Want to own a car that’s exciting to drive, great to look at and pretty modestly priced? Then the Mazda RX-8 is well worth a place on your short list.
It’s a sleek four-door coupe powered by a silky-smooth rotary engine with outstanding performance.
The RX-8 is powered by a Mazda 13B powerplant. However, after problems in the early 13Bs the RX-8’s unit was modified in so many ways it can almost be regarded as a different unit. It also has a different name – the Renesis rotary.
The side-port Wankel engine had advanced electronic control. Its inlet tract is varied according to engine revs and throttle position. Low down torque has always been a problem in any Wankel. It’s not too bad in the original Renesis, and the July 2008 refresh of the RX-8 saw it further improved.
However, to keep the engine giving its best you have to keep it at high revs. Then it’s a real delight to drive with exceptional smoothness and a willingness to seem to want to go higher and higher on the tacho. Love to drive and happy to put plenty of work into getting the best from it? Then you will love it.
The RX-8 with a six-speed manual gearbox is the one to opt for because the engine in front of at four-speed automatic had to be detuned because the Mazda automatic couldn’t cope with the big revs of the rotary engine. Try an auto for yourself if you can’t drive a manual or are confronted with heavy-duty commuting on a daily basis.
Though not as bad as in the early Mazda rotaries he RX-8 does like a drink. You can expect it to use about 16 to 18 litres of unleaded for each 100 kilometres around town. On long easy paced trips the consumption drops considerably, perhaps by half if you drive for economy.
Anyhow, owners of RX-8s say, “stop whingeing about fuel use – because you’re getting V8 performance and old-style V8 levels of fuel consumption.”
Handling is very good as the small, light engine sits behind the front wheels, making this Mazda a mid-engined sports machine with excellent balance. There’s very good steering and chassis feel. Some may find the steering slightly too quick at first acquaintance, but owners you soon adapt to it.
Comfort is good for a full-on sports machine and only rough roads will cause it be bounced around. Despite the sports tyres there’s less road roar than is common on quite a few other machines in this same class.
The small rear doors are certainly better than having to clamber past folded front seats. The front doors have to be opened before the back ones can be unlatched. The doors are a real pain when parked alongside another car, such as in a carpark, because you can only use a front door or a back, not both at the same time. The rear seats are on the small side for adults, and children may find them slightly claustrophobic due to the high-set windows.
A surprisingly spacious boot and the little Mazda sports car makes a reasonably practical daily driver.
These days Mazda is a major player in the sales scene in Australia and has a strong, well regarded dealer network. There are obviously more dealers in metropolitan areas than in the country areas, but an increasing number of country cities and major towns have representation.
This isn’t the sort of car to tinker with if you don’t know what you’re doing so we suggest leaving all but the simplest of work to professionals trained in the brand and/or in rotary engines.
Check carefully into insurance costs as some companies have had bad experiences with the Mazda RX-8 and charge high prices accordingly.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Look for uneven wear on the front tyres as it probably indicates harsh driving. Also check for severe brake dust on the inside of the wheels.
Added gauges may simply be there to make the cabin look impressive, but may also be an indication of hard driving, perhaps even track days as the RX-8 is the sort of car that appeals to quick drivers.
Have a look throughout the cabin and boot for signs of wear and tear. But don’t be too tough in your expectations if the Mazda is getting on in years.
Have the RX-8’s by a professional with the specialised compression test equipment which is different to that on a conventional piston engine.
Changes in the six-speed manual should be light and easy.
Dip the clutch without backing off the accelerator and make sure it engages without slip when re-engaged quickly.
The automatic transmission is a fairly old design but should work without flaring and always be in the correct gear for the situation. Any problems should make you very wary.
Expect to pay from $3000 to $6000 for a 2003 Mazda RX-8; $6000 to $8000 for a 2006 Revelation; $7000 to $11,000 for a 2008 40th Anniversary; $8000 to $12,000 for a 2009 Luxury; $10,000 to $15,000 for a 2010 Luxury; and $11,000 to $16,000 for a 2012 GT or Luxury.
CAR BUYING TIP
Buying a specialised sports car? Don’t even dream of doing so without a full inspection at the premises of the mechanic.
RECALLS: To browse recalls on all vehicles go to the ACCC at: www.productsafety.gov.au/products/transport/cars/