restraint. Resisting the urge to carry the RX8's perpetually-mounting speed through the twisty bits is equally daunting. Because you can, you do.
Getting comfortable with the RX8's exterior design is also a bit of a "challenge". This beholder found little beauty to delight his eye. The front's open-wheel-racer look is way cool, but the truncated back end and hideous rear window leave me cold. I also reckon the 8's terminally cheerful Pokemon face looks better on the chick-friendly MX5 than this, their no-holds-barred sports car.
Actually, I lie. Despite its rapid pace (0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds) and sterling road manners, the RX8 is not a hard-core street racer. For one thing, the RX8's suspension doesn't blur your vision and loosen your fillings. For another, it comes with rear seats. OK, they only accommodate small children, and you'd have to leave the car chairs at home, but hey, they're more than big enough for a baby boomer to point out to his wife and say, "See? I told you it's sensible."
And so it is. The RX8 offers enthusiasts reasonable practicality and tremendous value for money. Tick every available option – six-speed gearbox, bigger engine, traction control, bi-xenon headlights, fog lights, heated leather seats, Bose audio system with 6-CD changer, power moonroof, the works – and you'd still be hard-pressed to spend $32k (UK Price ~£23,400). There aren't a whole lot of sports cars at that price that can keep up with the RX8. In fact, when it comes to bang for the buck, the RX8's only real competition is… a motorcycle.
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