1 Jul 2003
MAZDA’S long-awaited replacement for its expensive and costly RX-7 Mk3 took 12 years to arrive, but when it did the awards flowed thick and fast.
There were concepts in 1995 and from 1999 to 2002 displaying various design themes before the final production model was launched on the world market in 2003.
Central to the RX-8's appeal is its unique combination of pure sports car performance allied with usefulness courtesy of Mazda’s "Freestyle" flip door system.
Two rear-opening doors move the RX-8 away from enclosed coupe to adult-accommodating four-door sedan status. In fact a decent-sized boot swallows two golf bags.
The other big RX-8 news is yet another unique application – its rotary engine.
It is an 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 of power at 8200rpm and 211Nm of torque at 5500rpm.
And unlike the 1992-1999 RX-7, the RX-8 achieves this with no turbo-charging or other forced-induction technology.
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 this is a unique platform with a double wishbone front suspension and five-link independent rear-end, as well as an electric power-assist rack and pinion steering system.
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. 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.
The Leather Pack adds leather seat trim, Xenon headlights, Bose premium sound system, power-operated driver's seat, front foglights and (on the manual) drilled aluminium pedals.
When it was new