By on June 26, 2012

Mazda is set to build the final RX-8, bringing a temporary end to the rotary engine, which powered its flagship sports cars for 45 years.

Mazda is all set to revive the rotary engine within the next year as a hydrogen-fueled range extender for an upcoming electric vehicle. But the future of Mazda has already been tied to their Skyactiv engineering and traditional piston engines.

In 2013, Mazda will return to LeMans and sports car racing with a Skyactiv diesel powered car. In 1991, the company famously won the race with a four-rotor powerplant.

Rather than wax eloquently about the RX-8 and the rotary engine, Bloomberg’s first quote manages to perfectly encapsulate the car

“Fuel efficiency is horrible,” said Meguro, a 41-year-old music producer in Tokyo, who drives a Mazda RX-8 sports coupe. “But I don’t know any car that beats this. I’m going to miss it.”

Well said, sir.

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44 Comments on “Mazda’s Rotary Era Comes To An End...”

  • avatar

    The Subion FR-Z is about as close as you’re going to get to what this car stood for in terms of handling. I got to drive an RX-8 with a lousy automatic transmission and it was still a fun car to toss around.

    Maybe the rotary will be back again some day in sporty mode with some forced induction and not be regulated to this range extending detail crap.

    “Boost in, apex seals out”

    • 0 avatar

      +1 The closest thing to a new RX-8 is an FR-S. Part of the reason I bought an FR-S. The rotary didn’t scare me so much as I just didn’t want something high maintenance at this point in my life – I just got rid of a high maintenance car. The ride is a little better in the Toyobaru too, as a daily driver.

  • avatar

    Bad gas mileage, no torque, and maintenance that the average Joe won’t know a clue about, since the average Joe rarely reads his manuals.

    • 0 avatar

      Maintenance requirements for the rotary engine: check oil periodically and top up if necessary; oil and filter every 8000 km (if following the severe service schedule); spark plugs and air filter every 50,000 km; ignition coils and wires every other spark plug change.

      Wow, that’s onerous.

      • 0 avatar

        For the average car owner in 2013 that is a crazy amount.

        People expect 7k+ mile oil life (without needing to check it between changes), 100k mile spark plug life, and don’t even know what an ignition coil is.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s about 4x the spark plug changes of many modern cars…and about triple what many cars were doing 10 years ago.
        Far as I know most cars don’t even have ignition coil change intervals…

      • 0 avatar

        Well the coils are not officially a wear item, but they did go duff on many cars and this seriously affects performance and catalytic converter life, so I included them as a useful prophylactic job.

        Still, if the average Joe can’t handle this simple regimen, then I weep for the average Joe.

      • 0 avatar

        For those cheering 100,000-mile spark plug life: ever tried to get a set of plugs out after 100k? They’re cheap and, in a sensibly designed engine bay (which excludes many transverse-mounted V engines, yes) not too difficult to change out… unless they’re seized in there.

      • 0 avatar

        Don’t forget using 10w30 or heavier oil rather than 5w20 oil. 5w20 is recommended by Mazda just for EPA reasons but is harder on the engine. Mazda in the rest of the world recommends a heavier grade.

  • avatar

    Fuel efficiency is horrible.
    Emissions are difficult to control.
    It drinks more oil than an old MB diesel.

    Several brand new RX8 were run out of oil at Denver dealerships on test drives. The dealer put big red signs on every steering wheel: “CHECK OIL BEFORE EVERY TEST DRIVE.”

    A buddy bought a brand new R100 when we were undergrads at MIT. It was a fun, but quirky car back then.

    Having driven several RX7s & RX8s, I still take a Miata.

  • avatar

    I really like the RX-8. I look them over when it’s car buying time. The MPG doesn’t kill it. The lack of power doesn’t kill it. It’s the damn reliability.

    Goodnight sweet prince.

    • 0 avatar

      +1, I’d gladly overlook the mileage if I didn’t think I’d be going through wheel bearings like they were paper towel rolls.

      • 0 avatar

        stryker1: Not sure what you mean. I, and a friend of mine, have both had initial-batch RX8s for 9 years and counting, and 2 other people in our extended social group have had them for years, and none of us have ever replaced a wheel bearing.
        The two 9 year old cars have even been tracked (mine) and AutoX’d (his) regularly.

  • avatar

    For an engine with 9 moving parts it’s quite an achievement. Especially when you look at the power/displacement ration. These are small light motors putting out a lot of horsepower.
    But as noted that comes with a fuel penalty. And the days of 1.00 a gallon are gone forever.

    • 0 avatar

      “But as noted that comes with a fuel penalty. And the days of 1.00 a gallon are gone forever.”

