UK Car Road Test

Mazda RX-8 2004




UK Car Road Test
Model  Mazda RX-8 4 Door Coupe 190 bhp
Year    2003

The RX-8 has a rotary engine which is a very late replacement for the earlier Mazda RX-7 which was introduced in 1979 and ran until 1995, this earlier model had various power outputs and different classifications to its engine cc for insurance purposes. The last RX-7 had a turbo charger attached to its tiny engine to thrust out an impressive 237bhp, pushing it to150mph with a 0-60 in 6.2 seconds. This newer version of the rotary engine from the iconic RX-7 has less power and top speed but a great deal more refinement.

When the RX-8 was first introduced I found it very surprising. The Wankel rotary engine was never reliable enough for modern expectation or lease use and certainly not fuel efficient, considering its engine's volumetric size. I did, however, quietly welcome it! Great style and being adversely different very much sets it aside from your VAG or BMW ranges. A very refreshing alternative, I think.


The RX-8 has a very curvaceous body with most linear aspects having been removed. It does have a classic coupe shape but then it's a four door, the rear door opens with hinges at the rear and not the middle. And they need to have really because access to the tiny rear seats would be impossible otherwise. The bonnet is very low which is aided by the engine being so small. There is a small, V-shaped bump on the bonnet above the motor itself which adds to the character of this car. The front wheel arches are considerably wider than the wings themselves, housing the monstrous alloy rims which are fitted to enhance the road holding. The rear arches are also flared for continuity. The car could be passed for a baby Marcos when viewed from certain angles.

With sleek lighting fitted and colour coded bumpers, spoilers and trims this car looks both impressive and aggressive. Black finishing helps greatly and the silver and red lighting does somewhat enhance the desired styling. Looking at the back of the car, it has two symmetrical exhausts protruding from the rear valance which would have you think the engine is at least a V8. And after studying the body you would not be wrong in thinking this car has a whopping multi cylinder engine for its power and driving pleasure.

All looking very good so far I think.

Untll this..............

Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, Red & Black, mmmmmmmm point made I think.

You either love it or loathe it, but red and black has to be the most crude colour combination available and certainly one which would not make me passionate which is what it is probably designed to do. It's simply vulgar and cheap looking. I guess Ferrari and other top marques utilise it without criticism. I, however, think they command more respect than Mazda and anyway their seats are hand stitched with real leather, not machined with materials with a leather-look which radiate more depth of colour than the outside finishing. 

Getting over the shock of the colour and with a lot of imagination you can see the car's interior design and what it offers. It's strictly a four seater, being an old fashioned 2+2 with the rear seats being, I guess, only occasionally useful. The seating both front and rear is sporty and supportive with paneling for leg, back and waist support. The dash has many features with easily understood switches and dials for various uses.  The drivers seating is almost at the central fulcrum of the car for weight distribution which also permits a very good panoramic view considering the glass size. When you are sitting down you camouflage at least one seat, add a passenger and it gets even better, but then you have the steering wheel which is brighter than a baboon's bottom on heat. Oh well!


Getting over the radiant colour scheme on the inside and accepting this car as a sports car designed for speed and agility, you become astonished at the added weight and bh power consuming devices added for luxurious motoring. This particular car tested was very highly equipped, it had almost every extra available including, a Sat Nav system which operated via an electric screen which hid well when not in use, the disc reader and system for this was housed in the rear centre arm rest, I guess because there is no where else to put it. The car also had heated electric seats, an upgraded Bose stereo system with MP-CD and remote control, electric windows and much more.

Easy and simple.

One slot consumes 6 discs.

Play it loud.

Play it clear.

Would a driver of one of these cars play Vivaldi? Not at all! the driver of this RX-8 would play the Clash, Guns N Roses, or maybe more recent Indi music. It is not an old goats car and its definitely not for your granny!

So why are there so many features suiting an older driver? Very easy answer: (The price,) Costing well over 20,000 new the RX-8 models are not aimed at the younger market when sold new. So its biggest market is probably a 30'S male with no children wanting something to flaunt and not drive. Lets face facts, the older RX-7 was quicker and just as capable when cornering. Why has this iconic car been re-born with the technology adding Sat Nav and not BHP? 



The engine for this car is revolutionary in more ways than one. Originally European in concept it has been around since 1956.

Click here for rotary engine information.

The Wankel engine differs greatly from conventional engines. It retains the familiar intake, compression, power and exhaust cycle but uses (instead of a piston, cylinder and mechanical valves) a triangular rotor that revolves around the eccentric. The three apexes (or tips) of this rotor remain in constant, snug contact with the combustion-chamber walls. The only other moving part is the crankshaft. The Wankel engine has 40% fewer parts and roughly one third the bulk and weight of a comparable reciprocating engine.

The rotary engine has been used in the Norton motorcycle as well as cars, even the NSU used the rotary engine and probably accounted for a large percent of current green house gasses.

The rotary design is very simple, extremely compact and lightweight. With a short crankshaft and no valve gear it can be revved-up very high. Heat generation is astonishingly high and emissions are almost out of sight on the red side of the environmental gauge. 

I remember Norton motorcycles racing with a rotary engine and this example absolutely typifies what the rotary engine performs like. In every race it performed in, when the race started the Suzuki, Honda, and Kawasaki bikes took off like scalded demons, the Norton would take off from the start line comparable to a moped (they should have added pedals and it would have stood a chance in the race). This was even though the Norton rider had the engine revving itself to an almost maximum extracting every available amount of power. In any race a good start is as important as the finishing but the Norton would be so far behind the other bikes by the time it got up to speed that it spent the entire rest of the race playing catch up. This it would do with ease but not always in time to win a race. One thing is for sure, when it did pass another rider it literally scalded them off the race track. The heat output from the rotary engine's exhaust was immense, which made following it closely on another bike unbearably hot and intoxicating with the fumes.

When starting the engine in the Mazda RX-8 it has a very different noise output to a normal car. When the key is rotated the engine whirs into life and accelerates with ease and without any vibration or noticeable noise; the only feedback you get is the exhaust tone changing in pitch as the engine speeds up. Once moving, the reality of the rotary engine becomes very apparent - there is no torque and little power available at low revs, making it easy to stall and difficult to get going from standstill. You quickly learn to apply the throttle and get the engine spinning. I suppose it reminds me of an older 911 or a Fiat 127 which both had small flywheels and therefore similar to this car in stalling but not for the same reasons.

When you depress the accelerator the engine quickly revs up and. once moving. the gearbox requires ample changing to keep up with it. This can be difficult at times as the engine gives such little feedback of its speed that the temptation is not to change gear because the more the engine revs, the more power it produces. Great! But you do get caught out eventually because as the tacho hits 7,000 rpm, the dash sounds a warning bleep and if the engine speed continues to rise, the ECU (electronic control unit) stops the spark slowing the engine down. This protects the engine from over-revving but does become frustrating until you get accustomed to it. In most other cars you feel the engine power dropping and change gear to access the power band again. Not with a rotary. The more it revs, the more you get. Thus causing one eye to watch the tacho and one the road ahead when driving hard.

When the beeping first happened it instantly reminded me of the earlier RX-7 which did exactly the same but would rev higher than this RX-8. Once cruising, the car will perform well in most circumstances, giving a reasonable response to the throttle without having to wind the rotors up too much each time. The engine lacks any torque for an easy drive, considering the suggested top bhp of 189 you would be initially fooled by the way this car achieves this figure. If you do wish to extract all of the bhp and drive like an F1 driver, once the revs have climbed above 4,500 you can keep the engine spinning upwards towards its red line thus changing gear optimally and not allowing the engine speed to decrease too much and this type of driving is where the power band is found. However, the mpg turns to rat poop at this point and the cost of doing so becomes extraordinarily high. The engine is measured at 1308cc and is very much the same unit as the older model which was classified as a 2.3. 

