Mazda's 2006 "Drive and Fly Ultimate Zoom-Zoom Event" provided us with our first opportunity to get behind the wheel of an all-new, and according to the hype, more driver focused version of the Mazda RX-8. Not only that, we were gifted with the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time on both road and track in the new RX-8 PZ and a standard car.
On arrival at Kemble Airfield, we are greeted by a car park full of shiny new Mazdas, including the Mazda6 MPS
and new MX-5
, but it is the RX-8 PZ that draws my gaze and holds it. The list of new bits on the PZ is not really all that long, but the aesthetic changes are effective, giving the distinctive RX-8 shape a more masculine character, akin to a street racer found in illegal races in Tokyo.
Styling flourishes include dark mesh grilles on the lower halves of the front and rear bumpers, more aerodynamic door mirrors and PZ badging. My favourite colour on the PZ is Galaxy Grey (as pictured), though buyers can also opt for Brilliant Black. The dark colours are complemented by the fitting of a new bespoke design of 18-inch alloy wheel made by OZ, finished in brooding dark silver with natty carbon fibre centre caps emblazoned with both OZ and Prodrive logos. The latter logo is also found on the new rear spoiler, which Mazda claims to offer downforce.
Prodrive is not often associated with mere cosmetic changes, so let's look under the bonnet. Erm, other than the usual assortment of black plastic there doesn't seem to be anything new to see here. Indeed, the RX-8 PZ is based on the higher-powered 228bhp version of the standard car (including its high equipment specification), but the engine has been untouched and performance is unchanged (0-62mph in 6.4 seconds and a top speed of 146mph now that you ask). How then can Mazda's pro-driver for the day claim to have circled Castle Combe race circuit two seconds quicker per lap in the PZ than in the regular RX-8?
It turns out that most of the engineering development on the PZ has been concentrated on offering enthusiasts an enhanced driving experience rather than just upping the power and performance. Prodrive carried out chassis development in the UK (the only market this car will be sold in), though the Mazda management in Japan signed off all the changes. Prodrive's investigations resulted in a 15mm lower ride height all round and the fitting of some rather expensive suspension components, including Bilstein dampers and Eibach coil springs. The latter's spring rates were increased by 60%, resulting in flatter cornering, while the new dampers improve body control under more extreme driving conditions. There were other smaller changes made, such as a shorter front bump stop and revised geometry. Notably, there were no changes to the anti-roll bars or tyre sizes. The aim here was to maintain ride comfort.
And the results? Well, swapping between the RX-8 PZ and the regular high-power version on track the difference is immediately obvious. The PZ rolls a lot less and hence feels keyed into the road more. In comparison to the Mazda6 MPS it feels keen to turn in when asked, though still utilises mild understeer to stabilise the car through high speed turns. Under braking too the PZ feels more sure-footed. Though there are no changes to the braking system, there is less pitch so the weight transfer to the front feels less severe. Saying that, the regular car withstood lap after hard lap without too much grumble from the brakes and it is by no means unstable either; it's just that the PZ feels sharper.
Some drivers won't like the delivery of the rotary engine, which really requires committed revving to get the best out of it due to a low peak torque of only 156lb.ft (available at a relatively high 5500rpm). Due to the super-smooth nature of this unit it is all too common to hear the warning chimes indicating that you should change up. Even the regular RX-8 emits a unique exhaust note, but the PZ goes one better with a new rear silencing system that terminates with beefier exhaust outlets; this system amplifies the engine note at high revs, sounding fantastic inside or outside.
Though the RX-8 PZ is aimed at the buyer that may consider the occasional trackday, the truth is that it will spend most of its life on the public road. The RX-8 feels special on a road network clogged with 'normal' cars and draws attention even when not in 'you looking at me?' PZ spec. It will carry four adults, with access to the rear seats through rear-opening doors, though it can't compete with most saloons for rear legroom. It's a good compromise though. Reluctantly, we left the circuit to try the RX-8 in its natural habitat - British A and B-roads.
Even the regular RX-8 has a nuggety ride, though it is not at all uncomfortable. The PZ version adds an extra edge to proceedings with more bumps and ridges felt than in the standard car. The buyers targeted by Mazda for the RX-8 PZ are likely to put up with a reduction in ride quality for the extra chassis control afforded. After all, Mazda UK is producing only 800 examples of the PZ (480 in black, the remainder grey) at £25,995. That's £3,000 more than the 228bhp model it is based on so it's not a veritable bargain, but worth the premium if you want an even more distinctive version of the most idiosyncratic coupe in its class, which is as focused on the driving experience as it is on style.
Mazda RX-8 UK range overview
- Mazda RX-8 (142bhp): £21,400
- Mazda RX-8 (228bhp): £22,900
- Mazda RX-8 PZ: £25,995
Mazda's launch of the RX-8 PZ included an opportunity to actually take the wheel (joystick, rudder, whatever pilot types call it!) of a high-powered acrobatic aeroplane for ourselves. The Extra 300 competition plane produces 300bhp from its 9-litre engine at just 2500rpm (that's about 630lb.ft of torque!), yet weighs less than a Mazda MX-5. Its acceleration on the runway was impressive enough, but its agility in the air had jaws dropping, most to avail of the standard sick bag... I'm told that it will pull +/- 10g, but your land-based correspondent reckons he felt a lot less than half of that when he decided he better give control back to the expert sitting behind.
Thirty minutes was nowhere near enough, but we still managed to fly the plane in a barrel roll, loop-the-loop (well, of sorts) and a 'pursuit' of another similar plane. The experience was incredible. If you want to do the same, check out the Ultimate High