      Even in the days of $1 per gallon gas, rotary engine sales tanked due to poor milage. Mazda sales went down the toilet and GM cancelled their Wankel engine project.

      The RX-7 was a better, more fun car than the RX-8 anyway. It’s too bad that it wasn’t quickly replaced with a more RX-7ish RX-9.

      • 0 avatar

        GS650G: Depends how you do the math.. I count 3 moving parts (2 rotors and 1 eccentric shaft)

        moedaman: What criteria are you using for “better, more fun” when you say that? I currently own 2 RX7s and an RX8, and amongst my group of friends we have 2 more RX8s and 5 current RX7s (and 2 former RX7 owners) and I don’t think any of us could definitively declare one better than the other.. different from each other, yes, but none is better in all facets.

  • avatar

    If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

    In this case, no. For the last 40 years, the Mazda rotary has received nothing but qualified praise, making it OK, but never great.

    My earlier comments on the Mazda rotary here:

  • avatar

    I love driving my 91 FC3 S5 RX-7 convertible.
    I love driving it when I am not sitting in traffic.
    An RX-7/RX-8 is not an appliance, it is not a commuter car – it is a sports car for the aficionado who will lovingly do the proper maintenance(i.e. oil changes).
    Mpg is not an issue.
    R.I.P. the rotary engine.

  • avatar

    I couldn’t figure out how to find the link to the address of my earlier post from May 2010 on the RX8, so at the risk of plagiarizing myself and being repetitive, here is a repost –


    The RX8 is like the S2000. It elicits strong responses from people, either positive or negative – you either “get it”, or you don’t.

    It never ceases to amaze me that the most strident critics of the RX8 (or probably any car) are those people who have never owned one, and probably have never even driven one (which naturally makes them supremely qualified to render expert opinions, particularly when they are solely their own personal subjective emotional reactions).

    There are few absolute “rights” or “wrongs”, or “good” or “bad” when it comes to cars. It’s all about personal preferences, and what you like. Neither vanilla nor chocolate are good or bad, it’s whatever floats your boat. I drive an RX-8, it’s my second RX-8 and the 4th wankel vehicle I’ve owned in my life, so naturally, I like it and have positive things to say about it. It doesn’t mean it’s the car for everyone. But regardless of what one thinks about the RX-8, it is absolutely unique, and it is very sad to see it go.

    I’m a hard core car fanatic. I’ve owned exactly 100 cars (yes, literally… it’s a disease) in my 37 years of driving (yes, I’m probably “older” than most people here, I’m not a “fanboy”, but maybe a fangeezer). I’ve had many different kinds of cars… American muscle cars, European sports cars, including several Porsches. But, for my personal tastes, the RX-8 is simply one of the most fun cars I have ever had.

    The RX8 is definitely not for everyone. It is truly a purists car, a car for the non-conformist and hard-core enthusiast (I always thought it a little ironic that they tried to make it “practical” with “4” sort-of doors and a useable back seat, but then, that’s also what lets me use it as a daily driver). In many ways it is more fun to drive than a Boxster S or 911 I previously owned (and at a fraction of the price). The RX8 is the ultimate tossable and flingable car. Its purpose is not to be a drag racer or muscle car. Its all about balance, refinement, precise handling, agility, and the *feel* of the car.

    Yes, it doesn’t have much torque. So what? Neither do Formula 1 race cars. Some people get their thrills from stop light drag races, and just mashing the gas pedal to the floor in a straight line. There are lots of cars for them. If you have never driven a RX-8, the first time you feel the unbelievable smoothness of a rotary engine winding out to 9000 rpm, sounding like a jet turbine spooling up for takeoff, it’s like cocaine. The engine revs and zings like a motorcycle, it’s absolutely infectious. The chills it sends down your spine make you want to bump up against the rev limiter with every shift. The car is so light, has such great balance and such a low polar moment of inertia, it feels like it pivots instinctively around turns. Other than the S2000 (which is my other car), this car is the next closest thing to a 4-wheeled motorcycle I have ever driven.

    No car is “perfect” and does everything well. Everything in life is a compromise of one form or another. The RX-8 trades torque and gas mileage for what it does offer. People talk about a sports car “fitting like a glove” and becoming an extension of the driver. To me, that’s *exactly* what the RX-8 is all about. It’s such a fun combination of a smooth, free-revving engine with a tossable, neutral chassis. With many performance cars you really need to push them at >8/10′s or at supra-legal speeds to get the feel of their handling capabilities. In the RX-8 I have a blast taking turns at legal speeds. The car changes direction so easily, so naturally, and the engine revs so willingly. The engine and chassis really fit well together. The RX-8 just would not be the same car with a piston engine. On top of cramming all this pleasure into a uniquely fun car, they also made it comfortable enough and with a sufficiently compliant ride that I can drive it every day or take it on 600 mile trips and arrive feeling refreshed, or take 3 people and luggage in the car with me – and have styling that might not be “classically beautiful”, but is certainly unique and stands out with its own Japanese anime distinctiveness in a world of increasing blandness and conformity.

