- Sweet, rev-happy rotary engine
- Nice, precise shift linkage
- Nimble, surefooted handling
- Excellent build quality
- Head-turning design is like no other
- Thirsty rotary engine
- Dearth of low-rev torque
- Stability control not standard
- Busy ride on imperfect surfaces
The 2010 Mazda RX-8 is one of the few true track-ready sports cars you can get that actually has a backseat; the RX-8 is practical, but not too much so.
Whether you look at its design and profile or its spec details, the 2010 Mazda RX-8 is like no other vehicle on the market. It’s a small sports car with seating for up to four, two small rear-hinged back doors, a unique Wankel rotary engine layout, and rear-wheel drive. It follows a long line of rotary Mazdas, including the best-known RX-7.
After getting some minor styling changes, equipment and powertrain improvements, and a new track-oriented R3 model for 2009, the Mazda RX-8 continues into 2010 with no significant changes.
The RX-8 has changed very little in the six years since its introduction, yet it still turns heads. From a distance, it looks like a low-slung coupe with a long hoodline, lipped wheel wells, and low-profile tires. Get up close and you’ll no doubt notice the two small rear-hinged back doors, which provide access to the small backseat. The RX-8’s rakish side profile is unusual for any vehicle with a backseat; the roofline arcs over the back and smoothly meets the rear decklid.
Inside, it’s all sports car. The cockpit-oriented interior of the 2010 Mazda RX-8 feels low-slung, and you’re seated mere inches above the road; the instrument panel flows smoothly into a matte-metallic-trimmed center console that runs from the instrument panel all the way back. There’s actually plenty of legroom and just enough headroom for taller occupants—wider drivers might find the seats rather narrow—yet in back, the two rear bucket seats are just for kids. It’s just more than a 2+2, but they’re not normal-sized backseats either.
Shorter than usual and hinged at the back, the two odd, rear-hinged back doors are opened together with the front doors to allow impressive access. However, entry and exit for backseat occupants is still difficult; adults need to contort a bit to get into position, and they must especially watch their heads, as the low roofline curves downward at the back.
A compact but very potent 1.3-liter, twin-rotor engine powers the 2010 Mazda RX-8, providing 232 horsepower with the standard six-speed manual transmission but detuned to 212 horsepower with the available six-speed Sport A/T automatic transmission. The automatic transmission available in the 2009 Mazda RX-8 includes steering-wheel paddle-shifters, but the very neat-shifting standard six-speed manual gearbox is the best choice of the two. The RX-8 is much more enjoyable this way, as the rotary engine has to be revved high to access the most excitement. One downside, no matter which transmission, is fuel economy; with an EPA city fuel economy rating of 16 mpg, the 2009 Mazda RX-8 is far from frugal.
Steering and handling of the RX-8 are top-notch, with a responsive and direct feel you’ll find in just a handful of cars. Worth noting is that the RX-8 is confident in high-speed cruising; it’s not twitchy as some other small sports cars can be. At the same time, you’re so low to the ground that you don’t have to break speed limits to feel like you’re going fast. There’s very little body lean, grip is tenacious, and the quick-ratio, electric-boost steering has good feedback and unwinds nicely. The ride can be a bit jittery on uneven surfaces, but in all, it's a very fun, precise car to drive.
The engine has a throaty and mild-mannered sound in leisurely driving, but at full wail, it develops the urgent tone of a speed bike. Fortunately, if you tire of the sounds, you can simply shift up to sixth gear and cruise in relative quiet.
The 2010 Mazda RX-8 hasn’t been crash-tested by the insurance-industry-based IIHS, but federal government gives the RX-8 four and five stars. Both side airbags and head-protecting side-curtain bags covering the driver and front passenger positions are standard, but neither of the side airbags covers rear-occupant positions. Rollover is a bright spot; it’s one of just a handful of vehicles to get a perfect five-star score in NHTSA’s rollover rating. One disappointment is that electronic stability control—a standard feature on nearly every other sports car now isn’t available on the base Sport model (it’s included in the other Touring, Grand Touring, and R3 models).
The Mazda RX-8 remains available four different models: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, and R3. Power accessories, air conditioning, keyless entry, and attractive alloy wheels are all standard on the Sport, but Grand Touring models pile on extras like HID headlamps, fog lamps, rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, upgraded sound systems, a Bluetooth interface, and a keyless start system. The high-performance 2010 Mazda RX-8 R3 gets a sport-tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks, and high-performance tires on 19-inch wheels, along with foam-filled front-suspension crossmembers, which help quiet the stiffer ride and aid control. A 300-watt Bose Centerpoint audio system, Bluetooth interface, and smoky forged-alloy wheels are other R3 extras.