By on May 31, 2012

Way back in December, I flew out into LAX to meet up with fellow 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court Justice Jonny Lieberman, so that we could jump into a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and drive it to the Skankaway Anti-Toe-Fungal 500 race 450 miles to the north. I’d been hearing all about the magical basement full of crazy Japanese-market cars beneath Mazda USA headquarters in Irvine, so I talked Mazda engineer and superstar LeMons racer Dave Coleman into giving me the tour. But how to get from LAX to my destination many miles behind the Orange Curtain? “Coleman!” I barked, “Get me an RX-8 press car, pronto!” So, he did. Now, six months later, here comes your Better Late Than Never Review of a car that, regrettably, is no longer being built.
Why has it taken me so long to get to this? Partly because my reviews tend to be long-ass tirades that I agonize over for months, but mostly because I haven’t been able to phrase my one-sentence review in a sufficiently clever way. So, let’s get that single sentence out of the way: The 2011 RX-8 is the greatest daily driver ever made, if you can overlook the fact that it sucks gas like a ’73 Buick Electra 225. Right. Now I’ll get into the specifics.
Granted, it’s an odd-looking thing. Every time I saw its reflection in another car, I had to chuckle a bit at the cartoony front fenders. The Mazda Raceway 20th Anniversary stickers and tape stripes made me look like one of those really irritating racing geeks, the kind who drones on about trail-braking and the joys of being “at the limit.” But I would buy the non-LM20 version, and I’d get used to the strange-O styling right away.
But none of that mattered. By the time I’d left the airport, driven a few blocks on city streets, and up the onramp to the 405, I was about ready to start shopping for an RX-8 of my own.
The only Mazda rotaries I’d driven prior to the RX-8 were all mid-80s-and-earlier RX-7s, and those cars just weren’t particularly quick in stock form, nor were they particularly civilized. The ’11 RX-8 accelerates respectably hard all the way up to that ridiculous 9,000 RPM redline, and the Mazda rotary is— after 40 years— every bit as smooth as the old RX-3 ads claimed.
I ran into the usual Southern California stop-and-go traffic as I headed south down the 405, which gave me a chance to contemplate the barbed wire, gang tags, and bullet holes on all the freeway signs.
Back in Southern California, my home for most of the 1980s and the place that inspired me to create my 1965 Impala Hell Project. Mazda HQ was in the same city as the university I attended, and I hadn’t visited my old alma mater for a couple of decades. The campus would be as good a place as any to shoot some photos of the Mazda, I figured.
When I got to the campus, I headed straight to the former location of Irvine Meadows West, the students-only trailer park that was my beloved home for five years. I knew that UCI had bulldozed the place in 2004 and replaced it with a parking lot. Here’s a photo of my trailer and shotgun shack, circa 1987.
And here’s the RX-8 parked on the spot where my ’69 Roadrunner camping trailer once stood. I’ve never been very nostalgic about my college days— I was broke all the time and Irvine is a boring place to be a broke 20-year-old, plus pop music sucked worse than usual during the late 1980s— but the juxtaposition of this sporty rotary Mazda and the location of my old home got me to thinking about how I once felt about the RX-8’s mid-80s predecessor.
UC Irvine was (and is) a school with a majority Asian-American student body, and a huge chunk of that student body in the late 1980s was made up of commuter students from nearby Little Saigon, where tens of thousands of the South Vietnamese who fled Communist rule after the Fall of Saigon in 1975 ended up settling. That meant that most of my classmates had been through some serious war/refugee nightmares during their childhood, and they tended to be very serious students. The cars they drove to the campus tended to be equally serious, boring even: Malaise Datsuns, hand-me-down Detroit barges, and the occasional new Hyundai Excel.
Meanwhile, the tiny minority of my classmates who were wealthy Orange County white dudes went for brand-new Volkswagen GTIs and BMW 325s. I drove a ’68 Mercury Cyclone and a ’73 MGB-GT at the time, and I thought just about everything else I saw in the UCI parking lots was a snore.
But there was one small subset of UCI students with automotive taste I admired: the rich kids from Little Saigon who rolled in shiny new Mazda RX-7s. The RX-7, in those days, stood out as a truly cool-looking car, the kind of cool I envied.
I always assumed those sharp-dressed Vietnamese-American guys with their hot-rodded Mazdas were the sons of ARVN generals, former GVN coup plotters, and others who had left the country on first-class flights with suitcases full of C-notes and gold bars. Former South Vietnamese presidents Nguyen Cao Ky and Nguyen Van Thieu (pictured above with Lyndon Johnson) lived in Orange County, along with many of their wealthy henchmen of the war years, and being the RX-driving playboy son of one of that crowd seemed quite idyllic to me.
So, here I was with the keys to the RX-7’s successor, a car superior in every way to the RX-7. Finally, I thought, I am the coolest.
