From the front, the RX-8 looks terrific, with aggressive fender blisters and a dynamic Mazda corporate face. On the manual transmission model, eighteen-inch aluminum alloy wheels are shod with 225/45WR-18 Bridgestone Potenza tires; sixteens are standard on the base automatic car.
The styling falls apart somewhat from the rear, thanks to a huge C-pillar. The car’s long 106.3-inch wheelbase is obvious from this view. Unusually light for a modern car, Mazda engineers were able to keep the weight under control: the RX-8 scales 3020 pounds.
Although the car has relatively narrow tires for a sportster, it grips well, with 0.95 left and 0.93g right cornering g’s on the skidpad. In the real world, youff,,f,,’ll notice that the car feels light on its feet, but the lack of torque makes tail out antics virtually impossible on normal roads.
The trunk takes 7.6 cubic feet of luggage, but the well is deep and thoughtfully designed. Executive Editor Mark Gillies arrived at Los Angeles airport with a full complement of luggage, which fitted easily into the trunk.
Where is it? We know the Mazda Renesis rotary engine is small and light, but it is hidden from view underhood. The twin-rotor Wankel nominally displaces 1.3 liters and makes 250 horsepower at 8500 rpm and a mere 159 pound feet of torque at 5500 rpm. The automatic version makes 210 horsepower, by the simple expedient of having a lower rev limit to protect the autobox.
If you order the single tone black interior trim, it can look a bit dank. Better to go for the optional two-tone trim (shown here), which contrasts tan or red with black. The automatic has paddles behind the steering wheel or can be manually shifted via the gate. The manual has a way cool rotor-style shift knob.
The center stack has a pleasing black gloss finish. A navigation system is optional, at a hefty $2000. Both the $25,700 automatic model and the $27,200 manual version have cloth seats as standard: you need to order the so-called Grand Touring packages for leather upholstery.
The rear doors open suicide fashion. Getting into the back is easier than in a coupe, although hardly ideal for the less than able bodied. However, once you are sitting out back, it is reasonably comfortable. Kids will be fine and adults will be able to cope for shorter runs.
The manual model returns very good performance numbers. We recorded 0 to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds with a standing quarter-mile time of 14.8 seconds. Top speed is 150 mph. Although there is very little low-end torque, usable power is spread over the upper 4500 rpms of the rev range.
Instrumentation is sensibly Spartan. The tachometer has a digital speed readout–there is no separate speedometer–and the only other gauges are for water temperature, fuel contents, and oil pressure. The readout on the left hand side tells you which gear you are in on the automatic model.
The high belt line is one weakness for rear-seat passengers: it is kind of hard to see outside, particularly for small kids. In the event of an accident, there are head curtain airbags back there.
The benefits of the car’s light weight are seen on the open road, particularly in the way it carves into corners. The ride is actually well controlled, although road noise is high and impact harshness is less than stellar. The brakes are excellent, stopping the RX-8 from 70 mph to 0 in less real estate than a Turbo or .