Technically, the engine's consumption and smooth running is due to each rotor being fired three times per revolution and, as there are two rotors, the engine fires six times per crankshaft cycle, making it as smooth as a twelve cylinder and as equal regarding fuel consumption. Add the fact that it's a low compression engine and unable therefore to burn the fuel as efficiently as standard engines and you start to wonder why it's still produced. I must add that  I'm glad it still is because even though it does deliver power like a two stroke it has much more refinement and is a great pleasure to thrash once going.

The engine is bolted to a centrally positioned gear box which drives the rear wheels and is aided with a traction control system. However, because the engine's power climbs so smoothly, it's easy to keep the car under control without this feature. The gear selector has very little height and movement which aids quicker gear selection. This is so you can try and keep up with the very swift engine which is difficult in the lower gears. The clutch is very light which makes general driving very easy once you have the engine character figured out and provide ample throttle to get going.

The engine is so small and placed so far towards and under the bulkhead that it allows for a great balance and distribution of the car's weight. Add this to super sharp steering aided by huge 18" rims and a very firm sports independent suspension and it becomes clear why this car is so sought after. You can turn this car in a car park space with ease and also throw it into a turn with the precision more expected from a high powered, much more expensive sports marque.

The braking is superior to many cars which gives great power with a stunning assurance; the rear discs are as large as many front discs on other cars. The braking system is standard with ABS for the eventuality of you getting your stopping distance wrong which helps to preserve the car and you. The suspension is entirely independent and has complicated drop links and anti roll bars for enhanced traction through corners. I found the car's handling throughout my use on a par with it's engine. Not once did I find myself critical of its ability to ride bumps or change direction sharply and this gives great confidence when driving it. The body shell is extremely rigid and surprisingly so considering there are no door pillars. Some may find the ride too hard. I guess I'm still young at heart and not ready yet for a car solely for transport devoid of any ability to entertain.


Airbags airbags and more airbags. Safety is a very strong criteria in today's market. The Mazda RX-8 has a multitude of safety devices which must almost double its nett weight. I guess that they work well and that's why they are fitted I simply question why there are so many?

All standard in today's market and all costly to develop, build, fit and ultimately lug around and consume lots of valuable fuel on the chance that one day they may be required. Not sure myself. Surely two front bags are enough when used with a pre-tensioned inertia seat belt? And then there are the strengthened doors with side impact beams adding weight along with crumple zones and strengthened sill sections and floor pan areas. Of course the sills, floor and doors ultimately help the handling so these I do understand. But I question how many devices are ultimately going to be fitted to our cars for our safety and cost. The average airbag has a shelf life and if we have to start replacing them in years to come because they become less efficient with age, then our cars are literally going to be written off because of this added protection feature.

If I were to conclude this revue with my personal opinion, I would have to say positively that I think this is a great looking car which is reasonably versatile and a stunning driver's car. Negatively I would have to admit that the fuel economy for such a small engine is abominable, the reliability is not quite there yet and extremely costly if the engine fails at all out of warranty.

The seating is good for a sports coupe as it's supportive and comfortable even on long motorway journeys and the boot is only good enough for grocery shopping for a single person. I think the reality of owning one of these cars sets in when the running costs are considered as they are much higher than most cars of its class and also very specialised. Phone Mazda and price a full replacement exhaust and you will need to apply for a mortgage to pay for it. Worse still, rev one up high and if it pops on the over-run ask Mazda how much that costs to fix and you will be paying inheritance tax before you have the kind of money available to fix it. I think that is good enough reason not to have one. Shame really because they are great cars but totally unreal in the maintenance department which is a must for most of us who drive older cars.


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UK Car Road Test Mazda RX-8 2004

UK Car Road Test Keywords: sportsRX-8