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. Competitors include the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Nissan 350Z.
Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels are available, and the 2008 model year sees the addition of a 40th Anniversary model in recognition of 40 years of Mazda's rotary engine. This model has a gray exterior and red leather inside, special 18-inch wheels, suspension modifications, a silver engine cover and unique badging.
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 automatic-transmission editions, which come with standard 16-inch wheels. A spare tire isn't included. A Performance 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 head restraints, 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. A six-CD changer is standard on Touring and Grand Touring models.
Under the Hood
Mazda's 1.3-liter twin-rotor engine generates 212 horsepower 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 airbags and side-impact airbags for the front seats are standard.
Four doors don't impair the RX-8's sports car status. 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.