The RX-8 is an inviting car-small, sporty, fun to drive. It’s not overly endowed with power (238 hp with a manual transmission), but with only about 3000 pounds to motivate, that’s plenty. It’s somewhat lacking in low-end grunt (only 159 lb-ft of torque), but if you keep the revs up, it’s no problem.
The seats are fairly comfortable, and the fit and finish on our test car was quite nice. The layout and operation of the gauges and stereo/climate controls very logical, but there are a couple of things I’d like to see changed.
First, the only speedometer reading is digital. There’s a large analog gauge for rpm, but only a digital readout for mph. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I still like to see a round speedometer gauge.
Second, I’d change the placement of the volume knob for the stereo. After thirty years of driving, it’s been ingrained in me that the volume knob for the stereo is on the left side and the channel selector is on the right. In the RX-8, the channel selector is on the left, and the volume control is a large, centrally located knob. Even after reminding myself continually which knob was which, I’d often find myself changing the station when I really only wanted to change the volume. I guess in this case, an old dog can’t learn a new trick.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Like Amy, I repeatedly changed the channel when I was trying to adjust the volume, and this dog is ten years younger. Unlike Amy, I have grown accustomed to and somewhat dependent upon digital readout speedometers. It might be considered laziness or a need for instant gratification, but I like only having to take my eyes off the road for a moment to see how fast I am going. Granted, with several speeding tickets to my name, I have become slightly OCD about checking my speed. Add it to the list.
The seats are supportive but the side bolsters are so large and firm and protrude so far off the seat that shifting was difficult for me. In order to avoid bruising my tricep muscle on every rearward shift, I sat slightly off center and sideways and squeezed the bolster into my armpit. There is also an uncomfortable protrusion at the base of the vertical part of the seat. Like the side bolsters, it has no give so it pushed into my lower back. However, I did drive the RX-8 over an entire weekend and I hardly noticed the hump by the time I returned it on Monday morning.
Overall, the interior is nice but the cockpit is really tight on space and the heavily bolstered seats only exacerbate the cramped feeling.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
Funny, I always tend to forget that the Mazda RX-8 exists. I get caught in the trap of thinking that it ended production a year or two ago; it’s on my radar, but in the same way that an E46 M3 or a Porsche 996 is. I only see them at track events or autocrosses (where recent-production, but not necessarily new, sports cars abound), and so I tend to forget that people are still buying them new. Or that Mazda is even still selling them.
After a stint behind the wheel of the face-lifted and refreshed RX-8, it’s easy to understand why they’re not driving off dealer lots in droves. The RX-8 is quirky, thirsty, torqueless, and not exactly mass-market friendly. It requires effort and attention to go quickly, and while it’s a forgiving, docile platform, it has no time for the lazy. Michigan roads don’t necessarily do it justice-aside from showcasing the R3’s remarkably compliant ride, courtesy of the standard Bilstein shocks. And if you’re not out banging down the back roads, there’s a lot not of reason to get one.
Still, I like the RX-8. I’ve got fond memories of flogging it on the track at our last track day, and its quirky, involving nature is exactly what I look for in a sports car. I can’t picture myself buying one-the fussy looks alone turn me off-but it’s definitely a far better car than most people give it credit for.
Sam Smith, Associate Editor
The face-lift and styling updates provide a welcome refresh for this aging but excellent platform. The R3-specific elements help turn up the volume a bit but don’t make the RX-8 a boy-racer that’s unbearable to drive at a normal pace. The seats, however, leave a lot to be desired, what with their jutting outcroppings in the lower seatback and their extra-large side bolsters.
For $32,000, you get an extremely sporty car that also has back seats and a decent-size trunk (as long as you get run-flat tires). The back seats aren’t huge, but they’re among the best for a sporty coupe. I even drove three friends to a Tigers game, and the guys in the back seat – one of whom is six-foot-one – were shocked at how much room there actually is back there. I wouldn’t want to drive to Florida four-up, but for an hour’s ride, it’s surprisingly tolerable.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
On Mazda’s consumer Web site, a headline reads “The New 2009 RX8: Stares Will Follow”. Given that our RX8 R3 tester had a Velocity-red paint job, I expected that Mazda tagline would be accurate.
I drove our RX8 R3 everywhere – Best Buy, Starbucks, Borders, Briarwood Mall, and Kroger. Not one person gave this sports car a second glance. That was disappointing, because I like the look of the RX8. I like its updated headlights, LED taillights, and the R3’s bigger nineteen-inch wheels and more aggressive front fascia. And I like that I was driving the same car that “Cyclops” drove in the 2003 superhero action-movie X-Men 2.
Somehow during the last five years, I guess the RX8 just blended into traffic.
However, I can’t really say the public passiveness toward this car is undeserved. Unless you live near twisting country roads, I found the well-balanced RX8 only fun to drive in short spurts. The go-kart exhaust note is entertaining, especially considering higher revs are needed to get any power out of Mazda’s tiny 1.3-liter rotary engine (232 hp at 8500 rpm). But fuel economy is only 16 mpg city/ 22 mpg highway (I observed 14 mpg over the weekend) – not strong numbers for a four-door coupe that only weighs a bit more than 3000 pounds. High speeds aren’t kind to the Mazda either, as the RX8 feels loose and jittery above 85 mph. In comparison, the smaller, similarly priced BMW 128i is rock solid to 100-plus mph.
Inside, the car’s center stack is covered in a chic, modern black finish. Everything looks nicely styled, but altogether, the cabin feels claustrophobic (an unnecessarily huge handbrake cover doesn’t help matters). And somehow, the white-on-black digital speedometer isn’t as easy to read as the smaller one in the MINI Cooper. Thanks to the suicide doors, access to the rear seats is easy. Trying to fit comfortably in those seats, however, is a task best left to a 10-year-old. And I think I’d prefer the rear seats without a fixed center armrest.
Bottom line: Considering how many Mazda owners are complaining about the RX8’s excessive oil consumption, oil leaks, and cold climate starting problems, even with the RX8’s newly retroactive 8-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, there’s not enough here to make me spend $33,000 to own one.
David Yochum, Assistant Editor