Mazda RX-8: The family man’s sports car

Having kids changes a guy’s life. If you’re a car guy, it likely means that your days of driving a two-seater are more or less behind you — or at the very least dependent upon whether you can find a babysitter, how often you want to abandon your family in favor of a back-road blast, and/or if you can wait until one of your kids is old enough to ride shotgun.

On the wings of its venerable Miata, Mazda has sold more two-seat roadsters (900,000 plus since 1989) than any other carmaker. Now that I have two young daughters, though, the four-seat Mazda RX-8 appeals to me in a way I hadn’t previously considered.

I’ve had a mild man-crush on the Mazda RX-8 since my neighbor bought a new red one back in 2003, and my affection for the car only grew stronger when I first drove Automobile Magazine’s Four Seasons finicky example in 2004. It’s only now, after driving an RX-8 for the first time since becoming a father, however, that I can truly appreciate versatility of this sports car.

Despite the RX-8’s nimble feel, great balance, and extremely flingable nature, it’s actually fairly spacious inside. The best features for parents, though, are the clamshell-style back doors, which allow supersimple access into the surprisingly accommodating pair of back seats. Installing two car seats (one infant carrier and one convertible seat) was nearly as easy a task as it is in a typical sedan — and much easier than contorting myself into the back of a Chevrolet Camaro, for instance. The clamshell doors yield an extrawide opening, too, so they’re out of the way when loading the kids. The Mazda’s trunk can even hold a decent amount of baby gear, although the double stroller was out of the question, and the trunk opening is fairly skinny. The only other minor complaints I have are that (1) I had to squat down more than usual to get the kids into the low-roofed coupe, (2) there wasn’t much legroom for my wife to sit in front of our infant’s long, bulky, basket-handled seat, and (3) my two-year-old had way too much fun kicking my seatback (I knew there’s a good reason I usually put her behind my wife).

The RX-8 would be a pretty terrible primary family car, don’t get me wrong. But if your family of three or four already has a minivan, station wagon, or crossover in the driveway, car-loving dads (and moms) owe it to themselves to check out the RX-8 — especially if you can bear the rotary-engine car’s sketchy cold-weather performance and excessive fuel and oil consumption.

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