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Mazda RX-8 2008 review: road test

EXPERT RATING
7.8

And Mazda has tried to make sure that noise stays around in Australia, with the RX-8 – the only rotary mass production car on the market – selling 5400 since it was first launched in 2003.

That’s an average of about 90 per month for the suicide-doored four-seater sports car, but the company is being conservative with its sales targets for the new – and broader – range, aiming for about 75 per month.

The RX-8 arrives with an updated engine and suspension, new transmissions and restyled interior all wrapped in a stronger body that has also been given a design brush-over.

Drivetrains

With the six-speed manual transmission, The compact and lightweight 1.3-litre Renesis rotary engine develops 211Nm of torque at 5500 revs and 170kW of power at 8200 revs. The gearbox has been borrowed from the MX-5, but given ratios better matched to rotary engine characteristics plus a shorter final driveto compensate for the relatively small torque figure .

Coupled to the Activematic six-speed auto, the engine’s power output drops to 158kW at 7500 revs, but this is still an improvement of 17kW over the previous model.

Variants and pricing

The range starts with the standard $49,720 RX-8, which is kitted out with touches of leather, six-speaker CD-stacker audio and twin front and side airbags plus curtains, while the business end of the equation gets 18” alloy wheels on high performance Bridgestones (but a space-saver spare), anti-skid brakes with brakeforce distribution, stability control, a sports-tuned suspension and extra front bracing.

The $55,520 Luxury spec gets an extra three speakers on a Bose audio system, leather seat trim, power sunroof and foglamps, plus the option of upgrading the transmission to the Activematic with paddle shifters for $1645.

The range-topping $57,625 GT rides on 19” alloys and Bilstein shock absorbers designed to aid grip, an extra front suspension crossmember to improve steering, is blinged up with a sports body kit – and has been trimmed here and there to lose 23kg compared with the Luxury, coming in at just 5kg over the base model.

Body

Mazda says the RX-8 body is more aerodynamic, with a slightly trimmed drag coefficient of 0.30 (down 0.01). It’s visually been given only a slight brushover, and while it retains the signature bulging front wheel arches it could do with a little more of that muscled shape around the back where – without the wing of the GT variant – it looks a but mundane.

Driving

The cabin is snug — especially for those who like to sit tall in the seat – and the seats are even snugger. On wedging down into them the first time you fear that they won’t allow a healthy set of grain-fed Aussie cheeks. But it takes only a few corners to realise their hugginess is a necessary factor.

You can feel that the new RX-8 is sharper immediately. You turn the wheel where you want to go, and it goes there. It’s as simple as that. Swinging back and forth through a long series of s-bends becomes a smooth dance, with the revised suspension, stiffer chassis and sticky rubber smeared on the 19” wheels locking you into the road.

The downside is that the big wheels gave a brutal ride at speed over the rough bitumen in rural northern New South Wales, although that should be smoother in urban limits.

Press your foot down and the rotary screams up the rpm scale, but in characteristic form never feels like it’s straining. There’s the sense that it could keep spinning around the dial like demented clock hands if they unplugged the limiter. And as the torque builds, so does the blur through the windows.

But what it really needs – and perhaps the only thing it lacks for a car of this kind – is just a bit more at launch. While the take-off is hardly laid-back, there’s no sense of it slingshotting forward.

A turbo would add the boost it’s looking for, but it would also boost the fuel consumption, which already sits at an avid 12.9L/100km for the manual (12.1L for the auto) – a thirst that is also characteristic of rotary engines.

And those are just the official figures, which Mazda warns “may not be the fuel consumption achieved in practice” and certainly wasn’t on our hill runs, where about 200km had the needle nudging the middle mark.

But the RX-8 isn’t positioned as an economy driver. It’s designed for fun – and overall that’s what it offers.

Pricing guides

$12,500
Based on 3 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$7,500
Highest Price
$12,500

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) 1.3L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $8,800 – 13,200 2008 Mazda RX-8 2008 (base) Pricing and Specs
40th Anniversary 1.3L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $9,300 – 13,970 2008 Mazda RX-8 2008 40th Anniversary Pricing and Specs
GT 1.3L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $9,600 – 14,410 2008 Mazda RX-8 2008 GT Pricing and Specs
Luxury 1.3L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $7,500 – 12,500 2008 Mazda RX-8 2008 Luxury Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.8
Pricing Guide

$7,500

Lowest price, based on 5 car listings in the last 6 months

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