To some people, the sound of a rotary engine revving at 9000 rpm is like nails on a chalkboard. Not me. But its constant, high-pitched hum sounds similar to that of a busy beehive. It's one of the most distinct sounds in the automotive world and has experienced great success both on the road and on the racetrack.
On paper, a $33,000 sports car that makes 159 lb-ft of torque and gets worse fuel economy than a Chevrolet Camaro SS (which 420 lb-ft of torque) sounds about as appealing as ordering a grilled cheese sandwich at a fancy Japanese hotel. (Trust me, this is a perfect simile. I once made this mistake and wound up with a $40 hunk of something that tasted neither grilled nor cheesy.)
It's easy to forget the odd little RX-8, and then you get into one after a long absence and you immediately remember what a great chassis this is. Wow. So, so fun to rev up the rotary, throw yourself into a freeway on-ramp, and burst into the traffic stream at 80 or 90 mph. The interior is still very fresh after all these years, and the rotary-engine design cues, like the rotor-shaped top to the shift knob, are endearingly cool. Our test car also had a set of superb Recaro bucket seats.
The rotary's depressing torque output may actually be a boon to the RX-8. Instead of the simple kick of easy acceleration, the RX-8 leads you to handling nirvana where the thrills are much more satisfying. It's unfortunate that the RX-8 is a relative outcast in the sports car set, as it's an absolutely wonderful car. The Recaro seats are comfortably snug, the stubby shifter feels wonderful, and the engine spins effortlessly. The only thing the RX-8 wants is that sizeable dose of torque.
Joe DeMatio stole my lead-in comment almost verbatim: indeed, it is easy to forget about the Mazda RX-8 since it's been on the market for quite a few years now. But this Mazda remains, and always has been, one helluva fun car. Sure, it's lacking in the power -- and especially torque -- departments, but the handling, steering, and gearbox are so good that it makes it one of the faster slow cars that are fun to drive
really quickly. The clamshell-door coupe's packaging is incredibly good, too, as I noted a couple years ago
after chauffeuring three friends to a Detroit Tigers game. If only the RX-8 weren't so expensive to buy and operate (the latter due to its poor fuel mileage and high oil consumption), I'd give it a resounding recommendation to other guys like me-car buffs with young children.