    Mazda itself uses the term “jinba ittai” in describing its philosophy behind the Miata. The direct translation of the Japanese idiom is “rider and horse as one.” Ironically, I think it actually applied so much better to the RX-8. The Miata is a lot of fun to drive as well (I’ve also owned 2 of them over the years). But I think the RX8 is even so much more fun to drive than the Miata because of its rev-happy, turbine-like rotary engine and overall higher levels of performance – it truly seems to capture the jinba ittai spirit.

    If you care about “statistics” (0 to 60, 1/4 mile times, etc.), the RX-8 is not the car for you. If you care about how a car *feels*, about having it directly hard-wired into your central nervous system, about being an extension of the car and part of the road, then you “get it”.

    Mazda should get a medal for sticking with the rotary for as long as they have. In the end, I personally am not surprised that it didn’t make it, emissions notwithstanding. There are far more American buyers who want a grunting torque spewing muscle monster than an refined agile eclectic sports car. It was always a niche market at best, which was sustainable in good economic times, but not in recessions. The RX8 was a bargain for the fun drive it offered – Lotus offers similar tossability but at a much higher price, and the only comparable car (in “feel”) in its price range was the S2000, which is also R.I.P. A race car for the street but on a working person’s budget.

    To me, the RX-8 and S2000 are a blast, plain and simple. Which is why I have one of each, and will keep driving them until they pry my cold, dead, lifeless fingers from the quick-ratio steering wheels and precise short-throw shifters.

    So, whether you liked the car or not, let’s have a moment of silence in tribute to the passing of one of the great true pure enthusiast’s cars of our day. It may well not be back, and like the old saying goes, sometimes you don’t really know what you had until it’s gone.

  • avatar

    Uh, I thought the RX-8 stopped production last year? Or did they just stop shipping to the US?

  • avatar

    I always thought Mazda was just to damn small to make the Wankel work. The rotary engine is awesome but it still needs all the technology improvements that have gone into piston engines the last couple of decades, variable valve lift and timing, rail injection, etc. If comparable technologies were developed for the rotary engine then it would still be quite competitive.

  • avatar

    Carnick: Very well said. Funny how real world gas mileage of 18 mpg is regarded as swell for a Benz, Panther, or useless SUV, but is horrible in an RX-8. (My 20,000 mile average is 21 mpg btw; the RX rewards smoooth driving.) Like perhaps the Volt, its uniqueness attracts armchair “experts” like hookers to a Navy base. Audi seems to consider 1 qt oil/1000 miles as normal, but my 8’s 1 qt/2000 makes it an oil hog? Go figure. I hope to see another rotary car offered, but plan to keep mine for a very long time. To those seemingly happy to see it gone, I say that you really don’t know what you missed.

  • avatar

    Great comments by CARNICK

    I have always wanted to buy a new one. However I did not buy one based on reading all the forums talking about all the total engine failures along with a host of other problems. I decided to wait and consider buying a low cost used one and trying a Ford Mustang V6 transplant someday in the future.

    Now reading Carnicks comments I may kill the character of the RX-8 if I performed an engine swap. So the question is…what year did they truly fix all the RX-8 engine issues?

    • 0 avatar

      From my past perusal of the RX-8 forums, I believe the Series II RX-8 (2009+) is where they figured out most of the problems.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks Trend-Shifter.

      IMHO, I personally think the character of the RX8 would be completely destroyed by removing the wankel engine. It’s light weight, low center of gravity, and most of all, the spine-tingling free-revving turbine-like performance and sound are the very essence of the RX8.

      Like many cars, the later the build, the better. The first 2004-2005 models had some problems, but could be retrofitted and upgraded to the 2006-2008 specifications (I did that on my first RX8, a 2004, and had 25,000 trouble-free miles with it). The 2006-2008 models were pretty good, and the final 2009+ the best of all with an extra oil injector.

      But, with just a bit of preventative maintenance – like, checking the oil, and retrofitting an early engine – they can all be pretty reliable. On the RX8 forum there are many members with over 100,000 miles on their original engines, many of which are used as daily drivers.

  • avatar

    I had an ’04. Engine blew up. Terrible fuel mileage. Useless in the snow. Engine mounts wore out. Tire wear was hideous.

