- We like...Looks, drive, engine
- We don't...Poor fuel economy, high CO2
Rotary-engined sports coupe is one of a kind - thanks to its unique motor and extra doors. We discover how it drivesThis is a car on its own. To kick off, the engine’s unlike any other. If that’s not enough, what other coupe sports a pair of tiny rear-hinged back doors?
In the RX-8, the motor shapes the way it looks. It’s a rotary unit, the only one to be found in any production car and it’s small for its power – 228bhp springs from a capacity of just 1300cc. So it sits lower and flatter than a conventional engine, allowing the car a slim bonnet and pronounced front wings that set the headlamps wide and give the car a distinctive ‘face’.
On the move, the engine drones fruitily, sounding like a motorbike. It thrives on revs, giving its best once you top 4000rpm, and it’ll carry on until 9000rpm, although there’s a limiter to keep the revs low until the engine is warmed, to avoid damaging it.
The R3 model that we drove is focused, meaning ‘think and you’re there’ steering responses and a quick, precise gearshift. Big bespoke Recaro chairs hug you firmly and the wide transmission tunnel by your left knee leaves you feeling snug. Before you, triple dials sit under a deep cowling that reminds us a little of a Porsche 911’s. The seats are leather trimmed but the rest of the cabin feels functional and sturdy, though not upmarket.
Stereo and other controls sit in a centre console fashioned in a wheel shape. You’re struck at once by the low slope of the bonnet and the marked ‘eyebrows’ of the wings, clearly seen at the bottom edge of the screen.
It’s a four seater and those extra rear doors promise that the back seats are actually usable – which is seldom true of this type of car. True, they’re not as bad as some, and those doors open easily and wide to make clambering in and out easy. But don’t go thinking that adult friends will sit back there for long without complaint, because leg- and head-room are tight.
The boot is deep and boxy, although its opening is shallow. It’ll take a couple of full size suitcases, though.
Once under way, the ride is firm but not enough to rattle your bones and it corners quick and flat, helped by that steering, which is ever-precise and nicely weighted. It responds like the thoroughbred it’s intended to be.
A word or two on fuel economy and emissions. Don’t go thinking that an engine with such a teeny cubic capacity will be frugal or green. The best fuel economy you can hope for over a mix of driving is 24.6mpg, while tailpipe emissions of 299g/km put you firmly in the top band for road and company car taxes.
Our was a newly minted R3 model, but the standard car has been around since late 2003, and now you’ll easily pick up one of the first for a third of the asking price of a new one.
The RX-8 is a car brimming with character and one that’s without close rival. Unless you like your cars keen and lively, it’ll probably not be for you. But if you do, a test drive may be all it’ll take to have you hooked.
View new and used Mazda RX-8s on motors.co.uk
- Engines1.3 petrol rotary
- 0-60 mph6.4sec
- Insurance groups17E
Motors.co.uk value verdict: