2011 Mazda RX-8 Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2011 Mazda RX-8 was new.


Performance: 8.3

Reviewers report that the 2011 Mazda RX-8 handles wonderfully. However, that doesn't compensate for its high-maintenance engine, lack of torque and poor fuel economy.

  • "We could probably live with the rotary's less-than-stellar straight-line performance, given the fun derived from the RX-8's superb handling, but the fuel economy and dearth of low-end power are hard to reconcile." -- Edmunds
  • "The Mazda RX-8 is a unique sports car.  ...The rotary engine is super smooth, simple, high-revving and almost indestructible. It's complemented by a beautiful six-speed gearbox, great brakes, and steering that talks to your hands. The RX-8 is a great sports car with an innovative approach and admirable engineering." -- New Car Test Drive
  • "Getting into the car, feeling the Recaro seats hug your sides, and putting your hand on the short shifter for the six-speed manual lets you know the RX-8 R3 is a sports car. It's only when you hit the gas that you start wondering if you've been had." -- CNET
  • "If only they could figure out a way to raise the fuel economy from its abysmal 16 mpg city/22 highway, which is worse than many three-row crossovers that weigh nearly a ton more. For an improvement in that regard, we're going to have to wait for the next-gen rotary, which is said to have direct injection for more precise fuel metering." -- Car and Driver

Acceleration and Power

The 2011 Mazda RX-8 is the only mass production vehicle in the U.S. to feature a rotary engine. When equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission, the RX-8's 1.3-liter RENESIS two-rotor rotary engine produces 212 horsepower at 7,500 rpm, and 232 horsepower at 8,500 rpm when equipped with a six-speed manual. With either the manual or automatic, the engine makes 159 pound-feet of torque at 5,500 rpm.

Since the RX-8's introduction in 2004, its powerplant has been an object of great fascination. Often referred to as a "Wankel engine" after inventor Dr. Felix Wankel, the rotary engine 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 -- the Wankel engine is unique because it does so within different parts of the same housing.

Though reviewers appreciate the RENESIS rotary engine for its light weight and ability to generate lots of horsepower with little displacement, many find it high maintenance and impractical for daily use. What's more, many are disappointed by the RX-8's lack of power in its low range and poor fuel economy.

  • "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. 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." -- Edmunds
  • "Those looking for gut-wrenching power will still be disappointed in the RX-8. The small engine needs to be revved to the moon for any real forward thrust. At least the positive six-speed manual transmission is fun to work as you try to stay in the engine's power band. But throw in four people, a load of luggage, and the A/C running on a hot day and the Mazda is downright slow." -- Automobile Magazine
  • "The bottom line is that the manual model is for driving enthusiasts willing to shift for themselves and those seeking maximum efficiency, while the automatic is for drivers more interested in the look and feel of a sports car than in ultimate performance or heavy stop-and-go commuters." -- New Car Test Drive

Handling and Braking

Test drivers are pleased with the rear-wheel drive RX-8’s sure-footed road performance. The 2011 Mazda RX-8 features rack-and-pinion steering, ventilated front/rear brakes, anti-lock brakes and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. The Touring, Grand Touring, and R3 also come equipped with Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control. The R3 is tuned for a sportier ride.

  • "There's plenty of grip in the corners and solid feedback through the steering wheel, but its compliant ride means that the RX-8 won't beat you up on the daily commute." -- Edmunds
  • "[Y]ou can toss the RX-8 into a corner and feel the advantage of its light weight. The car has loads of grip and is extremely nimble. This is especially true in the R3 model. The minor changes to the chassis increase steering feel and the nineteen-inch wheels do little to hurt ride quality because of their light weight and the excellent Bilstein dampers." -- Automobile Magazine
  • "Firm, direct steering, along with great grip and balance make RX-8 a delight. It exhibits minimal body lean while cornering. The brakes deliver good overall stopping control, but the pedal in one test car felt overly sensitive." -- Consumer Guide
  • "The Mazda RX-8 handles like a true sports car, with great balance and precise turn-in. Yet the suspension is soft enough for daily comfortable use and not as stiff as that of other sports cars that corner only slightly better but pay the price with a rigid ride." -- New Car Test Drive

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