2008 Mazda RX-8 Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 2, 2008

The 2008 Mazda RX-8 has a strange appeal: It's a sportscar with soft handling and seating for four.

TheCarConnection.com's enthusiasts and experts studied Web-wide road tests of the 2008 Mazda RX-8 to write this comprehensive review. TheCarConnection.com's resident car fans also drove the Mazda RX-8, and they offer their opinions and driving impressions where it helps you decide which reviews to trust and make the best buying choice.

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.

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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.

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2008 Mazda RX-8

Styling

The 2008 Mazda RX-8’s “different” styling isn’t altogether appealing.

TheCarConnection.com finds a mix of perceptions when it comes to the appearance of the 2008 Mazda RX-8.

Automobile expressed admiration of the Mazda 2008's fender flares, stating that they "give the RX-8 a distinctive appearance that separates it from other sports cars." Automotive.com considers it "about the most aggressive shape possible in stamped steel."
Cars.com, as always, is carefully neutral and objective in its assessment of the Mazda RX-8's styling, saying diplomatically that it's "one of the more unusually styled sports cars available"; Car and Driver, on the other hand, calls the Mazda 2008 "athletic."

So--is it pretty or not? Kelley Blue Book simply acknowledges that the 2008 Mazda RX-8's "styling will probably not appeal to everyone." Jalopnik, while expressing overall admiration for the Mazda RX-8, does label it as "unapologetically weird," while Road & Track actually does make the apology: "Mazda tries to be a different type of sports car."

As for what's inside all that exterior personality, "a combination of suede-like fabric and ribbed cloth inserts covers the excellent sport bucket seats," reports Kelley Blue Book. Beyond that, interior styling in the Mazda RX-8 is thoroughly self-promotional; Cars.com says that "you'll see numerous reminders that there's a rotary engine under the hood; the front seats have a rotor-like triangular opening in the head restraints, and there's another rotor design on top of the shifter." This is also commented upon by Jalopnik, which notices "more Mazdaspeed logos inside the car than there are outside," calling it "over-styled in the manner of an athletic shoe." Automotive.com apparently doesn't mind looking at logos, stating that the 2008 Mazda RX-8 has "a very stylish interior that [was] enjoyed very much."

Edmunds complains that the display controlling the Mazda 2008's audio system and the climate settings is "overly busy" and makes "at-a-glance reading a challenge." Automotive.com makes a similar observation, remarking that the Mazda RX-8's "instrument panel seems to sacrifice efficiency for style."

TheCarConnection.com’s experts think 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. 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.

Review continues below
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2008 Mazda RX-8

Performance

The 2008 Mazda RX-8's rotary engine produces lots of power, but has poor fuel economy; handling is enjoyable, and the six-speed manual is a delight to shift.

Whether or not you'll appreciate the performance of the 2008 Mazda RX-8's Wankel rotary engine depends a great deal upon what you're willing to put up with. The 2008 Mazda RX-8's rotary engine has a great deal going for it--and just as much working against it.

On the plus side, there are far fewer moving parts, and because of its motion, there is much less vibration. Because of this, whereas conventional engines redline around 6,500 rpm, the Wankel motor can be taken all the way to 9,000 rpm. According to Edmunds, this allows for "very high output with small displacement" (232 horses, despite the fact that the displacement is a mere 1.3 liters). ForbesAutos considers it among the "most efficient mass-produced power plants in history."

The drawbacks, however, are serious and have much to do with why Dr. Wankel's engine did not catch on. Road & Track acknowledges that "the normally aspirated Wankel twin-rotor engine is an engineering marvel," but warns that the Mazda 2008 "consumes a quart of oil nearly every 3000 miles."

Earlier, TheCarConnection.com pointed out that the Wankel rotary engine could be revved up to 9,000 rpm. According to ConsumerGuide, you'll need this capability: The Mazda RX-8 "requires lofty engine speeds for maximum acceleration. Its low- and mid-range power is lacking, making it difficult at times to negotiate heavy traffic."

The Mazda RX-8's "most significant update since then is the six-speed automatic transmission," first made available in 2006, reports Automotive.com. According to ConsumerGuide, that "shift action is smooth and precise." One nice feature that you won't find on many vehicles today is the six-speed standard manual transmission--a real one that actually requires the use of a clutch. This features a short-throw shifter, which according to Kelley Blue Book, "can make other six-speeds feel imprecise by comparison."

Gas mileage is not stellar: Road & Track reports that this year's Mazda RX-8 "sucks down fuel like Homer Simpson chugging Duff at Moe's -- returning just 16 mpg city and 22 highway."

Jalopnik says that the ride should be "far worse than it is," advising drivers that they'll "know it when there's bad pavement underneath" but "won't worry about it too much." ForbesAutos opines that Mazda 2008 drivers will not have to "suffer through a brutally rough ride in unreasonably cramped quarters." AutoWeek assures prospective buyers that they'll "adore the RX-8 for the chassis's handling prowess and the high-strung nature of the rotary engine," while Road & Track praises its "quick and accurate steering" and "right-now braking."

