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2005 Mazda RX-8 review

Compared to Toyota and Honda, Mazda has always gone a slightly different direction. While the former go after the average person, Mazda bills themselves as the alternative for driving enthusiasts. To that end, usually they are the ones to bring out unique designs that won’t commonly be found anywhere else, and that purposely appeal to a smaller audience.

This description certainly fits the RX-8. It is very much unlike any other sport coupe available today.

For starters, the engine is of the rotary design, not a traditional design you’re used to seeing when opening 99.9% of car hoods out there today. I’m not an engineer and won’t claim to be able to talk intelligently about the differences and advantages/disadvantages. Suffice it to say that while the rotary displaces a small 1.3L, power is far beyond what its Yugo-size would suggest (somewhere around 230hp). It loves to rev and gets worse gas mileage than you would expect from a small motor. But, smaller = lighter weight and that = good for a sports car.

The body is also different than ‘normal’. It sort of looks like a two door coupe, but includes two rear half-doors that ease entry to the backseats. Believe it or not, space in the back is not terrible. Not for short trips at least.
If your daily driving demands at least the appearance of utility, then you’ll see why this might be an interesting option. Darker colors tend to show the bodystyle better. It is definitely a different design; I’ll leave it up to you to decide if it’s for you or not.

Moving inside, Mazda proudly makes sure that you never forget what kind of engine the RX-8 is packing. Little rotary-inspired design cues show up everywhere in the car - in the seats, the shifter, the radio, etc. There are occasional touches of cheapness in the cabin materials, but nothing too terrible. A large tach with the redline sitting dauntingly at 9000RPM sits front and center. The speedometer is simply a small digital display within the tach. That should be a clue as to this cars’ priorities. Falling close to hand is a 6 speed manual in my test car, with short, if a touch notchy, throws. RX-8’s are available with everything, nothing, or something between the two extremes. Space is tight but comfortable. The trunk is small, and kiss most of that space goodbye if you check the option box for a spare tire. Face it, that’s not what this car is about though.

Put the RX-8 out on the road and, keeping with the design, it drives differently than most cars. The rotary engine is sewing machine smooth, even as the RPM’s go up. Within 500 RPM of the redline, a buzzer sounds annoyingly to remind you it’s time to shift. Torque is a foreign word to this engine; if you want to extract the power out of it you’ll need to use all the real estate offered on the tach. In fact, if you want to duplicate magazine test numbers, you’ll have to launch the car like you’re leaving an aircraft carrier. When you’re paying the repair bills, you might think twice about that. Power can best be described as adequate, but not abundant. Because of the smoothness of the engine, it never sounds stressed, and you’ll find yourself frequently up between 4k-5k RPM – something you probably wouldn’t attempt in a normal car. The engine and transmission work in harmony with each other; it’s easy to extract all of what the RX-8 has to offer.

Throw the RX-8 into a corner and you’ll see where it really shines. It turns on a dime, and the controls allow an extraordinary amount of precision to be dialed into the inputs. It feels very quick and light on its feet, contributing to fantastic road feel. Because of the modest power, you probably won’t overdrive the chassis, but you have enough to make full use of it. Sometimes, that can be far more fun than simple brute horsepower. The RX-8 is playful yet forgiving, thanks in no small part to the 50:50 weight distribution. It encourages you to play, and rewards skill accordingly. The ride is livable for everyday commuting.

One particular item of note is the structural integrity. Mazda built this car tight. That’s even more amazing if you open both of the side doors and realize that the RX-8 is missing a B-pillar. Whatever bracing Mazda’s engineers had to build into the RX-8 to accomplish that feat, it worked without upsetting the balance of the car at all. Nicely done, Mazda.

Different is not always good; sometimes different is just different. If you purchase one, throw everything you know about cars out and start with a clean slate. You will have to adjust to the RX-8 - it will not adjust itself to you. For starters, rotary engines tend to consume a lot of oil. You’ll need to check it frequently and expect to add multiple quarts between oil changes. Scan the forums and you’ll also find a known issue with flooding the engine if it’s not fully warmed up on its drive. The only remedy is to tow truck it to the dealer to be fixed. And as mentioned before, don’t think that 1.3L engine is going to be a fuel miser; realistically your MPG will be somewhere in the teens. If you plan on modding it, proceed with caution. This particular iteration of the rotary tends to be sensitive to being boosted. The forum RX8 Club has a wealth of detailed information to prepare you for life with an RX-8.

If you’re into driving precision as opposed to raw horsepower, you’ll find a lot to like in the RX-8. It’s very fluid and offers a very unique, fun drive. It’s a car you can wind out on your commute and use almost all of its abilities to entertain yourself. You’ll stand out from the Civic Si’s and Mustangs of the world. Do your research carefully if it will be your only transportation and make sure the compromises you’ll face in owning this car are acceptable to you. However, don’t let the potential downsides discourage you from considering the RX-8. Anyone who is really into the art of driving will find a friend here.



Photos of black RX-8 and interior property of Mazda

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