All right, enough of that flashback gibberish. What makes this car the ideal daily driver? We’ll start with its performance. This is a 3,065-pound vehicle with 232 horsepower and just 159 foot-pounds of torque, which means it’s what the racy types call a “momentum car.” Lose your momentum, you’ll be a while getting it back.
The Renesis engine is a member of the venerable 13B family, which goes all the way back to 1972. Since that time, Mazda has made it smoother, more reliable, and more powerful (though they’ve been somewhat less successful in the fuel-economy department, a subject we’ll return to in a bit). Get on the throttle and you’ll find the Renesis delivers smooth, predictable power once you get past, say, 4,500 RPM. Below that level it’s sort of a dog, so you need to throw out every piston-engine instinct you may have.
Look, there’s “13B” just visible on the rotor housing! So, momentum car: If you keep the revs up at all times, you’ll get excellent Boeing 737-style acceleration whenever you want it, but you won’t get that vision-goes-out-of-focus violence of a torquey piston-engined car. The RX-8 does the quarter-mile in the high 14s, which is plenty quick in the real world.
As for the handling, I’m not willing to push a car like this very hard any place that’s not a race track (especially not on residential streets in suburban Orange County), and my skills on a race track are nowhere near good enough to see what this thing is really made of. However, I’ve seen RX-8s absolutely hauling ass around a road course sufficient times to know that this is one serious track-day car, if that’s how you roll.
As for me, the ability to out-drag-race most other cars to a lane-merge, or to get a little sporty on twisty mountain roads without ending up flying backwards into a ravine… well, this car does that just fine. If I ever get Mr. Baruth to give me some more of his excellent race instruction, the RX-8 is the car I want to drive for the lesson. Well, that or a NASCAR-spec ’75 AMC Matador.
Getting bored with UCI, which had changed beyond recognition in the 20 years since I’d last seen it anyway, I ventured out to the Irvine/Newport Beach area… which had also changed beyond recognition. Randomly, I found myself in a little park dominated by a large statue of Orange County hero Ronald Reagan.
Now, Richard Nixon was actually born and raised in Orange County, while Reagan was a Midwestern transplant who lived north of the Orange Curtain. You won’t see many Nixon statues in Newport Beach, though. While I contemplated the cold shoulder that Nixon’s memory gets in his home county, I also thought about the things that make the RX-8 such a great everyday car.
First of all, the little suicide doors are straight-up brilliant. Back-seat passengers can get in and out easily, and you can throw your suitcases, groceries, meth-lab components, any random crap into the back seat without feeling like you’re playing a game of Twister.
The gauges and controls were placed in sensible locations, with the tachometer dominant. As it should be.
Some have griped about the dated-looking audio controls in this car, but I’ve always felt that there are only two ways you can go with this sort of thing in a Japanese car: completely berserk Mars Base weirdness (see: Subaru XT6 digital dash), or simple function that doesn’t require you to read a vernier or scroll through endless menus in order to get the Napalm Death tune on your smartphone to play through the damn stereo. Actually, I prefer the former type, but Japanese car makers seem to have fired all the spirally-eyed designers who did the really crazy stuff.
The same goes for the climate controls. No owner’s manual required here, and everything works perfectly.
The seats are as comfortable as anything I can remember, plus they have these silly Wankel symbols in the headrests.
It’s easy to parallel-park and the trunk is big enough to be useful. What else?
So, it’s lots of fun to drive, comfortable, and practical. Why did I fail to rush right out and buy an RX-8?
Here’s why: I got 15.5 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving (admittedly with some lengthy stop-and-go traffic-jam action), and I wasn’t even hammering on the car. 15.5 miles per gallon! Mazda claims this car gets 16 MPG in the city and 22 on the highway, but I don’t see how even those miserably thirsty figures could be attained in the real world unless you do some heavy-duty hypermiling in your daily commute. The RX-8’s gas tank holds 16.9 gallons, which gives a total range of somewhere around 250 to 300 miles. At freeway speed, the fuel gauge moves fast enough for you to notice.
The fuel-consumption problem, of course, comes from the tradeoffs that need to be made to get a Wankel engine to meet emission standards, plus the combustion-chamber inefficiencies of the Wankel cycle.
My two-ton ’97 Ford Crown Victoria got much better fuel economy, in town and on the highway, than does the RX-8. In fact, plenty of cinder-block-shaped SUVs get better fuel economy than the RX-8. Even though I don’t drive a hundred-mile commute every day, I know it would drive me crazy to know that I was driving a small car that swilled such oceans of gasoline. A Lincoln Town Car Congressional Series Brougham d’Landau Edition that knocked back fuel like Janis Joplin going through Southern Comfort… well, that makes sense. Likewise, a lumpy-cammed Olds 442 with a tubbed rear and Megadeth on the Sparkomatic— that car can drink up. But not a brand-new nimble sporty car.

