2004 RX-8 New Car Test Drive
The all-new Mazda RX-8 is one of the most ingenious cars to be designed in years. Its small (but powerful) rotary engine allows the unique configuration of four doors and four seats. The wheelbase and overall length are shorter than a sports coupe yet there is more legroom in the rear, and the weight distribution is a perfect 50-50 for balanced handling.
Mazda says its Miata has recently become the best-selling sports car of all time. It hopes to build on that success with the groundbreaking RX-8. It's intended to be a car for a new generation, while also satisfying the legion of existing Mazda rotary fans, who have been left wanting ever since Mazda stopped importing the RX-7 into the U.S. in 1995 after selling more than 500,000 of them between 1979 and 1995. When you consider that the excellent RX-7 cost about $40,000 in 1995, the technologically superior new RX-8 looks like a steal as the sporty six-speed manual retails for $26,680.
There are two basic models, the AT with a four-speed automatic transmission ($25,180) and MT with a six-speed manual ($26,680). They are virtually two different cars mostly because of the nature of the high-revving rotary engine, limited by the torque converter in the automatic transmission.
The six-speed manual benefits from 238 horsepower at 8500 rpm and 159 pounds-feet of torque at 5500 rpm, while the automatic produces considerably less, 197 horsepower at 7200 rpm and 164 lb-ft at 5000 rpm. The AT also has smaller wheels and brakes and a softer suspension. The transmission is sequential, with steering-wheel mounted thumb controls.
The bottom line is that the automatic is intended for cruisers who don't care that much about power, but who still want the sports car feel and looks, while the manual is for driving enthusiasts.
A fully loaded RX-8 with every available option, including leather seats, Bose audio, 18-inch tires, moonroof and fog lamps will run approximately $30,000. Three optional packages are available for the manual transmission model: Sport ($1,100), Touring ($2,700), and Grand Touring ($3,900). These same packages are available for the automatic at a higher price. The GT package includes everything: Xenon, headlights, directional stability with traction control, limited-slip differential, 18-inch wheels and tires, Bose audio system, moonroof, leather, 6-way power driver's seat, heated front seats, fog lamps, bigger brakes and a sport tuned suspension. Additional options include a six-disc CD changer for $500, navigation system for $2000, and an appearance package consisting of front air dam and side and rear aero flares for $970.