By Jim Bray
Well, they certainly arent kidding.
I mean, Mazdas zoom zoom slogan can be applied in the real
world to the experience of driving such fun cars as the Miata and even the
6 sedan. But take it to its ultimate expression and you have to be talking
about the RX-8, the latest generation of the companys rotary-powered
sports cars and an absolute blast to take out on the highway.
The gorgeous RX-8 follows on the heels of the popular RX-7, but ups the ante
over that great car in several ways. First, it features a new generation of
the rotary engine, which Mazda calls RENESIS. This power plant
is nothing short of remarkable: in my top-of-the-line test RX-8, Mazda manages
to get 238 horses and 164 lb.-ft. of torque from an engine comparable to 1.3
litres! Incredible and dont let those power/torque specs fool
you; they may not be as high as some of the competition, but this car is no
slouch by any means.
To put the efficiency of the rotary into perspective, Mazda gets 238/164 horses/torque
from the 1.3 litre rotary and 220/192 horses/torque from its 3.0 litre V6 in
the lovely Mazda 6. More power from less size. Thats amazing, and it
makes me wonder why there arent more rotaries in Mazdas (and other
Another ante upper from the RX-7 is the addition of a rear seat, considered
by many to be anathema to the concept of a true sports car, and two small,
rearward-opening suicide doors (oops, I believe we arent
supposed to call them that any more; Mazda calls them
Freestyle doors) to facilitate getting into and out of the back
seat. Decidedly un-sports car-like, if youre tied to conventional wisdom.
Yet I defy anyone to say this little beauty isnt a real sports car.
So far as the RX-8s beautifully aggressive styling is concerned, Mazda
says the design theme was "Athletic Tension," to give gawkers (and
owners) a feeling of pent-up energy ready to be released, like an athlete waiting
for the starter's gun. It works, too, and the gorgeous purple colour of my
tester was a classy touch. Interesting, too, because depending on the light
outside or the angle from which you looked at the car it could also look deep
brown or black. All the apparent shades looked great, but that purple was outstanding.
Mazda calls the RX-8 a sports car like no other, and they have that right,
if only for the rotary. And the back seats.
Speaking of those back seats, Mazda has done a really nifty job of not only
facilitating ingress and egress into the RX-8s twin rear bun holders,
but those seats themselves are surprisingly comfortable and roomy. Because
the front and rear doors open in opposite directions, theres no big pillar
to get in your way when getting in and out and the resulting opening is comparatively
huge, considering the overall small size of the RX-8.
As a bit of an old fart, well middle aged, I still found getting in and out
a bit of a challenge, but not nearly as much as getting into and out of the
back seat of the two-door Acura RSX I drove the
week before. And once inside, I had plenty of headroom, though some would argue
that, at 5 7, headroom isnt a big problem for me anyway.
But it was in the back of the RSX.
The beautiful interior includes very comfortable seats for all four positions.
The front seats arent power operated (must be a
pure sports car thing) and while the steering wheel tilts it doesnt
telescope - yet overall its a very comfortable place to do business.
I couldnt quite find a perfect driving position, mostly because I found
the brake and gas pedal to be set a little too far forward compared with the
clutch and this meant that I had to stretch my left leg when my right leg was
comfortable, or get my left leg comfortable at the expense of a gas/brake pedal
combination that was a tad too close. It wasnt enough to spoil the fun,
The RX-8 is small and snug enough that everything the driver needs to reach,
including stereo, HVAC and the like, falls nicely to hand. The design is quite
The Bose audio system features a reasonably powerful AM/FM 6 disc CD setup.
I thought the overall sound was better than average as far as power is concerned,
but it was also a tad muddy; I usually run test cars
stereos at their default settings to maintain apples to apples
consistency among them, but had to crank the treble and bass in the RX before
I was happy. And while the system plays fairly loudly, it runs out of steam
quite quickly on CDs, well before ear bleeding levels (which
is probably just as well, in some ways
The instrumentation is attractive and efficient, though Mazda has chosen to
pair the analog tachometer with a digital speedometer (undoubtedly so you know
exactly how fast you were going when the cop pulls you over). I prefer all
analog, but the digital speedo does save precious real estate.
The air conditioning is a little weak, or so I found it during the very warm
days of my test, which is kind of surprising considering the relatively small
amount of space it has to cool.
What the RX-8 clearly isnt is a city car. Oh, it performs
just fine in an urban environment, offering comfort and as much driving fun
as you can have in rush hour gridlock. But take it out onto the highway, especially
back roads with twisties and not a lot of traffic, and the RX true personality
This car loves to be driven. In fact, it demands it! Wind it up through the
revs toward its astounding 9000 rpm red line and as the cool-sounding engine
works harder and harder it sings an ever-happier tune. If you think this is
a neat sounding engine at idle, wait until it hits its stride!
Handling is also outstanding. The rear drive RX-8 carves up the roads like
the family patriarch working over a Christmas turkey. It not only goes where
you point it, it almost seems to know where youre going to point it.
Part of the handling prowess is due to the rear wheel drive as well as the
cars perfect 50/50 front/rear weight distribution and low center of gravity.
The RX-8 also boats double wishbone front suspension and a newly-developed
multi-link rear suspension. It does a nice job of striking a balance between
sport and comfort, leaning as it should toward sport. Its brakes are a four
wheel disc system with ABS and EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution). The GT
model, which was the one I got to test, also features Dynamic stability control
Steering is rack and pinion with torque sensitive power assist and it feels
as if it were tuned using a laser to ensure sharpness.
The RX-8 comes with either a 6-speed manual transmission with wonderfully
short throws or a 4-speed automatic transmission. The 6-speed manual of my
tester had a neat rotor-shaped shift knob (the rotary motif is repeated throughout
Safety equipment in the RX-8 is about what youd expect in a modern vehicle.
Its equipped with a dual stage driver's side airbag featuring, a passenger's
side airbag and curtain and front side airbags. Other safety features include
an intrusion-minimizing brake pedal to help reduce foot and leg injuries in
a frontal collision, a soft, impact-absorbing interior and
wheel stopper reinforcements to prevent the front wheels from impacting
the cabin during a frontal collision.
I had been waiting impatiently for a chance to drive the RX-8 since it was
first introduced for the 2004 model year. Id read the reviews, seen the
car in dealerships and on the road and generally lusted after it from afar.
So when my turn for a week-long test drive came up I was salivating with delight.
But when I slipped behind the wheel it was as if I were entering the Twilight
Zone; the drive home as I familiarized myself with the car was enjoyable enough,
but I was surprised that it wasnt the instant love affair I had expected,
and resigned myself to the realization that perhaps we wouldnt be a match
made in heaven after all.
The RX-8 must have sensed that. Somehow, it convinced me to keep an open mind
until I had a chance to take it outside the city limits and open it up.
The rest was history. We left the urban confines and headed northwest, through
the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and the rest of the day amounted to a
bonding experience that has to be lived to be appreciated. When I got back,
I didnt care a whit about the clutch making me stretch my leg too much.
I didnt care about the anemic air conditioning or the muddy stereo. I
was in love. Or at least lust. And the feeling lasted through the rest of the
Then I had to give the RX-8 back. Love/lust turned to mourning.
Zoom zoom. Itll do it every time!