2008 RX-8 New Car Test Drive
It's been 40 years since Mazda released its first rotary-engine production model, a twin-rotor coupe called Cosmo Sport in mid-1967. By the early 1970s, the rotary seemed poised to conquer the automotive world. That never happened for a long list of reasons, but the lightweight rotary engine found a purpose powering a delightful series of light, nimble, high-revving Mazda sports-touring cars. Over the past four decades, Mazda has manufactured more than 1.9 million rotary-engine vehicles. And we're glad it did.
The latest model in this series, the ingeniously engineered 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. It's not as roomy as a sedan, but it can move people and stuff when needed, while offer the driving experience of a two-seat sports car.
In short, the RX-8 is a true four-seat sports car. And it's the small but powerful rotary engine that makes 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 for 2006, 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.
Still, the manual and automatic models are two different cars. The 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.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Mazda's rotary engine, Mazda will offer a limited-edition 40th Anniversary RX-8, featuring Metropolitan Gray paintwork, a Cosmo Red leather interior, and unique 18-inch alloy wheels; plus suspension enhancements, fog lamps, a silver engine cover, and special badging. Look for it early in the 2008 calendar year. Otherwise, the RX-8 is unchanged for 2008.
For 2008, the Mazda RX-8 comes in three trim levels, plus the Anniversary model. All are powered by a 1.3-liter twin-rotor rotary engine.
The base-level RX-8 Sport comes with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed paddle-shift automatic transmission, both for the same price ($26,435). 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-speed 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. Manual-shift Sport models also come with a stiffer suspension, bigger brakes, and a limited-slip torque-sensing differential.
The RX-8 Touring also 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 differential; and larger brakes, 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. As with the Touring level, the Grand Touring automatic ($31,770) benefits from the same chassis upgrades as the manual version.
The 40th Anniversary model, with manual ($31,370) or automatic ($32,070) transmission, will come fully equipped and enhanced with special Metropolitan Gray paint, Cosmo Red leather interior, unique 18-inch alloy wheels, further suspension upgrades, fog lamps, silver engine cover, and special badging. Anniversary models will be available early in calendar-year 2008.
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 manual model's handling equipment and brakes. A navigation system ($2,000) is offered for Grand Touring only. Optional on all models is Crystal White Pearl paint ($200).
Options and accessories include an aero body kit ($1,100), Sirius satellite radio ($430), shock-sensor alarm ($60), spare tire kit ($395), and a CD-changer for Sport models ($500); plus an array of cargo organizers, protective trim, and other appearance items.
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 stability control is optional.