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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
Not much punch for diving into holes in traffic
Car and Driver
Nimble handling with a comfortable ride
Unique engine burns through far too much fuel
When it comes to sportscars, looks can usually tell a lot. Some cars just appear fast, others come across like purebred handling machines, and some, like the 2009 Mazda RX-8 seem like a perfect combination of both. With its low-slung appearance and aggressive stance and styling, the Mazda RX-8 looks ready to pin drivers back in their seats and still circle skid pads with tenacious grip. Looks can be deceiving, though, and TheCarConnection.com has discovered that the 2009 RX-8 Mazda only lives up to half of its visual impression.
The 2009 Mazda RX-8 is unique in several ways, but none more striking than its engine. Edmunds says the Mazda RX-8 "is powered by a 1.3-liter rotary engine," and "the number of other cars that feature this type of engine is exactly zero." The single engine actually produces two different power numbers, as noted by Automobile Magazine, which reports that "with the six-speed manual transmission, the engine develops 232 hp and 159 lb-ft of torque," though "only 212 hp" when equipped with the six-speed automatic. Either way, the complaints about the engine are the same—it's underpowered. ConsumerGuide claims "low- and mid-range power is lacking, making it difficult at times to negotiate heavy traffic," and Car and Driver agrees, adding that there's "not much punch for diving into holes in traffic." Automobile Magazine explains that "the small engine needs to be revved to the mean for any real forward thrust," and when fully loaded, the Mazda RX-8 "is downright slow." In terms of hard acceleration data, Edmunds reports that "a manual-equipped RX-8 went from zero to 60 mph in 7 seconds."
While the engine may not be a favorite among reviewers, the transmission options both score well. As noted earlier, the 2009 RX-8 Mazda offers both a six-speed manual and automatic transmission, both of which are linked to a "rear-wheel-drive" system, according to Edmunds. Automobile Magazine praises the manual transmission for being "fun to work as you try to stay in the engine's power band," and ConsumerGuide similarly calls the manual "smooth and precise." Cars.com reports that drivers who choose the automatic transmission still have the option to control the gears, thanks to "shift paddles on the steering wheel for driver-initiated gear changes."
A small, low-output engine combined with a lightweight vehicle is usually a formula for respectable fuel economy, but the Mazda RX-8's rotary engine conspires against this tried-and-true recipe. According to the official EPA estimates, the 2009 Mazda RX-8 gets just 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway with the manual transmission, while the automatic is just 1 mpg better on the highway. Edmunds calls these numbers "unimpressive," and in real-world testing, ConsumerGuide reviewers only "averaged 16.2 mpg."
For all its drawbacks in the acceleration and fuel economy department, few cars can match the 2009 Mazda RX-8's virtues when it comes to handling. Car and Driver is largely critical of the Mazda RX-8, but even they concede it "is perfect if the mountain road starts at the end of your driveway." ConsumerGuide finds that the 2009 RX-8 Mazda's "firm, direct steering, along with great grip and balance make RX-8 a delight." They add that the Mazda RX-8 "exhibits minimal body lean while cornering." Aside from top-notch handling, many reviewers are impressed by the ride quality in the Mazda RX-8. Edmunds loves the balance between "plenty of grip in the corners and solid feedback through the steering wheel." The brakes are commendable as well, with ConsumerGuide proclaiming that "the brakes deliver good overall stopping control."
You'll get the most out of the 2009 Mazda RX-8 on a twisting road, but make sure there are plenty of gas stations along the route.