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Five years old and still unique. Image by James Jenkins.

Five years old and still unique
Mazda launched the RX-8 on an unsuspecting world back at the 2001 Detroit Motor Show. Five years on, the styling is still as fresh as it was at the point of introduction and it looks good from every angle.

   



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Mazda launched the RX-8 on an unsuspecting world back at the 2001 Detroit Motor Show. Five years on, the styling is still as fresh as it was at the point of introduction and it looks good from every angle. There are a multitude of design cues all over the car that remind you of the rotary engine's presence in the nose. From bonnet bulge to rear fog light via gear knob and seat back, the shape of the rotary engine's triangular shaped rotors resonates throughout. A major departure from the norm is the door arrangement with the rear hinged rear doors doing away with a normal B-pillar, effectively now using the mating surface of the front and rear door to carry out that role. The door design allows easier access to the rear seats that are positioned far back in the cabin to maximise space.

Interior space is comfortable for four adults; there is no fifth seat due to the deep central tunnel that may be necessary to offset some of the structural strength lost due to the lack of a conventional B-pillar, as well as housing the carbon composite propshaft. The four seats are comfortable and supportive and the finish of the optional leather fitted to our test car was of a good quality. Elsewhere in the cabin the quality is good in terms of fit and material and there are a number of stowage spaces around the cabin, most usefully in the centre tunnel.

The dashboard is well laid out and clear and the dials, Porsche-style, feature a large central rev counter and a digital speedometer, all back lit in a nice deep blue. In addition to the practical and stylish interior, the boot is plenty big enough as well, making this a very usable coupe indeed. The complicated seal between the novel doors does a very good job of eliminating wind noise, helping to add to the air of refinement noticeable at motorway speeds.

The suspension reflects the need to cater for a variety of tastes striking a good balance between sporting intent and comfort. The engine's compact dimensions allow it to be pushed back tight against the bulkhead ensuring the weight is further back in the chassis (a major contributor to the 50:50 weight distribution), as well as low slung to drop the centre of gravity.

Keen drivers will enjoy the weight and feel of the controls. The gear shift has a nice direct action allowing quick and accurate shifting. The steering is nice and direct too and communicates road conditions and grip levels nicely. The pedals, although a little offset from the driver, are well-spaced for heel and toe downchanges as well. The brakes are strong with good pedal feel and the limited slip differential at the rear does a great job of providing traction and balance through and out of bends. Needless to say there is plenty of grip available courtesy of the 225/45 tyres wrapped around 18-inch rims to get you round the corners as well. The RX-8 is an accomplished handler.

The Renesis rotary engine is a truly unique power plant offering several differing traits to the conventional competition, both positive and negative. It revs quickly and cleanly up to 9000rpm and produces a high specific output of 228bhp from what is effectively just 1.3 litres of swept volume. It does lack torque though with little meaningful performance available below 4000rpm; in-gear performance feels a little at odds with the claimed 6.4 second 0-60mph time and the 146mph maximum. Above 4000rpm however the acceleration takes a noticeable step and the closely spaced gears allow the driver to keep the engine on the boil. Interestingly the 228bhp range topper we tested here actually has less torque than the 190bhp version but compensates with an extra ratio in the gearbox; it also has a red line set some 1500rpm higher.

The negatives? The RX-8 has a documented thirst for petrol, something we noted at all times with the car, not just when worked hard. Perhaps more concerning is the appetite for oil; we've never had a press car delivered with a can of oil in the boot and Mazda recommends that you check the level for every second tank of fuel you get through, which is about 500 miles of real world motoring. Some owners could get caught out by this, although the prominent oil pressure gauge on the dash should help serve as a reminder, as does a low oil level warning. Such things can hurt residual values though as they scare easily put off second-hand car buyers, something recognised by Mazda as it set a series of well advertised endurance records with the car shortly after launch, obviously partially aimed at allaying fears about reliability. The disappointment for the enthusiast is that the rotary engine actually sounds much like a small, buzzy and revvy engine as well. Lacking the deeper tones of a conventional 228bhp engine, particularly something like an Alfa Romeo V6.

It would be fair to say that the majority of owners would find the standard car perfectly capable for their needs. However, the RX-8 chassis appears to have a preferred operating range, which admittedly most owners would never go beyond. When pushed to extremes on some of our favourite back roads then it begins to lose some of its composure and can feel a little ruffled, just lacking that necessary last few tenths of ultimate body control. More focused drivers may find the car just a fraction too soft for ultimate satisfaction, but their needs can be catered for in the form of the new special edition Prodrive tuned car, the RX-8 PZ we drove recently. That car felt like it could handle a lot more power as well; maybe Mazda will agree and launch an MPS version as we believe they intend to do for the new MX-5.

At the end of the day, the Mazda RX-8 still enjoys a unique appeal. Straddling several market sectors at a price that makes it impossible to ignore given the package it offers coupe looks and fun at family hatch prices. It's no surprise that they've sold in large numbers to a broad spectrum of owners; even after a few years on the market the RX-8 retains a very large quotient of 'Zoom Zoom'. Buyers of anything from Golf GTis to 3 Series Coupes should look at one; it is very hard to beat as an all-rounder for the money.
Mazda RX-8 UK range overview

- Mazda RX-8 (142bhp): 21,400
- Mazda RX-8 (228bhp): 22,900
- Mazda RX-8 PZ: 25,995

Dave Jenkins - 16 Jul 2006



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2006 Mazda RX-8 specifications: (228bhp)
Price: 22,900 on-the-road.
0-62mph: 6.4 seconds
Top speed: 146mph
Combined economy: 25.2mpg
Emissions: 284g/km
Kerb weight: 1379kg

2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by Mazda.2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by Mazda.2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by Mazda.2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by Mazda.2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by Mazda.

2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by Mazda.2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by Mazda.2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by James Jenkins.2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by James Jenkins.2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by James Jenkins.



2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by James Jenkins.
 

2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by James Jenkins.
 

2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by James Jenkins.
 

2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by James Jenkins.
 

2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by James Jenkins.
 

2006 Mazda RX-8. Image by James Jenkins.
 






 

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