- Rotary power
- Snicky six-speed manual
- Quality materials inside
- Hunchback styling
- Despite rear doors, tough to use back-seat
- Softened handling
The 2008 Mazda RX-8 has a strange appeal: It's a sportscar with soft handling and seating for four.
The 2008 Mazda RX-8 is a tough car to categorize. It says it's a sportscar, with sleek lines, a manual transmission, and agile handling. But its four-door shape grants extra room for small rear passengers, and the powerful rotary engine under its hood also can be teamed with an automatic transmission.
The Mazda RX-8's styling isn't pure sportscar at all, and from some angles, it's just odd. The front half of the RX-8 is almost insectlike, with raised fenders and a low, open grille. In back, the design falls apart, mostly due to the addition of glass for the rear doors and an abundance of seams and the lines they create. It's curvaceous and maybe even outrageous, but it's also a mishmash.
Those extra doors give backseat passengers easier access to the rear, but they won't want to sit too long. The Mazda RX-8's rear seat is for short trips only; it's roomy enough but claustrophobic. The situation's much better in front, where grippy sport seats have enough surrounding space to make captain and co-captain comfortable. The dash styling is quite modern, with shiny piano-black trim and plenty of visual interest--maybe a little too much, but it's better than the exterior.
The RX-8 offers a choice of manual or automatic transmissions, which affects the power output on the unique rotary engine. The six-speed manual gearbox comes with a 232-horsepower version of the 1.3-liter rotary engine. Automatic versions get a slightly detuned, 212-hp version. The automatic now has six forward gears and features F1-style paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The rotary engine makes a great "whuffle" noise at speed, which it gains pretty rapidly. Fuel economy is about 16/23 mpg.
Steering is precise, communicative, and confidence inspiring, with just enough assistance from the electrically boosted power steering, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel feels good. The RX-8's ride is smooth and comfortable, but at a price; it has soft springs and even softer anti-roll bars, so in fast bends, rather than knifing confidently into the turn like an RX-7 or Miata, the RX-8 waffles, as the body rolls and loads the suspension on the outer side of the car.
Both automatic and manual transmission cars come equipped with power windows, mirrors, and door locks; cruise control; an AM/FM/CD audio system with six speakers; four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes; and side-impact and curtain airbags. Stability control is optional, as are high-intensity xenon headlamps, a navigation system, and a rear wing spoiler. The 2008 Mazda RX-8 gets mostly four-star ratings for crash protection, but scores five stars for passenger-side impact protection.