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Mazdas rotary engine is back, and this time it’s 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 engine’s 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 you’ll revel in its balance and you’ll 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 an engine sound that is quite unique. Given a bootful of throttle, the engine whines with glee.

A rotary engine doesn’t 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 engine displacement isn’t 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.

, 2004 Mazda RX8 Road Test

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 doesn’t 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 rotary 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 wouldn’t 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 in 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. 

Category: $25,000 to $30,000 Sports Car
Who should buy this car: 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

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.

, 2004 Mazda RX8 Road TestThe 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, you’ll 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 you’re winging the engine toward redline. 

2004 Mazda RX8 Rear Wheel Drive Sports Car


Engine Type 1.3 Liter Rotary Engine
Horsepower (Manual)

Horsepower (Automatic)

238 @ 8500 RPM

197 @ 7200 RPM

Torque (Manual)

Torque (Automatic)

159 @ 5500 RPM

164 @ 5000 RPM

Fuel Recommended Premium Unleaded.
Transmission 4-speed shiftable automatic or 6-speed Manual
Drive Type Rear-wheel drive
Tires – Manual

Tires – Automatic

P225/45ZR18 performance tires

P225/55R16 performance tires

Overall Length 174.3″
Wheelbase 106.4
Width 69.7″
Turning Diameter 34.8 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight Automatic – 3,053 lbs.   Manual – 3,029 lbs
Fuel Tank 15.9 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon Automatic EPA city 18, hwy 25,   Manual EPA city 18, hwy 24
Base Price $25,180 plus $520 Destination Charge

Standard Equipment

  •     Front and rear ventilated disc brakes with ABS
  •     Dual front side-mounted airbags
  •     Front and rear head airbags
  •     Cloth upholstery
  •     Electric power steering
  •     Transmission, cruise and audio controls on steering wheel
  •     Air conditioning with interior air filtration
  •     leather-wrapped steering wheel
  •     AM/FM in-dash single CD player with 6 speakers

, 2004 Mazda RX8 Road Test

Major Available Options (Some options are only available as part of option packages.)

  •     Xenon headlights
  •     Dynamic Stability Control w/traction control
  •     Tochigi Fuji Limited-Slip Differential
  •     18″ alloy wheels and 225/45 ZR18 tires
  •     Bose audio
  •     Leather seat trim
  •     Heated seats
  •     6-way power driver’s seat
  •     GPS Navigation System
  •     In-Dash 6-Disc CD Changer
  •     Rear Wing Spoiler
  •     Rotary Accent Package


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