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75 Comments on “Review: 2011 Mazda RX-8 Grand Touring Coupe...”

  • avatar

    Though it wouldn’t be the same car, the basic idea of the RX-8 would live on if only they would put a conventional motor into it. Leave the rotary for the next coming of the RX-7…whenever that is. The packaging of the RX-8 is brilliant for what it is.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem is that the engine allows this kind of packaging. That hood would be much higher, and the balance all thrown off, if this thing had a conventional piston engine of a reasonable size.

      The best you could probably manage is a boxer four.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed, you wouldn’t get the ultra low polar moment of inertia, but the interior design is quite frankly exciting, and the suicide door “4 real seats in a coupe” implementation deserves to live on (future crash test standards notwithstanding)

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t know. Once you take the engine cover off in the RX8- you’ll notice the rotary engine is teeeny tiny sitting in that vast engine bay. Frankly an engine that small belongs on a car the size of a Toyota MR-S. That is the one advantage the rotary engine has- tiny size for its HP output.

    • 0 avatar

      That car exists, and is called the Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S.

      • 0 avatar

        I like the BRZ/FR-S.

        I’m not just saying that.

        BUT, I’ve not driven one yet, so I will check myself from any further specifics about it, because without driving it, I can’t credibly claim specifics.

        I do know this, however: I need a useable backseat. I am not the type of person who has two cars, so that I can track one, and use the other for a daily driver. Even if I had FU money, I probably wouldn’t buy two cars, delegating one to what would be at most a twice a month (or maybe far less frequent) track event, with the corollary purchase, insurance, registration, etc. costs.

        So, I know that I’d never buy the BRZ/FR-S because the only car that I will own will have to be a daily driver, and my daily driver has to have a useable backseat, which can accommodate human beings.

        As for the handling, I will have to drive the BRZ/FR-S twins to see if they really can match the RX-8 on that criteria.

      • 0 avatar
        juicy sushi

        Needs more rear-seat room. If Toyota/Subaru were to stretch it, add a couple of small rear doors and bigger rear seats, then we’d be talking. Actually, were they to do that, I wouldn’t be talking, I’d be out selling body parts and doing whatever it took to get me into one of them ASAP.

    • 0 avatar

      I had two first generation RX-7s back in the day. My ’84 GSL-SE was awesome! I loved the rotary as it was like an electric motor with a bunch of angry bees buzzing inside. I had a blast with those cars out west with wide open roads, mountain passes and tight canyons. Back in ’94, I followed two brand new Corvettes racing each other down from Estes Park (through the Big Thompson) with no traffic, and they couldn’t shake me. We made the usual 40 minute drive in half the time.

      Anyway, I did consider buying an RX-8 and regret that I didn’t. Really, if one has never driven a rotary and has the opportunity, give it a try.

  • avatar

    That metallic red is such a gorgeous color.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. I really like Mazda’s color palette. My boyfriend drives a metallic purple/eggplant 3 and it’s a nice color too. I’m also a fan of red cars in general, unless of course, red does not suit the car in question.

      • 0 avatar

        I love red cars too, but I know not all cars look good in red. The RX8 IMO is perfect for red, but I like pretty much every color they offer it in, except the odd pale yellow, never was a fan of that yellow, even though I love yellow on other cars. Our MR2 is yellow, also a bit too pale unless it is freshly waxed. The eggplant on the RX8 is great too, so is the electric blue. I saw a black R3 a couple days ago with gunmetal rims, it looked awesome and helped to hide the awkward rear door/window shape too.

  • avatar

    The poor mpg of the RX8 is really strange despite the reasons that you’ve provided. Why? well, I’ve got a rebuilt ’94 RX7 that dynoed 370 whp, yet if driven moderately gets 25 mpg on the road. Also, prior to the rebuild it was good for 21 mpg on the road.

    • 0 avatar
      Buzz Killington

      My all-city commute in my ’04 RX-8 averages 16-17mpg. Straight highway cruising (~75mph) nets 23-24. I honestly don’t know how Phil ended up at 15.5. Other than that, though, the review is spot-on. It’s the best car I’ve ever owned.

  • avatar

    I have an ’05 manual that’s been the most reliable car (tied with my 1994 Civic EX 5 speed manual) I’ve ever owned, and you are correct, this is the best daily driver that I’ve ever encountered.

    I average 278 miles per 13.5 gallon fillup (the tank is small) with 60% city and 40% highway driving, which works out to nearly 21 mpg, and I bling-bling the redline quite often (as it should be with a rotary).

    Mine does not have the R3 suspension, but handles superbly nonetheless, while giving me excellent ride quality over even piss-poor roads.

    It’s quiet and civilized when driven so, and it’s quick and razor sharp in the handling department when called upon.

    It seats two adults in the backseat more easily than many sedans, has very good interior fit and finish, has a limited slip rear differential, and has been as reliable as any car I’ve ever owned.

    It even does EXTREMELY well in deep snow (deep around here is 5″ to 8″) with good snow tires, because it has great weight distribution
    and an outstanding traction control and electronic stability program.

    What is there not to love?

    I’ve been considering buying one of the last 2011s if I can find a manual one, because I literally can’t find anything that blends comfort, practicality and fun-to-drive like this car can, and time…she’s a runnin’ out on me…

    • 0 avatar

      I owned my ’04 for 7 years and my fuel mileage was about the same as what Murilee reported, coming in at just over 15mpg. And that was with a 90% highway daily commute! The best mileage I ever got out of mine was when my journey was all highway with a tailwind, and that was a whopping 21mpg, traveling at 72mph. I didn’t really buy this car for it’s fuel economy, but it was hard to justify keeping it over my Saleen that gets a tad better mileage, but has over 100 more hp! And it’s not like supercharged SN95 Mustangs are the epitome of fuel mileage, either!

      I agree with you and I still think to this day that it was the best all-around vehicle that I’ve ever owned. I don’t really regret selling it, but I do miss it. It really is an awesome vehicle that everyone should drive if given the chance.

    • 0 avatar

      I have an ’05 as well but the best I’ve gotten was around 220-230 miles per tank. Any mods to your car?

      • 0 avatar

        No mods at all.

        I just got the updated flashes that are recommended (I think three so far), keep the oil and air filter fresh, and flog it around town, but try to keep the rpm below 4k (that sounds high to anyone who is unfamiliar with a rotary) during long distance cruising on the highway.

        The worst tank I’ve gotten was just north of 240 miles and the best tank was 310 miles on the nose. I always do a 13.5 gallon fill.

        One oddity – All of my better mileage tanks were the product of Shell gasoline. Maybe Shell gasoline really is better.

    • 0 avatar

      DeadWeight, I read your opinion about RX-8 engine issues being blown out of proportion (in connection with the debate about oil weights, synthetic vs. non, and the obvious issues with the ’04 model year, etc.) Because you point out that 2009 RX-8s got a third oil metering pump, I thought you might be able to confirm what I’ve read only one other place: that starting with the 2006 RX-8, ATs got a second oil cooler (to help cure the failures in 04-05 AT models that had only one cooler). Do you know that to be true re two oil coolers in ATs after 2005?

      I drive an 06 AT that just reached 38K miles. Drives great; no problems after following the 5-20w rule and using only conventional (non-syn) oil. A rough idle that developed abated after I began routinely revving to at least 6Krpm occasionally (which I thought was keeping my plugs from fouling, but maybe was just improving rotor lubing).

      With a mind toward longevity, I’m now planning to switch to 5-30w and a Japanese rotary mechanic/tuner (after learning that my local Ford-Mazda dealer stocks no “conventional” oils and would have put a “semi-synthetic” oil into my RX-8). From what I’ve read, I am not being paranoid about avoidance of semi-synthetic oil. Or am I?

  • avatar
    John R

    I wonder if they ever even considered putting the Mazdaspeed3’s motor in the RX-8. Whilst putting the 13B in the Miata. I can dream, I guess.

    • 0 avatar

      As the owner of a MS6, I have often stated I would buy a RX-8 with the 2.3 DISI MZR. However, I don’t know if it would fit, and if it did, the weight balance would be thrown off substantially – More weight over the front wheels, higher center of gravity, blah blah. I’m thinking the extra power wouldn’t be worth the loss in handling.

      Well, one dream may come true for you. If you believe the rumors, the next generation MX-5 will come with a 1.3L Rotary.

      • 0 avatar

        Would that be an RX-5? I wonder if any of Mazda’s SkyActive stuff and/or direct injection tech could be brought to bear on their rotary thirst problem.

      • 0 avatar

        @ Jellodyne: SkyActive is simply a super high CR along with friction reduction technologies. There’s not really any magic to it, just lots of optimization of the engine. I’m not really sure what can be optimized with a rotary considering it really only has one moving part.

    • 0 avatar

      Back in the 70’s, a popular conversion was to put the RX-7 motor into a Triumph Spitire: the looks of a Brit sportscar, with the blinding speed and power of a rotary engine!

  • avatar

    About the Wankels in the headrests: they’re not just in the headrests.

    Nice article.

  • avatar

    how is it that murilee never writes new car reviews and when he finally does one, it is for the only new car that interests me? and of course, the review didn’t disappoint. murilee martin is the greatest practitioner of automotive writing on the interwhat.

  • avatar

    It’s a great car and I’d love to have one as a toy some day. It’s ALMOST the perfect blend of sports car and practical car. It’s 90% there. Great interior, very comfortable, fantastic handling, good ride, I like the way it looks. But the gas mileage has always taken it out of consideration for me as a DD – I just drive too many miles. That’s why when I needed a reasonably sporting DD several years ago, I just couldn’t pull the trigger on the RX-8 that I lusted after and instead went with a CPO ’03 Accord V6 6MT. It has 210k miles now, and has averaged 27.2mpg since I’ve had it. The only thing I’m missing out on is the razor sharp handling, but it make up for that a little bit in greater engine power and flexibility. If my DD only averaged 18mpg like I’d assume with an RX-8, I would have paid an extra $7400 in gas alone (why yes, I do have an enormous excel spreadsheet of every fill up and dime I’ve spent on all of my cars). Not even getting into the potential reliability issues of a Wankel rotary at 200k miles. Regardless, that’s enough to buy a used RX-8 now! If I’m getting <20mpg, it sure better be in something with 8+ cylinders that goes like hell.

    Hell, I average 25-27mpg in my S2000 that I beat the p*ss out of.

