Mazda has never been afraid to step out on a limb every now and then.
This review was first published in MOTOR magazine's August 2008 issue.
The Hiroshima-based carmaker has long been one of the world’s most underrated pioneers in automotive design and technology. Sure, it has never had the financial resources of giants such as Mercedes-Benz, GM or Toyota, but that hasn’t stopped it from developing and introducing a few clever innovations over the years. The RX-8 is a prime example.
The original, which was introduced in 2003 and quickly gained numerous accolades including the Car Of The Year from our sister magazine, Wheels, broke new ground for lightweight sportscars with its four-door, four-seater layout. Its only flaw was that, in Mazda’s quest to appeal to a wide audience, it was trying to be everything for everyone with a single model.
Now, it seems, Mazda has realised that there are more ways to skin a cat and, with its facelifted version, has introduced a three-model range, each with its own charms. The entry point into the RX-8 range slices more than $6000 off the previous price, coming in with cloth seats and conventional headlights, for $49,720.
New vs Used: 1979 RX-7 v 2017 MX-5
The $55,520 Luxury model adds leather and electric seats, a Bose sound system, sunroof and xenon headlamps. It’s the only one with the new six-speed Activematic automatic transmission (from the MX-5 and replacing the lame four-speed) as a $1645 option.
But the biggest change is the addition of a dedicated sports-tuned GT version that, priced at $57,625, gets stiffer and lower Bilstein suspension, tough 19-inch alloys, a pair of Recaro seats, plus a unique body kit with front lip spoiler, side skirts and a wing on the bootlid.
All three arrive with a host of detail changes, including a new-look front bumper and headlights, revised tail lights, a bigger fuel tank for an increased touring range as well revised rear suspension geometry. Longer links are mounted higher in the chassis to control toe-out changes and improve stability under hard braking.
The Renesis 13B twin-rotor engine has been tweaked, with the addition of twin knock sensors for better control of ignition timing and an electric-metering oil pump and larger oil pan, to lessen any oil pressure drop during cornering. There’s been a backward step in peak power for the manual version, with it dipping from 177kW to 170kW at 8200rpm, but maximum torque remains the same at 211Nm.
Worthy watch: Triple-rotor Peugeot 205 rally car
The more advanced six-speed self-shifter, however, allows the Luxury auto spec to increase power from 141kW to 158kW, but it drops the torque from the original’s 220Nm to the same amount of twist as the manual version.
While Mazda claims the drop in power for manual variants was actually introduced in 2006 models because of the changes required for noise regulations, it has compensated for it in the facelift with a snappier final drive ratio, dropping from 4.444 to 4.777:1.
While the general improvements are noticeable, it’s the GT’s suspension tweaks that really give the RX-8 a new character.
Review: Turbocharged RX-8 SP
The Bilstein dampers and lower springs, along with an exclusive urethane-filled front cross member and the 19-inch Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tyres, give the car a defined edge over the previous model’s more touring-oriented setup. It’s noticeably stiffer from the instant you drive off, but retains a level of compliance in its ride quality that is liveable and comfortable to drive around town.
When you hit the twisty stuff, though, it comes into its own with mountains of lateral grip that gels beautifully with the crisp electric steering and the RX-8’s perfect 50:50 weight distribution. With the rotary buzzing its head off (and it still needs to be worked hard to get anything out of it), the RX-8 GT attacks corners with the balance of a tight-rope walker and almost no body roll. Keep it on the boil and you’ll be searching for another bend in the road because that’s where it truly shines.
Remembering the greats on classic MOTOR
With the rotary’s inherent need for revs and the GT’s hardcore suspension tune, Mazda’s new flagship won’t appeal to everyone. But the RX-8 now has the sporting focus that wasn’t quite there in the original. And if you don’t like it, Mazda finally offers a choice, with great value in the standard RX-8 or valuable goodies in the Luxury model.
Fast Facts - 2008 Mazda RX-8
ENGINE: 1308cc twin-rotor side-port rotary
POWER: 170kW @ 8200rpm
TORQUE: 211Nm @ 5500rpm
0-100km/h: 6.4sec (estimated)
TOP SPEED: 235km/h (estimated)
LIKE: More choice; cheaper entry price; six-speed auto; sharp new GT
DISLIKE: Manual’s power figure is down; still needs big spins for big grins