2011 Mazda RX-8 Grand Touring

The RX-8 embodies all that is good about Mazda. It's a rare car that places more priority on chassis balance, steering precision, and grip than on power. The result is an engaging, light-footed sports car that's the closest you'll get to a poor man's Lotus (along with the Miata). Because the RX-8 is slightly underpowered, there's more opportunity to spin the engine relentlessly and zip around in that high-fun, low-speed zone. It's a big reason why the RX-8 performs so impressively on public roads. It's also a car with no direct competitor. That's fantastic, because it keeps Mazda honest. Rather than getting caught up in horsepower or fuel-economy one-upmanship, this fun-to-drive car can just hum along doing what it wants to do.

Unfortunately, the RX-8 also demonstrates all that is not good about Mazda. Namely, that the independent automaker doesn't have the resources to keep a full lineup fresh enough to remain competitive. Mazda's halo car is crawling toward its eighth year of existence without a single significant update. You can't blame the market for failing to get excited about a sports car that is standing still while the rest of the market moves forward. If Mazda wants the rotary engine and the RX-8 to remain relevant -- as it should -- the company needs to rush to develop a next-generation version with all-new styling and an engine update that shows Mazda is still committed to the technology. However, the company has been silent about the 16X rotary engine since showing it in 2007. That prototype promised improved fuel economy and torque thanks to larger displacement, direct injection, and a longer "stroke."

Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor

Phil Floraday is 100% right about the sunroof and headroom. The Infiniti G37 has the same problem. Theoretically either car is available without a sunroof, and I couldn't care less about having one -- but good luck finding either car equipped without one. You have to wonder how many American sales this costs them in a market that is already slim. Both companies lost my business in 2009 for that reason, and I ended up with a Cayman, which has no sunroof and practically allows me to wear a top hat.

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