RE: Mazda RX-8: PH Heroes

Wednesday 12th September

Mazda RX-8: PH Heroes

Divisive, derided and demanding, there's still a place for the RX-8 in the Heroes Hall of Fame - here's why



Given any discussion of the Mazda RX-8 will inevitably (and very swiftly) turn to its problems, they seem worth mentioning first. Yes, even though this is a celebratory piece. Because, well, the RX-8 wasn't a flawless car from the beginning, fresh and exciting though it undoubtedly was. Its abundance of revs was equalled by a paucity of torque, exposed by brawny rivals like the Nissan 350Z, Vauxhall Monaro and turbocharged Audi TTs. Its fuel economy rivalled the rally reps without their searing cross country pace, and nothing quite consumes oil like a rotary engine. There was also the small matter of 284g/km...

Then, of course, there are the problems that have manifested themselves as the car has aged. Ignition issues, engine flooding, low compression, worn rotor tips, the potential need for rebuilds... It's a long and pretty intimidating list in the worst case scenario, exacerbated by the everyday running costs: a post-March 2006 car could cost as little as £1,000 to buy, but £555 to tax for a year. Here is not the place to state definitively what works and what doesn't; some online commentators will tell you theirs is fine after thousands of miles of considered use and others will call RX-8s total garbage, but it seems fair to say they need a caring, dedicated owner.


So what does that owner stand to inherit? Firstly, it's worth contributing some context, and reiterating what a seismic impact the car had on the UK coupe market in the early years of the 21st century. Despite being a cult favourite, the previous RX-7 had found few fans willing to part with their money in the UK: too expensive, too niche, too not German for our tastes. That changed with the RX-8; less focused and slightly less powerful, sure, but also more accessible, more practical and significantly cheaper. At launch the 192hp car cost £19,995, with another £2k getting buyers into the 231hp, six-speed flagship.

And what a package it was. Fast, direct, engaging, dynamic, well equipped, practical and distinctive, the RX-8 was immediately popular and successful in an extremely competitive coupe sector. Let's not forget that in the middle of the last decade a budget of around £25k could have bought you anything from a 350Z to an Alfa GT, Vauxhall Monaro, or an Audi TT. Or a Chrysler Crossfire. Or Toyota Celica.


Special editions and equipment updates followed, plus the significant R3 revision of 2009, but fundamentally the recipe remained familiar throughout its seven years in the UK. There had been nothing quite like it before - the RX-7 representing a more exotic Wankel heyday - and there has been nothing like the RX-8 since, the only potential for future Mazda rotaries apparently being as range extender motors. The 350Z was replaced, the TT continues to this day and even Toyota still has a sub-£30k coupe on sale, but the death knell sounded loud and clear for the RX-8 eight years ago.

You'll know probably how the story goes from here, the RX-8's terminal flaw now proving its most charming attraction. Goodness knows the rotary engine has some innate, er, quirks to get around; that said, to experience an engine this smooth, this characterful and this willing in a world of copy and paste turbos is an absolute revelation. The lack of torque feels almost dangerous initially, and there remains no escaping the fact it doesn't quite go fast enough to match its ferocious appetite for unleaded. But once it's beyond 6,000rpm, shrieking its demented howl through the last 3,000rpm and feeling for all the world like it's good for about 12,000, the RX-8 almost qualifies itself for Hero status immediately. That it responds so perfectly to the throttle pedal, is matched to a delightful six-speed manual and keeps its power building for seemingly every last rev simply seals the deal. Powertrain diversity and variety should be celebrated in all their forms, and the rotary is as worthy of celebration here as any flat, V or straight equivalent. It's a marvel, so smooth you'll never believe it runs on something as crude as petrol, and an absolute tonic in a world that must prioritise accessible torque, lab test emissions and ease of use.


The joy of the RX-8, and its appeal as a package, though, was that it provided so much more intrigue than simply a cool engine. Encouragingly, that talent endures to this day, which makes its irrefutable woes the more frustrating. This is a superb car to drive, weight feeling low, centralised and exquisitely controlled. Thus there's seemingly agility and balance to spare, meaning precious, hard-won momentum can be easily maintained and manipulated. 

There's nothing particularly revolutionary about the RX-8 - double wishbones up front, multi-link at the rear, Bilstein dampers for this 40th edition and anti-roll bars - so it just goes to show that a properly devised conventional set up can still deliver. Granted, the steering is nothing exceptional and there's a brittle edge to the ride, but the fundamentals are spot on - balance, turn in, wheel control and so on. The RX-8 remains a finely honed and rewarding sports car to drive - coming from Mazda that probably shouldn't be a surprise - and a reminder of why light, front-engined, rear-drive cars will always have a deserved special place in our hearts. Should you find a slippery enough surface, too, the RX-8 is more than willing to indulge your Tokyo Drift fantasies, benign and approachable as it is when the tyres relinquish grip.


That combination of magical powertrain and finely wrought dynamics, plus great value and real practicality, found the RX-8 plenty of fans when petrol was less than a pound a litre. At the peak of its popularity, HowManyLeft suggests that more than 20,000 were registered on UK roads, some achievement for a sports car from a non premium manufacturer. Bear in mind there were never more than 6,000 Nissan 350Zs in the UK and you get a better idea of the RX-8's popularity.

A decade and a half after its introduction, it's still not short of supporters, those dedicated to the cause and staunch advocates of what looks like being the last rotary Mazda. On fleeting experience it's not hard to see why, the car still delivering a drive like no other. It's not perfect by any means, but it is memorable and characterful, which will count for a lot as it moves towards classic status. 


There's no doubt any RX-8 requires careful and considered use, and it would certainly seem some owners are simply unluckier than others. That said, for offering a refreshingly Japanese take on the 21st century coupe, for opening up thousands more people to the joys of rotary engines and for proving there is a Mazda sports car beyond the MX-5, the RX-8 deserves its Hero status. They're cheap for a reason (those engine maladies), yes; however they're also lauded with good cause, and that's because they're damn good fun. The RX-8 is a flawed gem, of that there can be no doubt, but it's a gem nonetheless.


SPECIFICATION - MAZDA RX-8

Engine: 1,308cc twin-rotor rotary
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 231@8,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 156@5,500rpm
0-62mph: 6.4 seconds
Top speed: 146mph
Weight: 1,381kg
MPG: 25.2
CO2: 284g/km
On sale: 2003-2010
Price new: £21,995 (2003)
Price now: from £1,000

See RX-8s for sale on PH here.









 






 

Author
Discussion

Berkut666

Original Poster:

18 posts

91 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
I had the PZ Ltd Ed a few years back. Sold my Evo 6 and bought a low mileage very clean one. Went into the purchase eyes open (yes it was slower than the Evo, I knew they drank oil and petrol, painful when things went wrong etc) It had been a few years since owning anything RWD so I was open to the change.

Things I loved - The look, the doors, the seating position, the lay out of the interior with the placement of the gearstick especially being perfect for me, the noise when driven hard, surprisingly comfy for 4 people, even the boot wasn't bad considering the styling.

Things I didnt mind - Fuel and oil consumption. Went into it open minded so I knew it would happen. Used about 1L of Oil every 1000 miles. Some are better, some way worse.

I hated 1 thing and 1 thing only. The handling. It was awful, to the point it was dangerous. It put the rear out in any weather and at most speeds. At first I thought it was me so I let other try it and they agreed. So I spent alot of cash on the car. Tyres, suspension, alignment etc etc and it was still awful. Even in the dry, driving Mrs Daisy, it would squirrel about with the traction light flashing. Not in a fun way but in a "ahhhhhh I am going to die" way. No RWD I had before or after was that bad. Maybe it was just mine but it would put me off another.

99dndd

1,044 posts

24 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
How can this be a Pistonheads hero when it has no pistons?

confused

cookie1600

1,000 posts

96 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Berkut666 said:
I hated 1 thing and 1 thing only. The handling. It was awful, to the point it was dangerous. It put the rear out in any weather and at most speeds. At first I thought it was me so I let other try it and they agreed. So I spent a lot of cash on the car. Tyres, suspension, alignment etc etc and it was still awful. Even in the dry, driving Mrs Daisy, it would squirrel about with the traction light flashing. Not in a fun way but in a "ahhhhhh I am going to die" way. No RWD I had before or after was that bad. Maybe it was just mine but it would put me off another.
It seems like there's little to commend it then and if it's not consuming your wallet contents, it's trying to kill you?

I've never been a fan, but this and the article, have made me stay well clear - even as a gift.

Nickp82

1,436 posts

28 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Berkut666 said:
I had the PZ Ltd Ed a few years back... Even in the dry, driving Mrs Daisy, it would squirrel about with the traction light flashing. Not in a fun way but in a "ahhhhhh I am going to die" way. No RWD I had before or after was that bad. Maybe it was just mine but it would put me off another.
Definitely something not right there, RX-8s with decent tyres do not behave in that manner

J2daG1990

946 posts

61 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Berkut666 said:
I had the PZ Ltd Ed a few years back. Sold my Evo 6 and bought a low mileage very clean one. Went into the purchase eyes open (yes it was slower than the Evo, I knew they drank oil and petrol, painful when things went wrong etc) It had been a few years since owning anything RWD so I was open to the change.