    • 0 avatar

      I average 24 mpg with my ’03 350Z as a DD with a 30% city/70% highway commute (18 miles one way) and it has plenty of mid range torque. I get about 400 miles per fill up. My brother got fantastic mileage with his ‘Vette on the highway due to V8 power and gearing. The RX-8’s gas mileage is just depressing for a car that is quick but not really “fast”. The other downside of RX-8: no hatchback. I really don’t like the look of backend of it, I prefer the fastback look of my Z or the ‘Vette.

  • avatar

    I test drove several examples of this car very recently when I was shopping for a replacement daily driver. I came extremely close to buying one. Every car company that wants to release a small sports car should steal this cabin design. My fiance described the rear seats as, not only usable, but comfortable. The suicide doors also work very well. This is the only sports car I could imagine realistically hauling 4 people around in.

    What scared me off eventually, besides the abysmal MPG, was the reliability horror stories on the web. These weren’t even stories about the engine (which Mazda covers under an extended warranty anyway), but the wheel bearings. 2 of the 4 cars I test drove had symptoms of bearings that were on the way out. I could live with the bad MPG, as my commute is actually quite short.

  • avatar

    Wonderful article (and photos)about a great car thank you MM, and the observations about OC and LA were a good chuckle for a long-time LA resident!

    I have lusted after this car for decades, especially the last incarnation. It is beautifully made and can go like crazy. I have been in the extremely comfortable back seats while the car was being put to its limits on Mulholland Drive in the hands of a crazed Frenchman, and was in complete physical comfort if a bit scared out of my wits.

    This would certainly be my daily driver were it not for the gas consumption. Had I the extra space and cash to maintain one as an “occasional” use vehicle, I’m pretty certain that it would be used all the time.

    Hope Mazda figures out a way to bring this car back with the efficiency problem solved. Cars like that new MazdaBaru whatever it is are just not the same thing.

  • avatar

    I’m thinking semi-seriously about picking one up as a “fun car” / trip car to go with a motorcycle. Trying really hard to convince myself that fuel economy doesn’t matter that much if I drive it ~300 miles per month..

    • 0 avatar

      As I wrote about at length, these are awesome road trip cars:

      Took another trip last October from WV to Tail of the Dragon and back, in the 2006 Shinka that replaced the 2005, but haven’t yet written it up.

  • avatar

    I seriously considered buying one of these, especially since the dealership had a leftover they were trying to unload, but that milage was a deal breaker. I ended up with a 2011 Miata with a 5-speed manual instead, and according to the trip computer I’m averaging 30 MPG in mixed driving.

  • avatar

    Every time I read a review it does make me miss my 2007. It was perfect as a 2nd car (driven solely on weekends, hence 7000 miles in 2 years), but when I sold my other one, the RX8 just wasn’t cozy enough for me as a DD. I have grasshopper arms and legs and the lack of telescoping steering was a killer.

    Still, I would LOVE to pick up another someday for a weekend toy. Just like old times…

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t mind one of these if the mpg was better, Mazda should consider making something similar but with a standard engine.

    And getting rid of that goofy grin, please.

    • 0 avatar

      The Gen I (2004-2008) didn’t have the grinning front fascia, but Mazda changed things up across its entire line, going with the Pokemon look, including on the RX8, in 2009.

      I personally think the Gen I looks better.

  • avatar

    I should add that the digital speedometer was one of the most AWESOME things about this car. Why the bloody HELL isn’t it on every damn car by now? No guesswork involved. Look at the numbers. That’s your speed. The fascination with analog speedometers with top speeds the cars typically can’t even reach without being driven off a steep cliff, beguiles me.

    The 8’s cruise control was also ultra precise. Much better at keeping a steady speed on inclines and declines than the other 2 Mazda’s I had.

  • avatar

    It’s amazing how little of this article is actually about the car the author is ostensibly reviewing.

  • avatar

    Fun article, but those tape stripes on the poor RX-8 look like they were taken off a 1980 Toyota 4WD pickup. Yuck.

  • avatar

    The RX-8 IS the best daily driver ever made, and this is why: the goodness of the car is readily apparent in everyday driving. Mundane tasks like merely changing lanes or downshifting before a corner become moments of joy because the controls are so PERFECT. And should you really want to hoon, it can do that, too. Gas mileage is atrocious, but if your commute is relatively short, the car is not too much of a budget buster. I am very keen on the BRZ/FR-S, but I doubt that car can filfull the criterion my RX-8 meets with ease: accommodating my drum set or my goalie equipment.

  • avatar

    Awesome car. Did they fix the oil seal issues that the early motors had?

    • 0 avatar

      All the engine issues were fixed for the 2009 model year. The engine failures for 2009-2011 cars were pretty much nil.

      • 0 avatar

        The engine issues have been blown way out of proportion, IMO, although it’s difficult to ascertain actual numerical facts regarding the matter because the RX-8 sold in such low volume in the U.S. in every year but 2004 (in 2011, only 704 RX-8s were sold in the U.S.; 704 units total is exotic car, rare air territory!).

        If you peruse, there are many members who are pushing well over 100,000 miles on the original motor with no problem, and many pushing north of 200,000 miles with the OE motor.

        In fact, when owners were polled over at as to whether they had any major motor problems, well over 85% said they had no issues (see my comments below for the breakdown of problems between the 1 oil cooler automatic and the 2 oil cooler equipped manual models).

