On paper, a $33,000 sports car that makes 159 lb-ft of torque and gets worse fuel economy than a Chevrolet Camaro SS (which 420 lb-ft of torque) sounds about as appealing as ordering a grilled cheese sandwich at a fancy Japanese hotel. (Trust me, this is a perfect simile. I once made this mistake and wound up with a $40 hunk of something that tasted neither grilled nor cheesy.)
But like Mazda's other great sports car, the Miata, the RX-8 is a vehicle for which the stat sheet does little justice. Put simply, the RX-8 is the best handling coupe this side of a Porsche Cayman. It turns in well, displays no body roll, and then sticks and sticks and sticks, finally losing traction in a progressive, predictable manner. One stat sheet item that is quite telling here is curb weight: 3064 pounds. That's 200 pounds lighter than the very lithe 370Z and nearly 800 pounds less than the not-so-lithe Camaro. Much of this lightness, of course, comes from the compact rotary engine, which, for all of its torque-deficient, oil-using quirkiness, is absolutely splendid in this application, whirring right up to its 9000(!) rpm redline.
I'm not incredibly optimistic about the future of this offbeat, wonderful car. Even if Mazda plans to continue offering something like an RX-8 in the future, the rotary's shortcomings might just do it in. Impending CAFE regulations leave little room to justify such an inefficient engine just because it's lovely, and Mazda, now forced to survive without a large corporate patron, will likely be tempted to employ one of its upcoming new four-cylinders. However, I hold out hope that the company will stubbornly hold on to its strange affection for the Wankel and that, by extension, the RX-8 will stay with us.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor