Affordable sports car fun for the family man? Nauman Farooq finds out.
All too many people have had to sacrifice their sports cars in the name of practicality. The requirement to carry four people and their luggage is largely incompatible with the whims of roof off motoring for two.
In the past, the solution was a sports saloon. Well now, Mazda has a better solution in the form of the new RX8. It's billed as a sports car that can accommodate your family. In addition to the two conventional doors, this RX8 has two rearward opening doors (also known as suicide doors).
Once opened, you are greeted with a very modern, high-tech interior which is deceptively spacious. Unlike most 2+2's which have rear seats suitable only for hamsters, the RX8 can carry four 6ft tall adults. And also, unlike many sportscars, this one can carry (almost) all of your luggage too.
That's a good start, but more important is the news that you'll be able to get your destination at a healty pace too, courtesy of the latest development of Mazda's rotary engine, this time called the Renesis.
This 1.3 litre, twin bank, rotary engine is a mechanical sensation, so no wonder it won the international engine of the year award earliar this year. Mazda has been dominant in the rotary engine world since the sixties and remains true to the cause with the RX8.
In the RX8, that 1.3 rotary unit develops a useful 238bhp without forced induction devices like a turbo or a supercharger.
Couple that with a car that weights 1384 kg, driving the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission and you'll get some idea of its capabilities. You can also opt for a 198bhp set up with a four-speed SportShift automatic gearbox that has manual gearshift buttons located on the steering wheel. This system allows you to change gears like a manual car when you want to have some fun, but behaves like a regular automatic when you're in the mood to just take it easy. The UK however will get a five-speed manual gearbox for the lower horsepower model.
The interior is a great place to just take things easy. It is very spacious, and the seats have been especially formed to not only provide maximum comfort to the driver, but also create ample room for the rear seat passengers to place their knees. The centre console is a work of technological art, and so is the instrument binnacle, with the tachometer taking center stage, and the digital speedometer resting inside the tach. You can also opt for a navigation system.
So how is it in motion? Thankfully, it doesn't disappoint. That said, it does need thought to wreak the performance from it. With only 159 lb/ft of torque, you do have to work the engine quite a bit. Thankfully, these rotary engines show no protest whatsoever when you do work them hard. The RX8 can hit 60mph from a standstill in 6 seconds flat, and the top speed should be in the 150 mph range (untested by me!).
What I did get to experience was its amazing grip. The handling is the best thing about this car. The RX8 can really, really handle. Through the corners, it has supercar pace and poise. The chassis and suspension setup is terrific - it allows you to lean this car into corners very deep indeed. Since it is not a heavy car, it feels light and nimble - more like a hot hatch though the corners.
It's a remarkable car. It truly offers something different from a style perspective and from a mechanical one.
Downsides? Annoyingly you have to keep an eye on the oil level on a very regular basis. Rotary engines have never been good in oil consumption, and sadly neither is this. So, according to the owner's manual, every 500 miles, you have to open the bonnet and reach for the dipstick, which is two miles down in the engine bay. It's also worth noting that this engine produces a lot of heat. Its not overheating according to its temperature gauge, it just generates more heat than a regular engine, but what do you expect from a 1.3 litre engine that works its way to 9000 rpm!
The really good part is the price. In Canada, you can pick one up from CAN$36,795, and for that money you can either have the lower horsepower automatic version or the high-power six-speed manual version. So, you pick your tranny, the price is the same. If you load the car up with every factory option made available here, the price is still just CAN$43,695. That means, it undercuts cars like the Nissan 350Z and its sister car the Infiniti G35 Coupe by several thousand dollars and that is alone to clinch it for many buyers. UK prices are £19,995 for the 192PS version and the 240PS version will be £21,995.
The Mazda RX8 is a great car at a great price, just make sure you give it the love and care it requires.
Special thanks to Patrick Tyhurst for the use of his car.