        As I’m sure you know, the only significant modification made for the 2009 model year (the Renesis II) was the addition of a third oil metering pump to provide additional oil injection at higher pressure.

        I’m of the firm belief that the overwhelming majority of problems with the rotary in the RX-8 happened in automatic transmission equipped vehicles, which only have one oil cooler versus the two oil coolers that the manual equipped vehicle has, and even then, in very hot environments such as Arizona, Florida or Nevada.

        Heat is no friend of the rotary, and to be honest, the automatic model, which has 35 fewer horsepower than the 6 speed manual version, has a 7500 rpm limit versus the 9500 in the manual, and lacks the manual’s two oil coolers, should never have been made.

        For those who are familiar with the regular rotary heads on the various forums, the weak link in the Renesis, as with all rotaries, is the apex seal, and the potential for problems in this regard can be dramatically reduced by using a appropriate weight oil, keeping the oil filled towards the high end of the dipstick at all times, and regularly flushing and filling the coolant, which all help to ward off heat related issues and ensure proper lubrication of the rotary internals (many of the long time rotary-heads premix, too, and that’s a carryover practice from the days of the RX-7).

        I fully expect to get an easy 200,000+ miles out of my RX-8 on the original motor, unless I sell it first to snag one of the few, remaining 2011 models before they are all sold.

      • 0 avatar

        Based on all I’ve read, I tend to agree with DeadWeight regarding the RX-8’s exaggerated engine failure reputation being linked, in part, to the single oil cooler in the the ’04-’05 automatic models. But I’ve confirmed with my rotary mechanic that AT RX-8s got a 2nd oil cooler (like all manuals have) starting with the ’06 model year. All 2006+ automatics also have a 6-speed transmission with manumatic stick+paddle-shifter options (vs. 4 speeds in ’04-’05 ATs).

        My ’06 RX-8 has been trouble free consistently and more fun to drive than any car I’ve owned in my 60-plus years. The practicality of human-sized rear seats is a unique bonus for this true sports car. The cost differential of 16 mpg average performance comes out of my entertainment budget. (I have gotten 24 mpg on all-highway trips.)

        I plan to keep my RX-8 at least long enough to see if it becomes a collectible ($$$) car, which it just might given its unique attributes and the relatively scant thousands sold in the U.S. over its production lifetime.

    • 0 avatar

      Perception is reality. If the oil seal problems have been fixed, Mazda should have been advertising it accordingly.

      Hyundai has managed to overcome its bad perceptions, but not the rotary.

      But, Mazda has killed the rotary for now because it can’t keep up with emissions regulations, so the bad perceptions and poor fuel economy still have some basis in truth.

  • avatar

    My problem with the RX8 is the RX7 my dad had when I was in highschool.

    Obviously it suffers from the haze of enthusiasm surrounding every chance I got to drive dad’s car (big dates, various chicanery), but the -8 isn’t crazy or pretty enough for me. The FC RX7 remains one of the prettiest cars of recent times, and the RX8 is too much of a design study.

    That, and I’ll admit that mid-range torque matters too much to me. I wanna be able to stomp on the gas at 2800rpm and have something happen. That, or be treated to a ~5000rpm turbo booOOOOST experience.

  • avatar

    I love my 2006 Phantom Blue RX-8. I have owned so many rotaries, and by far this one is the best all around car. It always has done what I asked of it without complaint. The MPG is directly related to your foot. If pussyfooted around, I can get about 26mpg, if I hammer it and run 85mph on the highway, it gets much worse.

    This isn’t my first RX-8 either. I had a 2004 Grand Touring that lead me through 200,000 miles before I sold it to an ignorant man in Louisiana. He promptly killed the old girl. The only other rotary I had that I could compare it to is my 1976 Cosmo. Equally as cool, not as fast, but unique as hell.

  • avatar

    I really like the RX-8. It is a blast to drive. I don’t want to own one though (mpg & too many bad stories about reliability), but I’d love to rent one for the weekend every now and then.

    The front fender styling is a bit much for me, and I don’t really like how it found its way onto the rest of Mazda’s lineup. But the half doors are great.

    I’ve heard engine swaps are common for the RX-8, but I haven’t heard what the results are–just how much does it impact weight, handling, etc?

    • 0 avatar

      The existing decent swaps are the 13B-REW (twin-turbo mill from last-gen RX-7) and the 20B 3-rotor from the JDM Cosmo.

      There has been talk of LSx swaps almost since the car was released, and although I have seen pics of a few V-8 swaps here and there, none of them have been convincingly well-sorted. You can buy some conversion parts from Hinson Supercars, but I wonder if they are like those eBay “turbo kits” that lack the turbo. There is apparently a lot of stuff that needs to be designed from scratch to make a swap work. I know a guy who is a CAD expert and a good fabricator…if my rotary ever blows up maybe I’ll give hima call…

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Interesting that this car appears to get about the same mileage as did my ’73 RX-2 . . . and that car had a 4-bbl. carburetor, not computer controlled fuel injection and everything else.

    In fairness to today’s car, my car was about 1/2 as powerful as this one . . . but had quite a kick at 4500 rpm when the secondaries of the 4-bbl. opened up. At least this engine is now good for 2,000 more RPM than mine was . . . although a non 2-cycle engine with a 7,000 RPM redline was not exactly a common sight in the early 1970s.

    I’ve often thought about owning this car, given that I drive so few miles (about 5,000/yr.) so fuel is a relatively small cost of my owning a car.

  • avatar

    Good to see another review by you. I have to say that your review of the Fiat 500 influenced my purchase of one. I was pretty much sold already but you made me feel better about the decision.

  • avatar

    To be honest, I’ve been pricing used RX-8s. Maybe if I only drive it on weekends…

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I understand your sentiment too when you mention that its one thing to get 13 mpg in a 1977 Lincoln Town Car but another thing to get that in a compact. I mean heck, that H3 you were admiring your reflection in likely has about the same fuel economy.

    • 0 avatar
      Buzz Killington

      One of us…one of us…one of us….

  • avatar

    How the hell can the car average 15.5mpg if its mostly highway driving??

    These figures are nowhere near what I see in my Rx8. My average is within 1% of the Mazda quoted usage which is 12.9L/100km (or 18.2mpg). My city average is around 16mpg and highway is 24mpg. Ok, the car does drink a little more than the equivalent piston engined car, but nothing like this.

    15.5mpg (mostly highway driving) is NOT representative for the average Rx8, so don’t rely on it for accuracy.

    • 0 avatar

      One thing I noticed with the RX8 is that the MPG varies wildly from car to car. On mine, I never got 20MPG even on the most conservatively driven highway trips. Some people (like you) get 24-26. I didn’t complain because I didn’t drive it much anyway. It was my reward for making it through the week, to drive my toy on the weekend.

      Even on RX8club there are a million mileage threads and some folks always got much higher/lower than others.

  • avatar

    These are nice cars and I thought of buying one. Then I read about the flooding issues. Seems that if you don’t start or stop the engine right the car won’t start. And it takes a tow to the dealer to fix it.

    I think I can pass on that particular hassle.

    • 0 avatar

      The flooding was another issue that was grossly exaggerated.

      I’m not saying that there weren’t 8s that flooded, because some did; but those were mainly 2004 models, when Mazda hadn’t yet come out with a re-flash, and also upgraded the starter motor to a more robust one.

      I’ve had my 8 for 7 years now, and the dealer I bought my new car from had the re-flash and upgraded starter motor done as a matter of course prior to my purchase, and my 8 has never flooded, even when I’ve literally backed it out of the garage just to wash and wax it.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, the abysmal gas milegae combined with the flooding issues (real or imagined) unfortunately knocked it off 1st place on my shopping list. Also I wanted a manual but would have gotten the automatic because of the poorly engineered clutch peddle (supposedly you can sent it off to an aftermarket tuner who apparently welds something up – to much of a hassle as well as a total gamble). I didn’t know about the oil cooler count difference btwn the manual and auto….

        Maybe a Miata with the Power HT???

        Nice writing by Murilee, though

      • 0 avatar
        Buzz Killington

        @johnxyz: if you were considering an automatic version, you should be glad you didn’t buy one. They will replace the clutch pedal under recall.

        Mine has flooded twice; once when I unthinkingly turned it off after running it for 15 seconds on a 15-degree night, and once my wife flodded it somehow. My ’04 does not have the updated battery/starter, though.

        No tow required either time; more internet nonsense. There is a procedure right in the manual for re-starting (basically, cranking with the gas pedal floored, which shuts off the fuel pump).

      • 0 avatar

        Let’s face it: the biggest issue with the RX-8 is it’s an enthusiast’s car targeted towards the mainstream. That always ends in disappointment and sadness.

        The people who wish to turn the key and go forever are never a good fit for cars with ‘quirks’, and the RX-8 has plenty.

        The flooding issue is one of those quirks. I don’t think the “fixes” in later models actually prevents flooding, it just makes the recovery process easier. Folks with a don’t-care attitude want to crank it, move it out of the driveway and cut it off, like you can do with every other car made.

        Me, I didn’t think much of flooding either, but I always followed my father’s advice when moving my mother’s car: run it around the block or at least to the end of the street, until it warms a little. Then one day I went down the street and back to move it for her, and the next day it wouldn’t start.

        It took a lot of cranking, and battery charging and praying to get it started again. Then it needed plugs because it ran like crap afterwards. Lesson learned.

        No, I think this is a car by enthusiasts FOR enthusiasts who can take the time to care about the quirks and work around them. 20 mpg and careful maintenance will make it a rewarding weekend car.

      • 0 avatar

        Ditto w/my ’06 RX-8. “Flooding” is a lingering but largely undeserved reputation.

    • 0 avatar
      New Yorker

      The mere act of writing about “flooding avoidance” makes it sound WAY more complicated than actually is.

      I’ve had my RX-8 seven years now and have yet to flood it. All I do is make sure the engine’s warm before turning it off.

      Which I don’t even have to think about, because the only way that would happen would be if I were to start the car first thing in the morning (when the engine’s cold), move it 15 feet (say, to wash it in the driveway) and then turn it off.

