Sports cars are built for driving pleasure. But did you ever notice that most
of them offer either a microscopic back seat or no back seat at all? Rejoice! The new RX-8
For years, Mazda sold the two-seat RX-7. It featured Mazdas
famous rotary engine, which instead of sending pistons up and down to generate energy,
used twin-spinning rotors. In addition to producing a different sound (the famous Mazda
hum), the RX-7 got a lot of power out of a small displacement engine. Sadly, the RX-7
disappeared in the mid 1990s.
Not only does it come with a much improved rotary engine but it has
"hold your breath", a back seat. Even better, it has four doors, so its
easy for adults to actually enter and exit the rear compartment. Mazda cleverly hides the
rear doors, so if you arent paying attention, you might think the car is a two-door
The rear doors open at the front with the hinges in back, and they
swing out 80 degrees, almost straight out, from the car. Without a center pillar, there is
a huge opening, and the doors themselves are extra strong, making the RX-8 solid and safe.
Besides its four-person carrying capability, the RX-8 can haul
a weekends luggage or a couple of golf bags in its 7.6 cubic foot trunk. Try that
with a Corvette!
Mazda went all out in the design of this unique new sports car. The
front fenders are sliced out of the body with almost entirely flat tops. Vents cut in
aggressively behind the front wheels. The hood flaunts a prominent spear shape. The
headlamps squint and the grille is pursed tight, giving the face an intense stare.
The cars taut sides culminate in a thick ridge that connects
the flared wheel wells. In back, the rear glass curves over, forming a mini fastback,
while the clear tail lamps curve upwards towards it. Everywhere, the design creates
Inside, simply sculpted forms convey purposeful strength. An unusual
circle motif on the center console reminded me of a CD, but it serves no actual purpose. A
silvery, full-length console runs from front to back. The triangular rotor does extra duty
as a styling motif in places like the top of the slender shift knob and in the seatback
below the headrests. This latter use looked sensational, but my five-foot-tall son found
that his head bumped it uncomfortably.
Once you are nicely tucked inside, the fun begins. The RX-8 is fast.
Motor Trend magazine clocked it at 6.4 seconds from zero to sixty, with a 14.8-second
quarter mile at 94.3 mph. Amazingly, the RENESIS engine has only 1.3 liters of
displacement, but puts out a big 238 horsepower and 164 lb.-ft. of torque with the manual
six-speed transmission. The automatic-equipped car gets just 197 horsepower, but the
torque numbers drop only slightly, to 159 lb.-ft.
This car gets better mileage than previous RX models, at 18 city, 24
highway with the manual. It also runs cleaner, with the new engine meeting the strict Tier
2 emissions certification.
The RX-8 handles like the true sports car it is. The front gets a
double-wishbone suspension, and all four wheels use mono-tube gas-filled shock absorbers.
The front to rear weight balance is a perfect 50-50. The RX-8 has Mazdas new
electric-assist rack and pinion power steering, which doesnt steal power from the
engine. Steering assist is speed related, so it supplies more help in parking situations,
but once you are on the highway the assist drops away for firmer control.
When you select your RX-8, you must decide whether to shift for
yourself or let the car do it for you. My Velocity Red test car had a six-speed manual
transmission, which is the way to go for fun and control. The RX-8s little sibling,
the Miata, has always boasted fine shifting action, and this new car shows it belongs to
the same family.
After picking a transmission, your next choice is whether to order
the Standard package or move up to the Grand Touring, Touring, or Sport trim packages. The
Standard car has power windows, locks and mirrors as well as cruise control and a nice
six-speaker audio system. The Sport package adds xenon headlights, fog lights, and Dynamic
Stability Control (DSC). DSC uses the cars computer to stay safely on the road in
The Touring Package adds a moonroof and upgraded Bose audio system
to the Sport Package. The Grand Touring Package includes leather seating with lumbar
support (heated in front) and heated outside mirrors. My tester had the Sport Package
($1,100) and the optional navigation system ($2,000), which pops up out of the instrument
panel as needed and slips away again when you remove the key from the ignition. The system
uses a single DVD for all the U.S. and parts of Canada. You can tip the screen
electrically to cut glare, as needed.