After Mazda abandoned its RX-7 sports car at the end of the 1995 model year, fans of rotary engines hoped for a revival. Mazda responded for 2004 with the RX-8.
Instead of a two-door coupe for two passengers, the rear-wheel-drive RX-8 is a four-door sports car that can carry up to four occupants. Rear-hinged half doors permit easier entry into the backseat, and there's no center pillar to block the way. Weight distribution is balanced 50/50 front to rear.
Sirius Satellite Radio is optional. A Shinka Special Edition, of which only 1,500 will be manufactured, adds a uniquely tuned suspension and parchment-colored leather.
The Renesis rotary engine in the RX-8 produces 232 horsepower with a six-speed manual transmission. For 2006, automatic-equipped cars are rated at 212 hp and have a six-speed automatic; the previous model made 197 hp and had a four-speed automatic. Sport, Touring and Grand Touring packages are available.
The front of the RX-8 has an aggressive air intake and displays abundant curves. A power bulge on the low hood features a rotor motif. Short overhangs are coupled with overfenders to enhance the appearance of stability, and functional side vents sit behind the front wheels. The rear-hinged back doors are made of aluminum.
All models feature standard 18-inch wheels, except for the non-Shinka automatic-transmission edition, which comes with standard 16-inch wheels. A spare tire isn't included. A Sport Package includes xenon headlights, fog lamps and the Dynamic Stability Control electronic stability system.
The seats and trim are two-toned in black and the body color. Aluminum accents the console, transmission tunnel and gearshift lever. The front headrests, side sill covers and shift lever have a triangular shape to suggest the engine's rotors.
Lightweight front bucket seats have a rigid molded form, with three bolsters to hold occupants in place. A navigation system is optional.
Under the Hood
Mazda's 1.3-liter twin-rotor engine generates 212 hp at 7,500 rpm and 159 pounds-feet of torque at 5,500 rpm with the six-speed automatic transmission. With the six-speed manual gearbox, it pumps out 232 hp at 8,500 rpm and 159 pounds-feet of torque at 5,500 rpm.
All-disc antilock brakes, side curtain-type airbags, side-impact airbags and front seat belt pretensioners are standard. Dynamic Stability Control can sense skidding, apply the brakes and control engine torque as needed.
Four doors don't impair the RX-8's sports car status, but this rotary-engined beauty is almost too easy to drive. Very little effort is required to extract snappy winding-road performance. The seats are comfortably cushioned to take advantage of the surprisingly good ride. Though it is clearly taut to produce confident control, the suspension takes the edge off all but the worst bumps.
Acceleration is exuberant with the easy-shifting six-speed manual, but it doesn't top the pack. Other than some tire noise, the RX-8 is quiet.