2008 Mazda RX-8


2008 Mazda RX-8 Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2008 Mazda RX-8 was new.


Performance: 8.6

The RX-8's performance gets a high score because of its powerful engine, class-leading manual transmission and excellent handling. Still, its rotary engine's frequent need of oil and poor fuel economy detract from its overall appeal. "If you can't deal with adding oil occasionally and more gas stops, then this is not the car for you," says AutoWeek.

Acceleration and Power

The Mazda RX-8 is powered by a 1.3L RENESIS two-rotor rotary engine that makes 212 horsepower at 7,500 rpm and 159 pound-feet of torque at 5,500 rpm. When equipped with a manual transmission, however, the RX-8 rotary engine churns out 232 horsepower at 8,500 rpm. Edmunds reports that the RX-8 is the only production car in the world with a rotary engine

A rotary engine, often referred to as a "Wankel engine" after its inventor Dr. Felix Wankel, is a type of internal combustion engine that utilizes a triangular rotor spun around a fixed pinion by the use of a ring gear. While it carries out the same four basic functions as any engine -- intake, compression, combustion and exhaust -- it's unique because it does so within different parts of the same housing.

"For years, car enthusiasts have been intrigued by the RX-series' rotary engine and for good reason, as it has many advantages over a traditional piston engine," explains Edmunds. "They include very high output with small displacement (the RX-8's engine is just 1.3 liters, yet puts out 232 horsepower), much lighter weight and fewer moving parts." In fact, Forbes asserts that due to its impressive horsepower to liter displacement ratio, it's "one of the most efficient mass-produced power plants in history." Because the engine is so small, it allows engineers to modify its placement in the vehicle, improving handling. The RX-8's engine is behind the front wheels, make for more stable weight distribution, and the engine's small size allows the RX-8 to weigh several hundred pounds less than its competitors while maintaining comparable power output.

While the advantages to owning a car that runs on a rotary engine are clear -- due to a high level of maintenance, it may not be for everyone. "For instance, the car steadily burns a small amount of oil during regular use. Mazda recommends that you check the oil every other time you gas up," says BusinessWeek. "For a car that requires oil to be added regularly, Mazda should have made it easier to check the level, as it necessitates the removal of a dirty engine cover to get at the dipstick. User friendly it is not," adds Road and Track.

In terms of torque and acceleration, Car and Driver reports: "The RX-8 is great at speed, but getting up to speed is a challenge. With only 159 pound-feet, the RX-8 has less than half the torque of the Shelby GT." However, Kelley Blue Book explains that the "compact rotary engine delivers its torque high in the rpm band, meaning you have to run the revs high when passing or accelerating." They add, "With a 9000-rpm redline, all you have to do is keep the engine between 4000 and 6000 rpm and you'll always find more than enough power on tap for quick bursts of acceleration." Still, in their test drive, Edmunds found "a manual-equipped RX-8 took 7.0 seconds to reach 60 mph and 15.4 seconds for the quarter-mile." BusinessWeek, however, says that the "RX-8 gets faster as the engine wears in. Car and Driver got times as low as 5.9 seconds in an '04 RX-8 with upward of 40,000 miles on it." Popular Mechanics concludes, "The high-revving engine does a good job of keeping its torque a secret."

"By the way, don't think that because the Mazda gets a tiny engine it sips gasoline," says Forbes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the RX-8 has a fuel economy of 16 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 23 mpg on the highway for the automatic and 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway for the manual, which leaves auto writers disappointed. Because drivers have to keep the engine in the high rev range for maximum power, Automobile.com says that "the obvious penalty hit my wallet when the time arrived to top up the go-go juice." AutoWeek describes the RX-8 as having an "unquenchable thirst" that's "not-so-earth-friendly." The RX-8 requires Premium Unleaded 91 octane gasoline.

The Mazda RX-8 is available with either an automatic or manual transmission. Its six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and Adaptive Shift Logic allows drivers to keep the car in automatic mode or shift gears without a clutch using paddles on the steering wheel. The RX-8's six-speed manual transmission, on the other hand, comes equipped with overdrive. According to Edmunds, "the six-speed manual version is really the only way to experience an RX-8." Most auto writers seem to agree, as hardly any reviewed the RX-8's automatic transmission. Road and Track describes the manual transmission as "faultless," and Kelley Blue Book adds that the RX-8's "marvelous six-speed short-throw shifter can make other six-speeds feel imprecise by comparison." Automobile.com goes the furthest, saying: "Crashing down through four or five gears under hard braking was absolute ecstasy."

Handling and Braking

Edmunds, reflecting the majority view, says "In terms of dynamics, very few cars achieve a better balance between handling precision and ride quality than the RX-8." They add, "Although the 2007 Mazda RX-8 has the look of a race-tuned sports car, its demeanor on the road is considerably more docile. There's plenty of grip in the corners and solid feedback through the steering wheel, but a compliant ride means that it won't beat you up on the daily commute." Carz Unlimited adds that "little effort is required to extract snappy winding-road performance." The RX-8 is rear-wheel drive (RWD).

The RX-8 is equipped with a rack-and-pinion direct-drive electronic power steering, which Kelley Blue Book says is "neutral and extremely precise in both its execution and feedback." Forbes asserts that "the steering of this car is a hallmark of what sports cars should feature, with a direct, solid feel of what's happening at the wheels but tremendous on-center feel, so tuning the radio doesn't mean you have to fear driving into a ditch."

The RX-8's suspension system is just as impressive. "Though it is clearly taut to produce confident control, the suspension takes the edge off all but the worst bumps," says Carz Unlimited. Forbes reports that the suspension "doesn't punish passengers nearly as much as that of some sports cars but can have you cornering like few other vehicles on the road... It helps that nearly all the weight sits between the two sets of wheels, with the engine aft of the front wheels and the fuel tank in front of the rears, so the rotational mass is dead center."

The 2008 Mazda RX-8 comes outfitted with ventilated front/rear brakes, as well as a four-wheel anti-lock brake system (ABS) and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) -- which applies varying amounts of force on individual brakes depending on speed and road conditions. Despite the advanced braking system, Automobile.com calls the brakes the "only weak link" in the RX-8's performance. They add, "Under low speed applications, the brakes work wonderfully well. However, with hard, extended use they fade rather early." While Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control systems are package options for the RX-8 Sport, they come standard on the Touring and Grand Touring.

Despite these satisfying handling dynamics, Motor Trend says "light weight and nimbleness don't come entirely free. There's less sound deadening in an RX-8 than you might find, say, in a Mustang. Tire noise on coarse concrete drowns out conversation and multi-channel audio fidelity, and the impact noise from expansion joints and Bott's dots seem extra loud."

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