      So flooding is a non-issue for me.

  • avatar

    Rotary reviews of the 1970s: “Nice car, but…”

    Rotary reviews of the 1980s: “Nice car, but…”

    Rotary reviews of the 1990s: “Nice car, but…”

    Rotary reviews of the 2000s: “Nice car, but…”

    Rotary reviews of the 2010s: “Nice car, but…”

    Mazda has 40 years of mixed praise for its rotary; it will never overcome the bad perceptions and horror stories out there. The truth of tighter emissions standards have finally killed it for a while.

    Personally, I think they’re crazy to have stuck with it this long. All defenses of the rotary praise its low CG and improvements over the decades, but this never translates into a truly winning vehicle. The rotary merely provides a unique driving experience, not a better car.

  • avatar

    Mazda should put a high performance Skyactiv 4 in the RX8 and change its model name.
    Great chassis, handling, performance along with MPG.

  • avatar

    Great article an it really is an excellent everyday car. My 04 gt, which I will have had for 9 years next month has been a great car. It was a Summers daily driver for a few year but now is largely a toy. I still love the car and can’t imagine anything that could replace it.
    As for mileage being bad, that is true but some of the compromises that forced it can be fixed.
    Get a series 1 car with a Cobb access port and tune from Mazda maniac. I picked up a measured 4 mpg on the highway and most find another 10 HP as well. Fixed the tune to what it should have been from the factory.

  • avatar

    My RX-8 was a beautiful car. I was sad to see it go. I did blow an engine, but Mazda picked it up from the autocross and covered it under warranty, no questions asked. All it needed was a set of Koni Yellows and it was the equal of nearly any car under 50k at the track.

    I couldn’t care less about fuel mileage.

  • avatar

    Yeah emissions really killed this thing. They had to rejigger the ECU at the last second before the first batch hit the shores to meet 2003 emissions requirements. Basically they made it run really rich. It cost the car about 10hp, a couple MPG, and destroyed cats left and right. Also made the car more flooding prone. They fixed the last two problems over time but never did fix the first two, so thank EPA regs for that. The tune was actually pretty conservative in the first place too just to get to that point, which is why a turbo was never even an option on this car. The 3rd gen RX-7 was a very dirty car that could not dream of existing today. They tried to make the RX-8 work but it got hobbled too bad in a regulatory climate that is hard enough on the piston engines it’s designed for.

    In a world with emissions taxes on the user instead of the OEM (Mazda has no interest in accruing CAFE emissions fines like BMW/Mercedes) the RX-8 would have been a bit easier on the pump, and probably turbo’ed or 3 rotor’ed, or wide bodied (look up 1.6L rotary) up to about 350hp. But that is a dream and this is today’s America.

    If it’s not obvious already, I am a former RX-8 owner. I miss that thing’s handling every damn day. But I wouldn’t buy another one.

  • avatar

    I get 19mpg every time. The only time I got more was 21 on 2 occasions..during the first 800 miles where I never exceeded 4500 rpm, and a 6 hr run on a secondary road where I was doing 50 the whole time.

  • avatar

    For uninitiated doubters:

  • avatar

    I’ve owned my 2008 RX-8 GT since June 2008 and have not had the low MPG issues many of you mentioned. This car was my DD until two years ago, when I bought a 2013 Mazda6S GT with automatic due to clutch foot issues. Even with that, I still drive it on weekends, just not the daily commute. I agree with everyone who said it’s the best driver’s or enthusiast’s car ever made. I really enjoy showing the uninitiated the 1.3L Renesis twin Wankel engine – typical comments are “it looks like a lawnmower engine!” More than once someone has asked me, “how many cylinders does it have?” and when I say “None!” they get this shocked look on their faces. You’d think they would have heard about this car and its rotary-engine predecessors long ago.

    One of the other members of my Ford Probe Club (I owned 3 of those cars in the past too, and still miss my #1) who owned an RX-8 before I did, said it best. He refers to being a race driver, which he is, in his self-built AC Cobra (SCCA).

    “i cant say enough about how great a car the rx8 is, and especially as a race driver. ive learned a lot from it. the chassis and driving dynamic is unlike any other car, and only the tiny size and weight of the rotary can provide that. the brakes will blow your mind and there is actually more room in the rear seats than the front for larger people.

    “the oil squirters are much more conservative than the older rotaries. even at laguna seca i consumed less than a quart in 6 sessions. for street driving it takes about 6K miles of normal driving. did you know the probe also had oil squirters in the pistons?

    “the mileage is the only area where the rx8 is not absolutely tops. i got 23 in probe driving hard and get 17 driving the same way in the rx8. driving easy the probe was about 27 and the rx8 19-20.

    “the biggest weakness is also its biggest strength- it is a raw, merciless sports car. it is tiring to drive in traffic and always begs you to break multiple traffic laws, pass over the double yellow and threshold brake.”

    If any of you live in California or are willing to travel, at some point I will have to sell my 6-speed manual transmission RX-8. It has only 40K on the odometer, full maintenance records through the dealer, and is in perfect condition.

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