Mazda�s rotary engines have enjoyed a relatively long and distinguished history, including a famous win at the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1991. The Mazda RX8 came to the Australian market in 2003 and enjoyed an ensuing reign as one of the most popular four-door semi-sports cars of its time.
Considered something of a �big brother� to its highly popular predecessor � the RX7 � the RX8 was a functional, affordable, and fun car that offered the perfect compromise between utility and looks. For families, it offered the space for two in the back and some gear in the boot while providing plenty of oomph and some sleek design styling for those looking for something a little more dynamic.
One of its most outstanding features was the rear-hinged rear doors, similar to suicide doors, that provide easier access to the rear seats. It is designed with no B-pillar between the two sets of doors, the edge of the rear door acting instead as a kind of virtual pillar to maintain the rigidity of the structure when on the road. The overlapping design means the rear doors can only be opened when the front doors are opened, ensuring total safety.
The RX8 was designed as a rear-wheel drive, four-door coupe with a manual gearbox. It boasts excellent balance and layout thanks to some intelligent Mazda engineering and strong sports suspension, making for an interesting, comfortable, and exciting drive. Voted Wheels Car of the Year in 2003, this accolade was well deserved.
The RX8 is not everyone�s cup of tea, however. Fans of the RX7 claimed, with some good reason, that the RX8 was not quite up to the performance standards of its predecessor. To an extent this is true, but then these are indeed two very different cars.
The RX8 comes with a 1.3-litre 2-cylinder rotary engine, giving 141 kW of power and 222 Nm of torque. Transmission is 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic, plus there is a special 6-speed manual RENESIS model offering 186 kW of power. The RX8 is not known for its fuel efficiency, although this was improved slightly in the RENESIS, with the exhaust ports located in the side housing; however, emissions are also high. Fuel efficiency is around 12-14L/100km for standard urban driving.
The RX8 performs best on the open road but is less than ideal in heavy traffic or any stop-start scenario, meaning it is not the first choice for many urbanites. Set it free to rev to its heart�s content, however, and you will feel the RX8 come right into its own. It handles sharply and responsively, and the sporty ride is firm but far from uncomfortable. There is plenty of room for four and certainly more space than in most coupes on the road, although headroom is still a little limited in the rear.
The RX8 comes with six airbags, ABS brakes, and stability control right across the range. It has no official ANCAP rating, as it hasn�t been tested but suffice to say with this level of safety kit, it is likely that it would stand up well to the challenge.
The RX8 underwent some tweaking with a second generation in 2008, and again for its final incarnation, the top-of-the-range Spirit R in 2011. Production ceased in 2012.
The RX8 GT with Prodrive went some way to revitalising the public�s waning interest, upping the sportiness and the gadgetry. Its 18-inch dark-silver alloys with centre caps in carbon fibre, black mesh grilles, and a larger boot spoiler all combine to add a sleekness to the exterior, while a series of adjustments, springs, and dampers added some va-va-voom to the ride.
The RX8�s final fling came in the form of the SPIRIT R, echoing, in name at least, the RX7�s last incarnation. The SPIRIT R boasts a whole range of equipment, including 19-inch alloy wheels in bronze (on manual models), special front headlights, front fog lights, and combination rear lights and front and rear brake callipers. Inside you�ll find a curtain and front side SRS airbag system and specially made bucket seats (manual model). The automatic offers 18-inch alloys, black leather seats with red stitching and matching leather-wrapped steering wheel, parking brake lever, and arm rests. This celebratory limited edition exists only in aluminium metallic, sparkling black mica or crystal white pearl mica.
Competition to the RX8 comes to some extent from the earlier RX7 as well as Mazda�s smaller sporty options such as the MX6. Take a look also at the Nissan 350Z, a two-door coupe with a sporty look and feel and a powerful V6 engine, or the iconic Audi TT. The RX8 is well priced comparatively against both. Also consider the Ford Falcon XR6T, which competes with the RX8 at the other end of the spectrum, not as a sports coupe but as a fast and sporty sedan with plenty of room for four.