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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
Nimble handling with a comfortable ride
Not much punch for diving into holes in traffic
Car and Driver
Unique engine burns through far too much fuel
With its low-slung appearance and aggressive stance and styling, the 2010 Mazda RX-8 looks ready to pin drivers back in their seats and still circle skid pads with tenacious grip. That’s mostly true, though reviewers at TheCarConnection.com and elsewhere think that shoppers should be aware that the powertrain won’t be appealing to everyone.
The 2010 Mazda RX-8 is the only new vehicle to offer a Wankel rotary engine, and according to a wide range of opinions, unless you know what you’re getting into and how to drive it, the RX-8 can feel underpowered at times. 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.
Here’s where reviewers get specific—in describing the engine’s lack of low-rev grunt. 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."
The RX-8 offers both a six-speed manual and automatic transmission, with rear-wheel drive, and although both transmissions rate well, the manual is clearly the favorite. 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."
You might expect the small engine to be extraordinarily fuel-efficient—especially considering its lack of torque—but according to official EPA estimates, the 2010 Mazda RX-8 gets just 16 mpg city, 22 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," and TheCarConnection.com hasn’t seen any higher than the upper teens.
Those powertrain gives and takes aside, handling is universally praised in the 2010 Mazda RX-8. Car and Driver concedes that the RX-8 "is perfect if the mountain road starts at the end of your driveway," while ConsumerGuide finds that the RX-8'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 2010 Mazda RX-8 is thirsty and lacks the pin-to-your-seat punch of low-end torque, but you’re certain to have fun on a twisty road.