2005 Mazdaspeed Mazda RX-8

Mike Dushane

Young America has changed. In Generation Y, silly things like war protests and civil rights movements have been tossed aside to make room for the important stuff. You know, vinyl graphics, huge blingin' dubs, and pounding car stereos. Whether you're drift-racing through the hills of SoCal or cruising South Beach, body kits and lowered suspensions are required, and you'd better be prepared to be made a fool of by some punk in a '92 Civic. Aftermarket performance parts sales are in the billions, and the fever has spread from L.A. to Kalamazoo to Timbuktu.

It is no surprise that Mazda wants a slice of the aftermarket pie. And what better time than now? The 3, the 6, the RX-8, and the Miata all have been on the market for a while, meaning the lights are out in the Mazda Party Hall. Success in the aftermarket is the corkscrew tugging at the top of the next bottle of Cristal-that's where Mazdaspeed comes into play.

Owners of Miatas, 6s, and RX-8s now can visit their local dealers to fulfill their wing and wheel desires. And if that isn't enough to lure you from late-night Google searches for the shift knob of your dreams, parts installed by Mazda technicians are covered by the original warranty, whereas self-installed parts are covered for a year.

Unlike the Mazdaspeed Miata and the upcoming 6, which differ slightly in appearance from their regular, higher-production counterparts, the Mazdaspeed-accessorized RX-8 is adorned with gobs of boy-racer goodies. Extended air inlets and a ground-scraping lip spoiler make the front end look like a cow-catcher, and low-slung side skirts and a rear under-spoiler join in to make the car so low it doesn't fit through a standard car wash. Which is actually a good thing, considering the danger of the flimsy adjustable rear wing adjusting itself right off the car with one swift swing of the scrub brush.

Beyond the unchanged engine and the comical appearance, the people at Mazdaspeed have indeed made a great car better. Lightweight Ray's Engineering wheels look cool, and they lower unsprung weight at only 17 pounds each, while new springs drop the ride height 20 millimeters, bringing about a lower center of gravity and increased spring rate. Along with larger front and rear stabilizer bars (resulting in less body roll) and strut tower braces (for increased body rigidity), these bits and pieces make a package fit for Laguna Seca. Track lovers should avoid the optional sunroof, however, as it brings with it a painfully large loss of headroom for helmet heads.

So now you've got all the street cred you could dream of. Girls in plaid miniskirts scream your name as you cruise by, and you're at the top of your class in local SCCA events. The situation in your wallet, however, is more on the losing side. In all, the body modifications total more than $4,000. The wheels run another $2500 (unless you want the even lighter $6800 set of magnesium wheels). And don't forget the $1500 for suspension parts. That's $8000 before installation, putting a decently spec'd Mazdaspeed RX-8 in the $40,000 range, where predators such as the BMW 330Ci and the Nissan 350z patrol the waters, offering more power and more refinement.

In terms of uniqueness and personalization, however, Mazdaspeed's RX-8 accessories have a lot to offer. In a car culture where $20,000 of custom parts is the norm and expensive tires are burned up in the name of fun, this car seems almost reasonable. If you're more go than show, a $1500 suspension package is quite a bargain.

So is Mazda ready to storm the aftermarket? For a brand based on the principle of zoominess, we think it's only natural. But true RX-8 aficionados may want to wait for the turbocharged RX-8 rumored to be in the Mazdaspeed pipeline, which surely will offer a price-speed-style combination unmatched in the RX-8 aftermarket.

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