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Car reviews - Mazda - RX-8 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Superb dynamics, engine smoothness, clever rear door access, styling
Room for improvement
Lack of torque, tight cabin for tall drivers

Mazda logo3 Jul 2008

By PHILIP LORD

IT'S NOT every manufacturer that can whip the covers off a new sports car and say with a straight face that it is heavier, thirstier and slower. But Mazda seems to have gotten away with it with its new RX-8.

For most sports car purists there is plenty to like about the noise and rev range of the rotary – reaching for the stratospheric 9000rpm maximum sounds intoxicating.

The rotary will happily idle around town at low revs, too, and is silken smooth in character. The RX-8’s linear power band without any obvious power or torque spikes is safe and sure but makes the drive more technical in nature rather than about raw excitement.

There is also not a great deal of torque to wring out of the RX-8 if you fudge a gearchange in a slow speed corner, either.

It has a great deal of elasticity – there are no rough spots in the rev band at all - but you’d happily put up with a few quirks if it meant a dollop of extra grunt was available.

The rotary engine is known for its thirst, and with the new manual model’s shorter gearing (to improve performance), its fuel consumption figure has increased from 12.6 to 12.9L/100km.

The six-speed manual transmission itself is a touch notchy but the neat, precise and short throws make it generally a good working companion to tackling a twisty stretch of tarmac.

The new six-speed automatic (which is available as a $1645 option on the Luxury model only) has paddle shifters on the steering wheel or a tiptronic-style shift gate to change gears in manual mode.

The smooth shifts make the driving experience more relaxed (and with its much taller gearing, the auto is more economical with an average of 12.1L/100km) but also frustrating, knowing that the manual has an extra 1500rpm to play with and with its shorter gearing it certainly feels much quicker.

The RX-8 thrives in the corners and the Mazda engineers have done a brilliant job of making this a real-world, malleable and compliant corner-carver. There is razor like precision, adequate steering feel, perfect poise and loads of grip to iron out any twisting ribbon of road.

We drove the GT mostly over bumpy, coarse-chip surfaces where it seemed noisy and tended to fidget over bumps.

Mind you, the ability to attack corners with such ferocity while staying perfectly balanced was worth the slight discomfort - it was not unbearable as some sports cars can be and only if you lived on a goat track of a road would you think twice about living with a RX-8.

The Luxury auto felt more supple but lacked the GT’s ultimate tenacity. It was no less enjoyable for it though, and certainly still offers the ability to scythe though corners with confidence.

The interior is immensely practical for a sports car, especially with the rear-hinged Freestyle rear doors. Not much has changed inside, with new material on the supportive front buckets and twin rear seats, where there's ample room even for tall passengers.

Yet the RX-8 is a tight fit for 190cm-plus drivers, when the tilt-only steering wheel and lack of headroom (especially in the sunroof-equipped Luxury) makes the RX-8 simply too small inside for taller types.

Otherwise there is not much to dislike about the new RX-8, with the GT giving a more honed driving experience and the six-speed auto a far better option for those who must have two pedals.

As far as balancing the raw excitement of a sports car with everyday transport needs goes, the refreshed RX-8 seems to have hit the nail on the head.

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