2007 RX-8 New Car Test Drive
For about five years in the middle of the 1970s, Mazda's rotary engine seemed poised to conquer the automotive world. Small, smooth and powerful, it promised a new generation of faster, cleaner and more efficient cars. Funny how things turned out: Today's cars are indeed faster, cleaner and more efficient than anyone then could even imagine. But they are all still motivated by the same reciprocating-piston principle that served the automotive pioneers of the 1880s.
All but one, that is. The rotary engine did find its purpose, powering a delightful series of light, nimble, high-revving Mazda sports-touring cars. That may seem like an awfully small kingdom for an iron warrior that once looked like a world conqueror. But it's still a wonderful place to be.
The latest model in this series, the ingeniously engineered 2007 Mazda RX-8, drives like a sports car, with a high-revving engine and perfect 50-50 weight distribution for balanced handling.
Yet the RX-8 is surprisingly practical. It's capable of taking the kids to soccer practice, with passenger space for four full-size adults. There's enough room for a weekend's worth of luggage or two full-size golf bags, and the small rear doors and relatively spacious trunk make trips to the home improvement center possible. Granted, it's not as roomy as a sedan, but it can move people and stuff when needed; while moving the spirit as no sedan can.
In short, the RX-8 is a true four-seat sports car. It reminds us of the brilliant third-generation RX-7, but it's $13,000 cheaper, and its muscular styling has a zoom-zoom edge.
It's the small but powerful rotary engine that makes all this possible.
The RX-8 was launched as an all-new model for 2004. Its most significant update since then is the six-speed automatic transmission that arrived last year, replacing the previously available four-speed. In addition to two more gears, the six-speed automatic also brought steering-wheel mounted paddle controls for semi-manual shifting; and allowed the engine to be tuned closer to its manual-transmission specification, narrowing the performance gap between the auto-shifting and shift-it-yourself versions.
The manual and automatic models are two different cars. The six-speed manual benefits from 232 horsepower at 8500 rpm, while the automatic gets 212 horsepower at 7500 rpm, albeit with the same 159 pound-feet of torque at 5500. The base automatic comes packaged with a softer suspension, smaller wheels and smaller brakes. The bottom line is that the manual model is for driving enthusiasts willing to sacrifice some comfort and convenience for performance. The automatic is for drivers more interested in the look and feel of a sports car than in ultimate performance and for drivers who have to contend with stop-and-go commuting.
Changes for '07 are more modest. Mazda has promoted some of last year's various option packages to the status of separate trim levels. And a six-disc, in-dash CD changer is now standard at all but the base level.
While little has changed in terms of actual hardware, Mazda has significantly revised the RX-8 model lineup for 2007, from a single trim level with four major option packages to three separate trim levels with one option package. All are powered by a 1.3-liter twin-rotor rotary engine.
The RX-8 Sport ($26,435) comes with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed paddle-shift automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery; air conditioning; AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers and steering-wheel mounted controls; cruise control; power windows, mirrors and locks; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; floor and overhead consoles; rear window defogger; variable intermittent windshield wipers; and an alarm with immobilizer. Automatics roll on 225/55R16 radials on 16-inch alloy rims; manual-shift models get 225/45R18 high-performance tires on 18-inch rims.
The RX-8 Touring comes with manual ($29,535) or automatic transmission ($30,335), and adds Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with traction control; high-intensity discharge headlamps; fog lamps; power sliding glass sunroof; auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with Homelink; and a 300-watt Bose nine-speaker sound system with AudioPilot noise compensation and an in-dash, six-CD changer. Additionally, automatic Tourings upgrade to the manual model's sport suspension; limited-slip, torque-sensing differential; and larger wheels and tires.
Grand Touring ($31,070) adds leather seating with matching synthetic leather door panels, heated front seats, eight-way power for the driver's seat, heated outside mirrors, and Mazda's advanced keyless entry and start system. The Grand Touring automatic ($31,770) benefits from the same handling upgrades that come with Touring automatics.
A Performance Package ($1,300) for manual-transmission Sport models adds Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), HID headlamps, and fog lamps. A similar Package ($2,000) for automatic Sports adds those items plus the Touring/Grand Touring handling equipment.
Options include a navigation system ($2,000) available on all models, and pearl paint ($200). Dealer-installed accessories include an aero body kit ($1,100), Sirius satellite radio ($430), and a CD-changer for Sport models ($500).
Safety features that come standard include frontal and side-impact airbags (for torso protection) for the front passengers, and curtain airbags (for head protection) front and rear. A tire pressure monitor is also standard on all models. Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution comes standard; DSC is optional.