U.K.:Review of the Mazda RX-8
by Dan Strong
Is the world of performance cars about to be turned upside down? With a sensational blend of performance, price and design, Mazda is promising that its new rotary-engined RX-8 has got what it takes to do much more than that. To put such a bold claim to the test, Auto Express got behind the wheel of the first car available in the UK and headed for the open road.
Set to challenge sports saloons such as the Subaru Impreza, plus coupés including the Nissan 350Z and Audi TT, the RX-8 aims to set new standards in an ultra-competitive class.
The Mazda has already made a significant impact, as its four-seat, four-door design and potent 1.3-litre rotary engine mark it out as unique. Initially, two near-identical versions will be offered - an entry-level £20,000 car with a 190bhp variant of the 1.3-litre engine, and a £22,000 flagship developing 230bhp. Only a few options are available, including metallic paint and leather-trim seats. Nearly everything else is standard, including electric windows, air-con and a sound system.
Smooth and virtually silent at idle, the engine responds eagerly to throttle input. The twin rotor unit has a pair of triangular pistons spinning in the same direction in two circular chambers. This lets it rev beyond 9,000rpm, and it's very refined. However, the engine must be worked hard to develop peak power. While fuel economy is a reasonable 24.8mpg for the 230bhp model, CO2 emissions are high at 284g/km.
Another unusual characteristic of the unit is that the 190bhp version produces more torque than the 230bhp edition. Despite this, the 190bhp car is not as swift as the flagship, but both are a delight to drive. The steering is a little light, but very responsive, and the fact that the motor is mounted so far back in the chassis makes the Mazda feel more like a mid-engined roadster than a four-seater GT.
A supple suspension set-up offers a comfortable ride and a good degree of stability, although the body design, with its wide-opening doors, means that there's some flex and wobble in the shell. However, this movement is far from being intrusive and leaves the RX-8 feeling like a bigger MX-5.
What's more, the brakes are sensational, offering plenty of feel and loads of stopping power. The ABS system is also among the most sporty we have tried, because it refuses to intervene unless absolutely necessary.
Two gearboxes are available, a five- speed for the 190bhp version and a six-speeder for the 230bhp model - and both offer a short throw and neatly stacked ratios. However, we felt that the selector on our low-mileage test car was rather 'sticky' - perhaps the gearbox will improve with age.
More comfortable than many rival sports cars, it takes time to appreciate the RX-8's appeal. Even so, it's a great car, with accurate steering, a practical interior and a reasonable price. Although the new Mazda is likely to appeal most to adventurous drivers, they can bank on having a whole load of fun behind the wheel.
With its rotary engine, four-seat interior and innovative body, the stylish new RX-8 is a difficult car to pigeonhole. It's sporty yet refined, practical but cool. What matters most, though, is that it's a lot of fun to drive, competitively priced and great to look at. We are convinced it's going to be a machine that's at the top of driving enthusiasts' wish lists.
At a Glance
* Rotary engined RX-8 on sale in the UK in September
* Distinctive four-seater, four-door coupé-style bodywork
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....