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