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2008 Mazda RX-8

Comfort & Quality

There's room in the front, not in the back; if comfort is your main concern and you don't plan on hauling two extra passengers regularly, you could probably live with the 2008 Mazda RX-8.

Most sources consulted by TheCarConnection.com find comfort levels on the 2008 Mazda RX-8 acceptable, if not outstanding.

It should be pointed out that although the Mazda 2008 is technically a four-seater (and, indeed, has a pair of back doors), space in the rear seats is extremely limited. Cars.com reports that "the rear bucket seats are nicely shaped, but legroom is lacking and headroom is limited, too," although they're an improvement over what "other sports-car makers try to pass off as rear seats."

According to ForbesAutos, backseat room and comfort were subordinated to exterior styling, so as to "preserve the look of the curvaceous coupe." Overall, however, this source calls the Mazda RX-8's interior "surprisingly roomy and comfortable," while Cars.com, in its understated way, describes it as "a nice place for driving," adding that the "leather seats...are supportive and have enough bolstering to keep you in place during fast cornering." Comments are mostly centered on the extreme roominess of the interior; Automotive.com praises the interior space, although Road and Track finds "headroom is tight."

Storage and cargo space is also limited in the Mazda RX-8; "the trunk is rather small and shrinks even more with the optional spare-tire kit," according to ForbesAutos, which reports that the trunk provides a mere 7.6 cubic feet of space. However, the 2008 Mazda RX-8 does allow the rear seats to be folded down in order to provide a "pass-thru to the cabin for carrying long, skinny items inside the car," reports Cars.com.

AutoWeek reports that "the interior is stylish, with a user-friendly layout, high-grade materials and nice build quality." According to ConsumerGuide, the Mazda RX-8's interior is "composed of mostly hard plastic," but "appearance and quality of the interior materials is a cut above those of [rivals] Ford Mustang and Nissan 350."

Noise levels in the Mazda 2008 are acceptable; ConsumerGuide reports that the "engine produces a pleasant, mechanical growl during acceleration and recedes mostly into the background while cruising." There is minimal wind rush, but "the tires roar over most pavement surfaces."

TheCarConnection.com’s editors fit in half the RX-8’s seats well. 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.

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2008 Mazda RX-8

Safety

Crash-test scores are good for the 2008 Mazda RX-8, but stability control isn’t available on base versions.

The 2008 Mazda RX-8 earned strong safety scores from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), getting five stars in front impact tests and four in side impact tests.

Cars.com reports that "side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags are standard in the Mazda 2008," while an "electronic stability system is standard on all models" above the base trim. Automotive.com relates that in order to "compensate for the lack of a B-pillar, Mazda has carefully designed the structure with supporting steel crossmembers and braces, as well as reinforcements around the door perimeter for rigidity and safety against a side impact." Kelley Blue Book discloses there's an optional traction control system for all trims of the Mazda RX-8.

According to ConsumerGuide, the Mazda 2008's "thick rear roof pillars severely compromise aft visibility." Otherwise, says Canadian Driver, "outward visibility is surprisingly good" in the Mazda RX-8, "thanks to the low hood and wrapover rear window."

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2008 Mazda RX-8

Features

You may very well enjoy the 2008 Mazda RX-8 2008 for its features, but be prepared to shell out for them--and learn to love the triangle.

If you like constant reminders that you're running a Wankel rotary engine under the hood, you'll appreciate the accessories on the Mazda RX-8.

In fact, according to Cars.com, almost every device in the Mazda 2008 beats you over the head in reminding you, "Yes, this vehicle is indeed powered by Dr. Felix Wankel's ingenious motor." According to Cars.com, "front head restraints, side sill covers and shift lever have a triangular shape to suggest the engine's rotors."

TheCarConnection.com notes that the 2008 Mazda RX-8 offers four trim levels: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, and 40th Anniversary model. Power windows, air conditioning, tilt leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, cruise control, power mirrors and door locks, and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with six-CD changer are included as standard equipment on all trim levels.

Moving up the ladder, additional features include a power sunroof, universal garage door opener, leather upholstery, heated front seats, eight-way power driver seat, heated power mirrors, and keyless access and starting. The 40th Anniversary trim offers a nine-speaker, 300-watt Bose system, but lacks an MP3 player hookup, according to Jalopnik.

The top trim, Grand Touring, adds the option of Sirius Satellite Radio and a navigation system, although these will add to the $31,000-plus price tag. ForbesAutos points out that most of the options for the 2008 Mazda RX-8 are available only as package deals on the various trims.

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7.4
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 7
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 8
Features 8
Fuel Economy N/A
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