Best Bet
  • (4.8) 8 reviews
  • MSRP: $4,901–$11,961
  • Body Style: Coupe
  • Combined MPG: 19
  • Engine: 232-hp, 1.3-liter Rotary (premium)
  • Drivetrain: Rear-wheel Drive
2008 Mazda RX-8

Our Take on the Latest Model 2008 Mazda RX-8

What We Don't Like

  • Minimal low-end torque
  • Gas mileage
  • Backseat legroom
  • 20-hp loss with automatic

Notable Features

  • Twin-rotor engine
  • Rear-hinged backdoors
  • New 40th Anniversary Edition
  • 9,000-rpm redline (manual transmission)

2008 Mazda RX-8 Reviews

Cars.com Expert Reviews

The RX-8 is the ugly duckling of the automotive world; it doesn't have the sleekest, prettiest lines, but if you get beyond that and take a seat behind the wheel, you'll experience a sports car with fine handling abilities. Essentially, the RX-8 lets you feel the pulse of the road.

Exterior & Styling
The RX-8 has been on the road since the 2004 model year, and it's still one of the more unusually styled sports cars available. Credit the unique front styling, which features large fenders pulled away from the rest of the car, and a cabin that has two extra rear-hinged backdoors for access to the two rear seats. Long and low, the RX-8 definitely looks the part of a sports car, just one that's decided to break some of the rules about what a sports car should look like.

Mazda has a new RX-8 trim level — the 40th Anniversary Edition — for 2008. This model celebrates Mazda's 40 years of building rotary engines. With this trim level come special badges on the front fenders, attractive 18-inch alloy wheels and a unique paint color: Metropolitan Gray Mica (see a side-by-side comparison with the 2007 model).

Ride & Handling
If you're looking for a good-handling car, you've found one in the rear-wheel-drive RX-8. It has a balance and naturalness in its dynamics that eludes many sports cars. This sensation is no doubt helped by its perfect 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution, which Mazda attributes partly to its ability to position the rotary engine low and rearward in the engine bay. The steps it's taken have worked, as the car just feels right.

In addition to its superior balance, the RX-8 also has praiseworthy steering response and feel. Even though my test car was equipped with performance winter tires, the RX-8 responded readily to driver commands and exhibited confidence-inspiring high-speed stability. It takes some effort to turn the wheel, which I appreciate in a car with performance aspirations.

Living with this car, however, could become a trying experience if you drive on roads that are in poor condition. With its sport suspension, the 40th Anniversary Edition RX-8 delivered a jostling experience on Chicago's ragged roads, which have been hit especially hard by a serious case of potholes this winter. Even if you manage to avoid these monsters waiting to bend the RX-8's pretty rims, ride quality is still stiff.

Going & Stopping
Another key difference between the RX-8 and other sports cars is the use of a rotary engine instead of the more conventional internal-combustion piston engine. Rotary engines use a rotor that spins within a housing to complete the combustion process, and the design can make a lot of horsepower from a small-displacement engine; the twin-rotor 1.3-liter engine produces 232 horsepower at 8,500 rpm with the six-speed manual transmission (212 hp at 7,500 rpm with the six-speed automatic). It requires premium gas.

If you're a fan of high-revving engines like those in the Honda Civic Si or S2000, you may be in heaven with a rotary engine. The RX-8's engine makes most of its power high in the rpm range — manual transmission models have a 9,000-rpm redline — and it spins with a smoothness that can't be matched by a piston engine.

There are some downsides to the rotary. As might be expected from such a small engine, there's not much low-end torque, which means you can't get away with leaving the car in the wrong gear like you can with some larger engines. (Fortunately, changing gears is a pleasure thanks to the RX-8's manual transmission, which I'll discuss below.)

The other negative is gas mileage; the RX-8 gets an EPA-estimated 16/22 mpg city/highway with the manual and 16/23 mpg with the automatic. Compare that to the Nissan 350Z coupe, which is heaver and has a 306-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 but gets 18/25 mpg with a six-speed manual.

Speaking of manual transmissions, the one in the RX-8 is a willing companion in your driving endeavors. It has short throws and a slightly mechanical feel, and the clutch pedal only requires light effort from your foot. Sure-footed stopping performance is provided by an antilock braking system that includes ventilated disc brakes at each wheel.

The Inside
An agreeable driving position and comfortable seats make the RX-8's cockpit a nice place for driving. The steering wheel and shifter both fall to hand easily. The 40th Anniversary Edition features special Cosmo Red leather seats that are supportive and have enough bolstering to keep you in place during fast cornering. Heated seats are optional, but they only have "on" and "off" settings — you can't adjust the temperature lower or higher like you can in some cars.

If you take a minute to look around the RX-8's cabin, you'll see numerous reminders that there's a rotary engine under the hood; the front seats have a rotor-like triangular opening in the head restraints, and there's another rotor design on top of the shifter. The instrument panel features a large tachometer and supplementary gauges, but no traditional speedometer. Instead, there's a digital speedometer integrated into the face of the tach. Though different, I never found this setup jarring when driving the car.

Even though the rear-hinged backdoors make it easier to get into the backseat, there's not a lot of room once you're there. The rear bucket seats are nicely shaped, but legroom is lacking and headroom is limited, too. While this may not sound great, it is worlds better than some of the spaces other sports-car makers try to pass off as rear seats.

Cargo
The RX-8 has a traditional trunk with a pass-thru to the cabin for carrying long, skinny items inside the car. At 7.6 cubic feet, the trunk's size is respectable; it's large enough to carry a couple small suitcases or duffel bags.

Safety
Side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags are standard. An electronic stability system is standard on all models besides the base, Sport trim level.

RX-8 in the Market
There aren't many sports cars out there like the RX-8. It's the only rotary-powered production car available in the U.S., and it's one of the few cars out there with rear-hinged backdoors. Its biggest shortcoming is that you can buy a lot more horsepower in a competitor like the 350Z for about the same amount of money. Horsepower still matters more than handling prowess for many sports car buyers, but even the Z doesn't give up a lot to the RX-8 in the handling department. The RX-8 is a feather to the Z's hammer, and here in the U.S. it's hard to see the hammer losing.

Send Mike an email 


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Consumer Reviews

(4.8)

Average based on 8 reviews

Write a Review

Quick and Fast

by speedy from north east on November 28, 2012

I bought my 2008 Mazda RX-8 as a leftover in '09. I loved the car, owning it for 3 1/2 years. THe car was quick and fast and hugged turns and curves with ease. The 0 to 60 actually improved slightly o... Read Full Review

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4 Trims Available

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Wondering which configuration is right for you?
Our 2008 Mazda RX-8 trim comparison will help you decide.
 

Mazda RX-8 Articles

2008 Mazda RX-8 Safety Ratings

Crash-Test Reports

Recalls

There are currently 5 recalls for this car.


Safety defects and recalls are relatively common. Stay informed and know what to do ahead of time.

Safety defects and recalls explained

Service & Repair

Estimated Service & Repair cost: $4,100 per year.

Save on maintenance costs and do your own repairs.

Warranty Coverage

Bumper-to-Bumper

36mo/36,000mi

Powertrain

60mo/60,000mi

Roadside Assistance Coverage

36mo/36,000mi

What you should get in your warranty can be confusing. Make sure you are informed.

Learn More About Warranties

Warranties Explained

Bumper-to-Bumper

Often called a basic warranty or new-vehicle warranty, a bumper-to-bumper policy covers components like air conditioning, audio systems, vehicle sensors, fuel systems and major electrical components. Most policies exclude regular maintenance like fluid top offs and oil changes, but a few brands have separate free-maintenance provisions, and those that do offer them is slowly rising. Bumper-to-bumper warranties typically expire faster than powertrain warranties.

Powertrain

Don't be misled a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty doesn't promise a decade of free repairs for your car. It typically covers just the engine and transmission, along with any other moving parts that lead to the wheels, like the driveshaft and constant velocity joints. Some automakers also bundle seat belts and airbags into their powertrain warranties. With a few exceptions, powertrain warranties don't cover regular maintenance like engine tuneups and tire rotations.

Roadside Assistance

Some automakers include roadside assistance with their bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranties, while others have separate policies. These programs cover anything from flat-tire changes and locksmith services to jump-starts and towing. Few reimburse incidental costs like motel rooms (if you have to wait for repairs).

Free Scheduled Maintenance

Some automakers include free scheduled maintenance for items such as oil changes, air filters and tire rotations. Some include consumables including brake pads and windshield wipers; others do not. They are typically for the first couple of years of ownership of a new car.

Other Years