Greatest road tests ever: Mazda RX-8

Mazda RX8 2003 front quarter tracking handling

‘Renesis’ rotary ditched the sequential twin-turbo setup from the previous RX-7 and went N/A

Mazda RX-8’s rotary engine gave it a superbike soundtrack, but didn’t make up for other shortcomings

Some 25 years after the first Mazda RX-7 made the Wankel engine famous, the Japanese firm reinvented the left-field powertrain for this quirky coupé.

The four-seat coupé used conventional front doors and two truncated ‘suicide’ rear doors, while its front-mounted rotary engine produced 228bhp at a heady 8200rpm. It drove the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox and limited-slip differential. Suspension was double wishbones up front and a multi-link set-up at the rear.

Meagre torque made it necessary to stir the gears and trouble the 9500rpm limiter to extract decent performance. Economy was hampered as a result but the superbike soundtrack and mechanical refinement made it worthwhile. The brakes were powerful.

The relaxed, loping chassis set-up didn’t gel with the frenetic drivetrain, though, and understeer and body roll were abundant. The tyres clung on gamely and steering speed was well judged, albeit with little feel from the rim. Rigidity was poor, partly due to the lack of B-pillars.

Kit levels, design and quality impressed, as did the cosy rear chairs. The knees-bent, arms-straight driving position was a major weakness, though. 

For: Refinement, comfort, price, looks, noise

Against: Reluctant performance, economy, body roll

What happened next

A 189bhp model was available for £2000 less yet edged the 228bhp car for economy and torque. Body roll was addressed with 2006’s Prodrive-tweaked PZ special and its Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs, but the facelifted R3, sold from 2008 until the RX-8’s demise in 2010, was the choice pick, with better suspension and lower gearing.


Price £21,995 Engine Twin-chamber rotary, 1308cc, petrol Power 228bhp at 8200rpm Torque 156lb ft at 5500rpm 0-60mph 7.1sec 0-100mph 18.1sec Standing quarter mile 15.3sec at 93mph Top speed 142mph Economy 22.5mpg

Source: Autocar

Leave a Reply