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Used Mazda RX-8 review: 2003-2012

Ewan Kennedy reviews the 2003, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 Mazda RX-8 as a used buy.

Ewan Kennedy reviews the 2003, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 Mazda RX-8 as a used buy.

The Mazda RX-8 is a four-door sports coupe powered by a silky smooth rotary engine that offers tremendous performance. The RX-8 engine is the latest development of the much-loved Mazda 13B. However, it’s been modified in so many ways it can almost be regarded as a different motor. It also has a different name - the Renesis rotary.

The side-port Wankel engine had advanced electronic control for the time. The way the inlet tract is varied according to engine revs and throttle position is especially clever. Low down torque has always been a problem in any Wankel. It’s not too bad in the original Renesis, and the July 2008 refresh of the RX-8 saw it further improved. However you still have to pedal hard to keep the engine producing at its best. Which is not a criticism as its a delight to get the tacho way up there.

These comments are for an RX-8 with a six-speed manual gearbox. The optional four-speed automatic has a seriously detuned engine because Mazda couldn’t find an auto capable of coping with the big revs attained by a rotary engine. Try an auto for yourself if you can’t drive a manual or are confronted with heavy-duty commuting on a daily basis.

Though not as bad as in the early Mazda rotaries the RX-8 likes a drink. You can expect it to use about 16 to 18 litres per 100km around town. On long easy paced trips the consumption drops considerably, perhaps on half if you drive for economy.

Comfort is good for a full-on sports machine and only rough roads will bounce it around.

Fans of RX-8s say, “stop whinging about fuel use - you’re getting V8 performance and old-style V8 fuel consumption.”

Handling is very good as the small, light engine sits behind the front wheels, making this Mazda a mid-engined sports machine with excellent balance. There’s very good steering and chassis feel. Some may find the steering slightly too quick at first acquaintance, but you will soon adapt to it.

Comfort is good for a full-on sports machine and only rough roads will bounce it around. Despite the sports tyres there’s less road roar than is common on quite a few other machines in this class.

The small rear doors are certainly better than having to clamber past folded front seats. The front doors have to be opened before the back ones can be unlatched. The doors are a real pain when parked alongside another car, such as in a carpark, because you can only use a front door or a back, not both at the same time. The rear seats are on the small side for adults, and children may find them slightly claustrophobic due to the high-set windows.

A surprisingly spacious boot helps to make the little Mazda a reasonably practical daily driver.

These days Mazda is a major player in the sales scene in Australia and has a strong, well-regarded dealer network. There’s obviously more dealers in metropolitan areas than in the country areas, but an increasing number of country cities and major towns have representation. 

This isn’t the sort of car to tinker with if you don’t know what you’re doing so we suggest leaving all but the simplest of work to professionals trained in the brand and/or in rotary engines.

Check carefully into insurance costs as some companies have had bad experiences with the Mazda RX-8 and charge high prices accordingly. 

What to look for

Look for uneven wear on the front tyres as it probably indicates harsh driving. Also check for severe brake dust on the inside of the wheels.

Added gauges may simply be there to make the cabin look impressive, but may also be an indication of hard driving, perhaps even track days as the RX-8 is the sort of car that appeals to quick drivers.

Have a look throughout the cabin and boot for signs of wear and tear. But don’t be too tough in your expectations if the Mazda is getting on in years. 

Have the RX-8’s engine tested by a professional mechanic, ideally one with the ability to carry out a specialised compression test that’s completely different to that on a conventional piston engine.

Changes in the six-speed manual should be light and easy. 

Dip the clutch without backing off the accelerator and make sure it engages without slip when re-engaged quickly.

The automatic transmission is a fairly old design but should work without flaring and always be in the correct gear for the situation. Any problems should make you very wary.


Year Price From Price To
2012 $15,400 $20,460
2011 $12,980 $18,920
2010 $12,320 $18,260
2009 $11,660 $17,160
2008 $9,020 $14,960
2007 $8,250 $12,320
2006 $7,370 $13,640
2005 $5,610 $11,220
2004 $4,400 $6,490
2003 $3,960 $5,940

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(base) 1.3L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $7,990 – 8,490 2003 Mazda RX-8 2003 (base) Pricing and Specs
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