    Loved every minute of ownership.

  • avatar

    I am astonished at the carping about ‘high maintenance’ on the RX8. I’ve now owned 103 cars in 38 years, and I actually like working on them. I wish modern cars needed *more* attention. But then, my automotive formative years were forged in cars of the 1960’s.

    Oil changes, and cleaning and gapping spark plugs, every 2,000 miles. Replacing spark plugs and adjusting valves every 10,000 miles (anyone else here remember adjusting solid lifter overhead valves?). Adjusting cable clutches every few thousand miles. Adjusting carburetors every few thousand miles (to say nothing of rebuilding carbs every few years). Having a manual choke. Some of my cars didn’t even have self-adjusting brakes.

    I never minded any of it. I enjoyed it, just as I still enjoy washing and waxing my own cars. To me, it was all bonding with my car, getting the proverbial grease under my fingernails, getting to know its intricate innards, optimizing and customizing it just for me.

    As HiFlite999 astutely pointed out, there are other contemporary cars that also require “maintenance”. Air-cooled Porsches use about a quart of oil every 1,000 miles, but I have yet to hear an owner complain about that. If checking the oil once a month is too onerous for someone, there are plenty of Toyotas and Hondas out there that make no demands whatsoever on the owner, and provide as much in return.

    I demand a lot of my cars. I demand that they be involving, engaging, and fun to drive. I demand that they thrill me each time I get behind the wheel. I want to know the intimate details of all of its inner workings, and there’s no better way to do that than by actually opening the hood. I don’t mind if in return, they demand an extra 10 minutes a month of maintenance.

    The extra ‘maintenance’ on a RX8 is *nothing* like that required of cars of the past, or even most modern exotics (ever see the maintenance schedule on a Ferrari?). It is literally just a few minutes a month more than some anonymous, souless transportation module. If that’s too much, then it’s a litmus test of whether the RX8 is right for someone.

    I’ve run two RX8s over 6 years and 40,000 miles, and have had *zero* reliability problems. The few minutes a month I spend on preventative maintenance has resulted in their being as trouble-free as my wifes Honda Accord. I think that’s a very small price to pay for the thrill of driving a car that has so much soul and passion.

    But then, as I said, the RX8 is not a car for everyone. It is for the ultra-hard core gear heads that think spending a Saturday afternoon working on an engine is fun. Who go for drives just for the fun of it, with no destination. Who actually want to open the hood. We are a small and apparently dwindling minority, but I for one was very happy that the RX8 existed for us, and I intend to keep mine for as long as I’m able to drive.

    • 0 avatar

      People complain about oil use on modern VWs and Audis all the time.

      Like you wrote, the RX8 was a car for connoisseurs. Obviously, those extra maintenance requirements each month are too much for most people. Heck, the current requirements on a Camry are too much for some people.

      You love your RX8, and they are awesome cars, but I doubt you would recommend it to someone that would be better served by getting a Scion tC or leasing a 128i.

      I don’t see anyone cheering the end of the RX8, they are just pointing out why it didn’t sell in especially high amounts.

      • 0 avatar

        You are absolutely right ajla. I have talked many people *out* of buying a RX8. There have been lots of people who have commented “Cool car, where can I get one?”, and knowing them, I have actively talked them out of it – for the very reason you mention, I knew they could never be bothered to check the oil (or even to have someone do it for them). They were much better off getting Accords, Civics, etc.

        My wife’s mother once had a Chrysler LeBaron. Notwithstanding that it was a miserable malaise era car, the engine blew at 24,000 miles. She was furious. When I asked her how often she had the oil changed, she looked at me with a blank expression as if I was speaking Greek. The answer was, never. The same frequency with which the oil level was even checked. Never. I was amazed that the poor little lump of a K-car engine made it 24,000 miles on its original factory oil fill.

        Unfortunately, she was probably fairly indicative of the majority of drivers, who, as you note, can’t be bothered with the maintenance needs of a Camry.

      • 0 avatar

        Hey carnick, ever own an Alfa? Your comments sound like most Alfa owners I know (including myself).

    • 0 avatar

      Morea, yes, I have owned an Alfa. A gorgeous 1960 Spyder Normale, a long time ago (I couldn’t afford one now). I still troll craigslist and e-bay looking for Alfas… The RX8 and Alfa share some similarities in both being very passionate cars, but you’re right, it’s probably the owners of each that have commonalities in being passionate about cars.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    If GM made a car that infamously used this much oil, surely it would have been one of the “Deadly Sins,” wouldn’t it?

    Oh, that’s right….they did! It was called the “Vega.”

