All RX-8 models receive some minor engine changes including revisions to the oiling system. Horsepower and torque remained unchanged. With the six-speed manual transmission, the engine develops 232 hp and 159 lb-ft of torque. Cars equipped with the six-speed automatic have only 212 hp, but that maximum is reached at a lower RPM. Finally, a seven-percent shorter rear axle ratio is fitted to manual-transmission-equipped cars for better off-the-line performance.
The big news for 2009 is the RX-8 R3. The name harks back to the R1 and R2 models of the old RX-7 two-seat sports car. Think of the R3 as a very focused sport package and you get the picture. Nineteen-inch forged aluminum wheels with performance tires save three pounds at each corner compared to the standard eighteen-inch wheels. Bilstein dampers are fitted and the front cross member is filled with urethane foam for increased suspension control. Also, body rigidity is increased and the rear suspension geometry has been fiddled with for better handling on all RX-8 models.
Those looking for gut-wrenching power will still be disappointed in the RX-8. The small engine needs to be revved to the moon for any real forward thrust. At least the positive six-speed manual transmission is fun to work as you try to stay in the engine's power band. But throw in four people, a load of luggage, and the A/C running on a hot day and the Mazda is downright slow. At least you can toss the RX-8 into a corner and feel the advantage of its light weight. The car has loads of grip and is extremely nimble. This is especially true in the R3 model. The minor changes to the chassis increase steering feel and the nineteen-inch wheels do little to hurt ride quality because of their light weight and the excellent Bilstein dampers. Sure, major expansion joints on the horrible Michigan highways still send a shudder into the cabin but the majority of the time the RX-8 R3 is surprisingly compliant. But the chassis is actually so good that it really accentuates the car's need for more power.