By on April 30, 2004

 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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11 Comments on “Mazda RX8 Review...”

  • avatar

    I don’t believe that no one made a comment about 3 years.

    The truth of it is, it is about one of the best drive on winding road. It is as controllable as anything of German decent, if not better.

    There is one thing missing on the review. The brakes. RX-8 328mm ventilated disc is the front, together with a beefy single piston caliper is one of the best. I recently drove my friends Porsche 997 Carrera, and realised that the stock RX-8 brake and suspension is so good. Certainly when I attempted to modify the car (god forbidden of the reason behind the project), brake was on the card but it would have been after 6 months of research of the Japanese market to come up with the something that supreme the one that comes out of the Hiroshima factory. (btw I ended up with a 4 pot AP racing caliper and Project Mu rotor and brake pads after some advice from Japanese tuners in Japan).

    It looks as good as a Porsche, drives like one and brakes better. I wonder how to get the power up to the standard….. (tubro?)

  • avatar
    C. Alan

    Well the Reason there has been no comments in 3 years is because comments only became avalible in the last 6 months or so (as of Jan, 2007).

    I test drove one of these, and I would love to own one, but I still have to convince my wife that I don’t need a 4 door sedan. Maybe in a few years.

  • avatar

    It’s got 4 doors, it’s just that two are half-sized and open in a much cooler direction. ;-) Have your wife sit in the back seat then try and tell you there isn’t enough room. Both my wife and I are over 6′ tall and we were able to sit in the back seat during the test drive. It doesn’t look big enough but there is something about the design of the front seats that makes leg room magically appear after you get in. Unfortunately, there was not enough head room up front for me in the version with the moon roof. It’s still on my wife’s list of potential new cars when she’s ready for a new one in a few years. She couldn’t see any reason why insufficient head room for me was a problem for her. :-)

  • avatar

    Just road tested the RX-8. It is “like a motorcycle” except for the must up hair. Damn, this beast is less than half a Beemer or anything from Benz. Much faster, quicker, tighter than any ‘vette or ‘stang … and forget Forbes’ “… everyman should own a 12 cylinder.” Make mine a three lobe, dual rotor for a fourth or a tenth the expense and I’ll save the spare change for a house.

  • avatar

    A buddy of mine just bought a beautiful 2005 with only 20000 miles. Got a great deal too. I test drove it and it feels every bit as nimble as my miata.

    But it’s nothing like a motorcycle… and neither faster or quicker than a corvette or a well sorted mustang gt.

    What it is? Beautifully balanced. My SV650 would scorch it in a straight line, and (stock) it would lose on a track vs. most other sports cars of similar pricing… but it is a real joy to drive.

    I truly believe Mazda comes closest to finding zen, and the real yin/yang in their vehicles.

    Let the other ricers and greasemonkeys compare penis size about 0-60 and quarter miles – just enjoy the car for what it is.

  • avatar

    I drove one of these when they first came out. The joy from spooling up the rotary to stratospheric RPMs almost makes up for the lack of grunt (159 lb pounds?!). Having a surprisingly large back seat with the funny suicide doors is a bonus, but the small back windows and dark interior are claustrophobic.

    Then, there’s the issue of fuel economy — 16 / 22 mpg. This for a 3,000 pound car. It’s a pity that Mazda hasn’t been able to figure out how to extract more efficiency out of rotaries.

  • avatar

    i’ve been looking at the RX8 for a while and just purchased a used 2006 RX8 GT with 23,000k ,ive driven from a race car to derby car and pretty well everything in between and let me say that bang for the buck you will be hard pressed to find anything that will come close to the 8….With the tight suspension and fantastic brakes this car is a joy to drive, yes fuel economy isn’t the greatest for its size but still way better than anything that will keep up to it!!!I agree that the only downfall is the bottom end hp!!!!Definetly going to seek a super charger or turbo kit for mine….after of course my warranty is up!!!!!!

  • avatar

    I own an ’07 and this is one fantastic car overall, especially considering the price.

    One thing to keep in mind is that competing cars like the 350Z and S2000 have upgraded power over the years while the RX-8 has not; it’s still basically the same as it was in ’04. It has become underpowered (or other cars have become overpowered, depending on how you look at it).

    So it really doesn’t have the power of competing cars and the performance numbers are not very impressive on paper, but that misses the things that make this car so great.

    It is an absolute blast to drive, with a turbine-like high revving engine, incredible handing that makes it nearly impossible to lose control, and some of the best brakes you’ll ever find on a production car.

    This car isn’t a street racer. It’s not for the ricers or the muscle car guys. It won’t beat anything in a straight line.

    What it is is a driver’s car, in the spirit of the best offerings from Germany. Despite the mediocre power, driving the RX-8 feels like driving a high-end Porsche or BMW, it is really on par with those cars when it comes to the overall driving experience. And that’s what makes it such a bargain.

  • avatar

    Personally I haven’t driven the car. I wish I could. Everything I’ve read about the car is amazing. I could care less about the fuel efficiency. For such a great car you have to sacrifice something for the drive. Even the look of it is great. Can’t wait, I plan to buy the 2010 rx8.

    Just one thing I want to know. Does anyone think it is worth paying that extra 6k or so for the r3 version? Just a slight upgrade to the suspension. I have been trying to find more on it but have not found much. Is it really that much better?

  • avatar

    When I went to a Mazda dealership, the salesman I talked to told me the r3 wasn’t worth the price increase.

  • avatar

    Never trust a Salesman. Get your infos somwhere else and use them for your advantage, when you have to deal with one.

    I baught mine 2,5 years ago. i havent stopped grinning yet. i live somewhere near the alps. roads are twisty and bumpy. i was extremly impressed how this car somehow manages to go over this uneven asphalt at high speeds without losing grip or the slightest instability. The chassis is much stiffer than th Rx7’s, which really wasn’t on the flappy side eighter. it might be slower than many other sports cars on the track, but not in the real world.

    But the real fun begins once you get rid of all that grip and let the ass hang out.Jeremy Clarkson once Said, that this is the easyest car to drive fast, and i can see why. I drift it in the dry, the wet and on snow because the car just wants to play, it won’t bite no matther how much you provoke it. It’s glorious i intend to be burried in mine.

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