    • 0 avatar

      Wikipedia actually has a pretty interesting article on GM’s efforts to bring a wankel engine to market in the ’70s. They were going to use much larger displacement rotors than Mazda ever did.

  • avatar

    Umm… Mazda have said repeatedly that they are doing another rotary, possibly two. One is supposed to be the combustion part of a hybrid powertrain. The other is the one I want, the aluminum block (finally) 1600cc version.

    Their financial issues might cause an issue, but their hints have sounded pretty committed.

    Anyway, here’s hoping it’s only the temporary end of an era… again.

  • avatar

    My first post after lurking here forever…

    I commend Mazda for making the rotary work when GM and Mercedes gave up. One wonders where the rotary would be today if several car manufacturers had been competing and pursuing it. Note that rotary engines were quickly banned from Le Mans after the 787B victory in 1991. Again what if…

    I came close to getting an RX-8 4 years ago, but using it as a commuter in the Boston region would have never exploited its virtues. Instead I got an Infiniti G35x, a nice drive, but hardly a paragon of fuel efficiency either.

    As others have said, those enthusiasts who have owned one mostly remember them fondly or they’ve still got it. Also, I really enjoyed Dr Karesh’s series on the road trip with his dad even if the RX-8 involved didn’t fair too well.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I always thought the rotary in either 1 or 2 rotor form would work well with a hybrid or extended range drivetrain. Not only is it simple but would offset the subpar fuel economy and emissions issues.

    • 0 avatar

      “….would offset the subpar fuel economy and emissions issues.”

      Ever since the days of the NSU Ro80 and the VanVeen motorcycle, those have been the exact issues with rotaries because the rotor seals wear out too quickly, and rotaries are hard to rebuild.

  • avatar

    highdesercat: Bonus points for name-dropping the NSU and the VanVeen (saw a VanVeen ar DGRR the other year. Very cool) but what do you mean rotaries are hard to rebuild?
    A stock rebuild on a Mazda rotary is simple as engine rebuilds go. How many other enthusiast cars have people successfully rebuild their own engines with a workbench, a few basic tools and a DIY DVD?

    We’re in the middle of rebuilding my race engine right now with about an hour to tear down the other night to inventory parts needed, and should only take a couple hours to put it all back together. We’ve also got 2 DIY street rebuilds in our group.

    Heck, this 1 hour Youtube video gives you most of what you need to know:

    • 0 avatar

      Redshift, I ran the auto hobby shop at night on my off-duty time while stationed in Germany and we tried rebuilding my used Ro80 (donated to me by my wife’s German uncle) there.

      It was easy to break down but not so easy to seat the seals to where they wouldn’t leak. But it could have been the seal material too.

      It smoked a lot, even after putting in new rotor seals. I had that thing apart twice and had a lot of help. The walls were clean and we removed the varnish with a spinning brass brush, as recommended.

      The German mechanics, employees of the DoD who provided guidance and assistance for our troops at the hobby shop told me that the NSU Wankel was a bear to get right, but I wanted to try it myself anyway. I mistakenly thought Wankels would be the engine of the future and wanted to get a head start on them.

      Those German guys had been working on NSU, DKW and other pre- and postwar favorites for a lot longer than I had. Most of those guys were old enough to be my father or grandfather and ran successful automotive repair businesses on the economy, that they had restarted after the war.

      If YOU possess the knowledge and ability to successfully rebuild a Wankel Rotary, I commend you for it.

      But I’m am certain that rebuilding a piston engine with rings ensures a greater degree of success for most DIY mechanics, including myself. (I got my start rebuilding my dad’s 426 Hemi race engines at age 12)

      I believe that the MTBF (mean time between failure) rate is lower on the seals of a rotary than it is on the rings of a piston engines. I don’t know this for a fact but that’s what I believe based on my own experience.

      The Ro80 I owned way back then started smoking at around 70,000 kilometers before I got it and was rebuilt by me at around 80,000 km.

      It started smoking again at around 91,000 km and I sold it off for parts at around 95,000 km, almost all of it to the German mechanics who knew the value of those parts and had outlets to sell them to.

      I never owned a VanVeen but I had a German friend who did. He also owned a Laverda and a Munch. I did ride the VanVeen on E36 in Germany with the owner following me on my R90S and it was the smoothest bike I ever rode. It made my BMW twin-opposed feel like a well-worn vibrator. A great vibrator, but still a vibrator.

      Good luck on your rebuild. It is my understanding that Mazda changed the seal material from that initially used by NSU and if true (I don’t know for sure if they did) that may help the by-pass problem at lower rpm. That’s where the problem with MY Ro80 was, at low rpm.

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