2004 Mazda RX-8 Four Seasons Test

Mark Gillies
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Wheel View

However, there were a number of complaints from taller drivers about the front seats. "I find the Miata-esque lack of space for my head unacceptable," opined Dushane. "I had to drive with the seat raked back, pimp-style, to preserve my coiffure." The trunk is reasonably big at 7.6 cubic feet, but the opening is small, and access is hindered by the space-saver spare. This definitely isn't a car for long camping trips, although motor gopher Sean Sonneveldt managed to pack in everything he needed for a skiing trip to Colorado. "In order to put a pair of skis in, you have to take the spare wheel off its mount," he said. "A regular spare wheel well would be much better."

Mazda's four-seat sports-car claims are backed up by the way the RX-8 drives. The engine lacks torque because it is essentially a small-displacement 1.3-liter unit, but it does rev like crazy to 8500 rpm. Many drivers bemoaned the lack of low-end grunt, but there is a very usable 4500-rpm power band-it just starts halfway around the tach dial. No one complained about the lovely noise the engine makes as you wring it out, however. We chose the manual transmission, which was simply fantastic, a slick six-speed controlled by a stubby, short-throw shifter.

The RX-8 is light by current standards, weighing in at 3029 pounds, 483 pounds less than an Infiniti G35 coupe. In daily driving, it feels really nimble and deft and rides over broken pavement elegantly. Everyone loved the steering, brakes, and neutral handling. "It has a light and chuckable feel that is notably absent on comparably priced sport coupes such as the BMW 325Ci and the G35 coupe," said Dushane.

Full Driver Side View

We were concerned that the lack of low-down torque and the rear-wheel-drive layout would prove disastrous once the snow started falling in Michigan, so we sensibly fitted 225/45VR-18 Bridgestone Blizzak LM25 snow tires, which turned the car into a foul-weather champ and worked pretty well on dry pavement, too.

Our RX-8 was fully loaded, with the $4000 Grand Touring package that includes an eight-way power driver's seat, heated leather seats, stability control, a moonroof, and an uplevel Bose stereo. Plenty of people thought that the leather looked and felt like vinyl rather than actual cowhide. We also specified the navigation system ($2000), which has a pop-up monitor in the center of the instrument panel. While most drivers found the system useful and liked the screen's location, the man-machine interface had its faults, notably a DVD player sited between the rear seats. The interior was well laid out and easy to use. Nice, quality touches included the eerie blue nighttime instrument background lighting and the glossy black finish on the center console. The materials are decent, if hardly class-leading, but they stood up well under hard use.

After 34,000 miles and twelve months, everyone who drove the RX-8 was sad to see it go-even those whom it had left stranded. (We have to admit that if we didn't have access to other cars, we might have reacted a bit differently on that front.) It is unusual to find a car that blends this much character, driving pleasure, and practicality in one very affordable package. For someone who needs four seats and a usable trunk but wants a car that's great to drive, it would be high on the shopping list alongside a used BMW M3 or a new Infiniti G35 coupe.

Driver Side And Passenger Side Interior View

RX-8 owners who contacted us love their cars, even if they have had problems.

But those problems sure would lead us to think twice before plunking down the cash for an RX-8.

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