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New models - Mazda - RX-8

First Oz drive: RX-8 lives up to the legend

Leading the pack: RX-8's incredible engine, inspiring chassis, challenging looks and innovative design make it the most exciting car to go on sale in Australia so far this year.

Rotary power is at the heart of Mazda's stunning new sportster

Mazda logo27 Jun 2003

FINALLY, after concept reveals, motor show displays, static launches, test track drives, foreign road tests and pricing and specification announcements, resurgent Mazda's new RX-8 flagship has arrived on Aussie soil.

Well, almost.

While the media got to sample the four-door sports car at its local launch on the NSW north coast earlier this week, the 400 paid-up punters already in line for the RX have to wait until late July to get their hands on the keys.

Mazda Australia predicts that before the end of the year another 500 RX-8s will have been sold, with another 1000 to go to good homes in 2004.

If not for supply constraints, Mazda's executives are unanimous in their verdict that they could sell many more than that, pointing to the 3000 serious enquiries wracked up for the car before launch.

To give you an idea of how strong that interest is, the excellent Mazda6, currently braining them in the medium segment, managed 5000 enquiries before launch.

What has attracted all this interest - apart from a seemingly never-ending wave of publicity - is the RX-8's unique (for now) combination of pure sports car performance allied with a hint of flexibility courtesy of the "Freestyle" door system.

Those two little rear-opening doors move the RX-8 away from the almost insulting pretence of rear accommodation in most 2+2s. Chuck in a boot that swallows two golf bags and you could almost sell this car on practical grounds.

Almost.

The fact is for all the hype about Freestyle, RX-8 is a true sportscar.

At its heart is the latest iteration of Mazda's rotary engine technology called Renesis. A twin-rotor design that - despite what would be rated at a piddling 1.3-litre for a normal combustion engine - produces a stimulating 177kW at 8200rpm and 211Nm at 5500rpm.

That's normally aspirated and no turbochargers as there were on the last rotary engined Mazda sports car, the legendary RX-7, which went off sale here early in 1999.

Driving power to the rear wheels is the choice of a close ratio six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, the latter sacrificing an incredible 36kW (but adding 9Nm) because Mazda could not find a self-shifter that could rate all the way to the 9000rpm redline. Instead, the auto has a 7500rpm cut-off.

Underpinning all that is a platform with a double wishbone front suspension and five-link independent rear-end. It is all-new, as is the electric power-assist rack and pinion steering.

Brakes are ventilated discs all round with the assistance of ABS and EBD. There's a limited slip differential helping power-down, while making its first appearance on a Mazda is Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), which is switchable.

Keeping the car in contact with the road are 18x8.0-inch alloy wheels fitted with 225/45 rubber.

Despite its B-pillarless design, Mazda says RX-8 achieves the same side impact resistance as a conventional car. It expects a four-star Euro NCAP crash test. There are also six airbags - front, front-side and curtain, for additional reassurance.

RX-8 comes standard with plenty of equipment too, including cruise control, power windows, six-disc in-dash CD player and climate control air-conditioning . Starting price is $56,170, with the auto option adding $830. That's under the luxury car tax threshold and stiff competition for its most obvious competitor, the Nissan 350Z with its $59,990 starting point.

If you want more there is always the Leather Pack, which features leather seat trim, Xenon headlights, Bose premium sound system, power-operated driver's seat, front foglights and (on the manual) drilled aluminium pedals. Pricing starts at $62,610 for the manual, with the auto adding $670.

Despite the substantial power deficit and price premium, Mazda still believes 30 per cent of RX-8 customers will opt for the auto.

PRICING:
Mazda RX-8 $56,170
Mazda RX-8 auto $57,000
Mazda RX-8 Leather Pack $62,610
Mazda RX-8 Leather Pack auto $63,280

GoAuto can help you buy a new RX-8

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