2004 Mazda RX-8: Introduction
Renesis Check: Is The Twin-Rotor Engine The RX-8's Trump Card Or Its Achilles' Heel?
By BOB GRITZINGER/AUTOWEEK
As much as we like our titanium gray Mazda RX-8's crafty, four-door coupe styling and its practical, pillarless rear Freestyle doors that make the +2 portion of the car actually usable, the nagging question over the next year will no doubt be: How good is this Renesis twin-rotary engine, and can it hold up over the long haul?
We've read the owner's manual stressing the need to check oil regularly, and we've already heard the murmured warnings about this engine's propensity to suck oil. As a precaution we've ordered a weekly oil-check regimen for our newest long-termer (and tossed a spare quart in the trunk for good measure). But we're assured engine improvements since that rotary of old-the engine that hummed in the RX-7 through the 1995 model year in the United States (sales of the rotary RX-7 continued in Japan through 2003)-have reduced the Wankel's oil-burning, rotor apex seal-cooking tendencies.
We, like 68 percent of the nearly 21,000 RX-8 buyers since the car went on sale last June, checked off the upgrade to the 1.3-liter twin-rotary (238 hp at 8500 rpm and 159 lb-ft at 5500 rpm) with the six-speed, close-ratio manual tranny with short-throw shifter (vs. the 197-hp, 164-lb-ft rotary with a four-speed automatic). While the higher-output engine/manual-trans package lists as a $1,500 option, it adds several features not on the $25,700 base model, including 18-inch tires and limited-slip differential. Once the extras are included, Mazda says the higher-output package actually saves the buyer $500 over a comparably equipped base-engine/automatic model.
From its sleek titanium gray flanks to its 18-inch alloy wheels, our high-revving, Wankel-powered long-term Mazda RX-8 is all sports car. But its wide-opening, B-pillarless Freestyle "suicide" doors and inviting 2+2 interior give this four-door sportster a practical personality that makes it handy around town and may pay big dividends in the long run. (Photos by Jim Fets)
Other options on our tester include a $2,000 navigation system, titanium gray metallic paint job, spare tire kit, rotary accent package, and the mongo $4,000 Grand Touring package that gives us bi-xenon headlights, fog lamps, dynamic stability control, heated leather seats (with eight-way power driver's seat), moonroof, Bose audio system, auto-dimming rearview mirror and heated exterior mirrors. All that took our sticker, including destination, up to $33,734.
First impressions can be everything, and with our latest toy the impression is a good one. Our readers who own RX-8s concur. More readers than we can remember on any other tester stopped long enough to dash off enthusiastic reports about what a blast they are having. We fully expect our joy at what the car promises to deliver to match our readers' in everyday driving.
While our testing (AutoFile, Dec. 29, 2003) shows the RX-8 isn't quicker or stickier than competitors like the Nissan 350Z and Infiniti G35, the car's neutral balance is hailed by all as an even more valuable asset when it comes to easy control and precise, predict-able, razor-sharp handling.
And in stopping power, the RX-8's 111 feet from 60 mph to 0 equals numbers posted by a Porsche 911.
So what's left to wonder? We've mentioned the engine's possible question marks, which only long-term testing will answer. We also worry about the Wankel's fuel economy, at least at this early stage where we've determined the car's smallish, 15.9-gallon fuel tank isn't up to the powerplant's prodigious thirst. Our fuel numbers have hit as low as 13 mpg, which is a surprise for a 3000-pound sports car that comes with federal fuel economy estimates of 18 city, 24 highway. Maybe once we settle down and stop running the engine in the 8000-to-9000-rpm range we'll see some improvement, but we're not sure we can live without the Wankel's high-revving wail for long. We'll keep an eye on fuel consumption and let you know if and when it improves. We also might try a tank of regular octane on the advice of some owners who say the car actually gets better fuel mileage burning regular octane vs. the premium that is recommended. But if regular hurts performance (as Mazda officials predict), you can bet the high-test will be back in our tank in a hurry.
We've also noted a distinct split in reaction to the RX-8's styling-at least until the rotary fires up or the handy rear doors pop open. Both features tend to mitigate any misgivings about our Mazda's Japanese anime-like exterior, leaving just a warm glow and the purring exhaust note in their wake.
Inside, life is a little cramped depending on seat position preference, but reasonable for a sports car and downright spacious when you consider the rear-seat room. Our tester is pleasing to the eye with its aluminum-accented pedals, footrest and leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel. The short-throw shifter falls readily to hand, while the seats provide a good balance between comfort and butt-holding bolstering. Though the car did not arrive with the in-dash six-CD changer we ordered, we have no complaints about sound quality from the six-speaker setup.
We've already judged the rear buckets a tad tight for long trips, but adults should survive in a pinch and youngsters seem to thrive in the space provided. The center console with its own pair of cupholders in back helps divide and placate. The rear seat is also a good place to put stuff that won't fit in the tight trunk, which is pretty much limited to a carry-on-sized suitcase and a briefcase or two.
All that said, our RX-8 remains true to its roots and original intentions-it's a sports car first and foremost and we'll no doubt evaluate it from that perspective in the coming year. And if it can satiate our sports-car jones while carting the children and a cooler and chairs to the beach, all the better.
2004 MAZDA RX-8 INTRODUCTION
PRICING & OPTIONS
Base (includes $520 delivery): $27,200 As-tested price: $33,734 Options: Grand Touring package, with Bose audio system, heated, power and leather seats, HomeLink universal transmitter, heated mirrors, bi-xenon headlights, stability control, fog lamps ($4,000); navigation system ($2,000); spare tire kit ($395); rotary accent package ($139)
Wheelbase (in): 106.4
Track (in): 58.9 front, 59.3 rear
Length/width/height (in): 174.3/69.7/52.8
Curb weight/GVWR (lbs): 3029/3810
Front 1.3-liter/79.3-cid twin rotary
Horsepower: 238 @ 8500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 159 @ 5500 rpm
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Fuel requirement: 91 octane
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Final drive ratio: 4.44:1
Front: Double wishbone with coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, antiroll bar
Rear: Multilink with coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, antiroll bar
Discs front and rear, ABS, aluminum wheels, Bridgestone Potenza RE 040, 225/45R-18 91W
EPA combined: 20.3 mpg
TRACK TEST DATA
0-60 mph: 6.26 sec
0-quarter-mile: 14.75 sec @ 94.4 mph
60 mph-0: 111 ft
490-foot slalom: 46.3 mph
Lateral acceleration (200-foot skidpad): 0.84 g
INTERIOR NOISE (dBA)
Full throttle: 83
Steady 60 mph: 69