A person looking for a high-tech, zippy sports car with room for four
Comparable models in this class:
Acura RSX, Audi TT, Ford Mustang, Infiniti G35, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Nissan 350Z
Mazdas rotary engine is back, and this time its in a sporty coupe called the RX-8. The heart of the RX-8 is the engine, to be sure, and to reinforce that idea this little coupe is festooned with triangular shapes that mimic the design of the engines rotor. The RX-8s engine, called the Renesis, is small and light. Because it is mounted low and toward the center of the car, the center of gravity is correspondingly low as well. This makes the RX-8 an ideal back-road dance partner. After a few sharp turns youll revel in its balance, and youll appreciate why small, light cars handle so well.
The heart of this all-new car is the Renesis rotary engine. Although it displaces only 1.3 liters, it cranks out a very impressive 238 horsepower and a engine sound that is quite unique. Given a bootful of throttle, the engine whines with glee.
A rotary engine doesnt have traditional pistons and cylinders. Instead, the four processes of intake, compression, combustion and exhaust are performed by turning a pair of triangular-shaped rotors in cocoon-shaped combustion chambers to generate the engine power. The engines displacement isnt measured quite the same as a piston engine, so it is better to compare power output than engine size. Compared with a traditional internal combustion engine, the rotary engine is 60 percent smaller than a V-6 of comparable power. It revs very freely and is quite smooth. The engines only drawbacks are lack of low-speed torque and the fact that it gets pretty thirsty if you get frisky with the throttle.
The engine is designed to burn small amounts of oil, so it has to be checked at every other fill-up. Mazda also warns that the engine can flood easily if it is started and shut off right away.
Because the engine doesnt quite have the low-speed torque of a regular engine, you have to give it a bit more throttle to move away from a stop. After a few blocks, the rotarys extra surge of power becomes ever more attractive.
The RX-8 is quite a performance bargain. A four-speed automatic with 197 horsepower starts at $25,180, while the six-speed manual, with 238 horses, starts at $26,680.
It wouldnt do to wrap a mundane body around such a special engine, and Mazda has chosen to be bold with its design. The hood is low and the nose leans forward. The cabin is unusually long because it has two tiny doors behind the main doors. These small, rear-opening doors are similar to those found on extended-cab pickups. They are quite handy, but shut with a shudder because there is no center post. The back seat itself, however, is quite small and is best relegated to kids, pets or your briefcase.
The small engine made it possible for Mazda to design a double-wishbone front suspension that plays a big role in the RX-8s excellent handling. Gas shock absorbers are tuned to provide a compliant ride with responsive handling.
The gas tank is mounted ahead of the rear axle to keep the weight toward the center of the car, and that too, accounts for added agility.
Ventilated anti-lock disc brakes and a limited-slip rear axle are standard.
The cabin is relatively small, but its design is as trendy as the exterior. A console runs from front to back, and that also intrudes on back-seat space. Small, rotary-shaped items abound, from the seat headrests to the gearshift knob. The center stack of the instrument panel has a large, silver circle about the size of a CD surrounding the audio system. The optional navigation system pops up from the top of the dash.
Instruments are nicely designed, but the only speedometer is a digital readout inside the tachometer. It is easy to overlook your speed, which can be troublesome in a car as quick and active as this one.
The seats are mounted low, but the view out is still quite good. The gearshift lever sits high on the center console where it is easy to reach. Because the rotary likes to be revved, youll be using the shifter a little more than normal.
Wheeling the RX-8 is fun. I was mildly disappointed by the quality of some interior materials, but that seems to fade when youre winging the engine toward redline.