Things I loved - The look, the doors, the seating position, the lay out of the interior with the placement of the gearstick especially being perfect for me, the noise when driven hard, surprisingly comfy for 4 people, even the boot wasn't bad considering the styling.

Things I didnt mind - Fuel and oil consumption. Went into it open minded so I knew it would happen. Used about 1L of Oil every 1000 miles. Some are better, some way worse.

I hated 1 thing and 1 thing only. The handling. It was awful, to the point it was dangerous. It put the rear out in any weather and at most speeds. At first I thought it was me so I let other try it and they agreed. So I spent alot of cash on the car. Tyres, suspension, alignment etc etc and it was still awful. Even in the dry, driving Mrs Daisy, it would squirrel about with the traction light flashing. Not in a fun way but in a "ahhhhhh I am going to die" way. No RWD I had before or after was that bad. Maybe it was just mine but it would put me off another.
Must have been your car because mine is the complete opposite. A very composed well handling car that you can feel through the wheel and make slight adjustments. In the dry you'd have to be going some to get the traction light to come on round a corner.

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ChrisLord87

1 posts

45 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
amazing car, loved mine - i had the 40th anniversary edition in white with all the toys. i just could no longer afford it, cost me a fortune and was a complete money pit. I bought it off my brother as it was kept in the family (mum originally owned it) he never spent a penny on it. So i had to foot the bill for new coils, plugs leads etc then the cat went which was a very expensive job. Plus the usual wear an tear of stuff on top of getting low teens in mpg and burning oil like i don't know what. It was probably the worst mistake i ever made... it did look and sound good though!

monty quick

194 posts

171 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
I bought a new 231PS RX-8 in 2004 and took up the Mazda offer of a track training day. I was immediately (and remained) impressed with the handling and road holding. I took it on several track days and could easily keep much more powerful machinery behind me.
I didn't even mind the low torque because the gearbox was such a dream to use, it was always easy to keep the engine in the 'power-band'.

Yes I did flood it twice - mildly annoying; yes it only did about 22mpg and yes it used about 1litre of Mobil 1 every 1500miles. However, I loved it. I did 78,000 miles in 3 years without any failures or expensive service items. In fact it is only the high cost of road tax fund that has stopped me buying a second hand RX-8 for my wife because she loved it too.

havoc

24,135 posts

170 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Nickp82 said:
Berkut666 said:
I had the PZ Ltd Ed a few years back... Even in the dry, driving Mrs Daisy, it would squirrel about with the traction light flashing. Not in a fun way but in a "ahhhhhh I am going to die" way. No RWD I had before or after was that bad. Maybe it was just mine but it would put me off another.
Definitely something not right there, RX-8s with decent tyres do not behave in that manner
yes

I've only driven a couple, but both were sweet-handling.

Rear-biased, sure, and an aggressively-taken S-bend WOULD see the tail step-out. But easily collected, and driven smoothly it's probably slightly better than the S2000 I owned (which was fairly exploitable and not particularly scary once I'd had the geo properly sorted).

iwantcheese5

68 posts

62 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Berkut666 said:
I had the PZ Ltd Ed a few years back. Sold my Evo 6 and bought a low mileage very clean one. Went into the purchase eyes open (yes it was slower than the Evo, I knew they drank oil and petrol, painful when things went wrong etc) It had been a few years since owning anything RWD so I was open to the change.

Things I loved - The look, the doors, the seating position, the lay out of the interior with the placement of the gearstick especially being perfect for me, the noise when driven hard, surprisingly comfy for 4 people, even the boot wasn't bad considering the styling.

Things I didnt mind - Fuel and oil consumption. Went into it open minded so I knew it would happen. Used about 1L of Oil every 1000 miles. Some are better, some way worse.

I hated 1 thing and 1 thing only. The handling. It was awful, to the point it was dangerous. It put the rear out in any weather and at most speeds. At first I thought it was me so I let other try it and they agreed. So I spent alot of cash on the car. Tyres, suspension, alignment etc etc and it was still awful. Even in the dry, driving Mrs Daisy, it would squirrel about with the traction light flashing. Not in a fun way but in a "ahhhhhh I am going to die" way. No RWD I had before or after was that bad. Maybe it was just mine but it would put me off another.
That doesn't sound like a healthy RX-8, they're very neutral in my experience and only snap out on rubbish tyres in poor conditions. With good tyres everything should be well telegraphed to the driver so you know when it's going to step out.

marcg

221 posts

130 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Agree with the first poster; mostly. I had one as the sole family (mostly city) car. Handling was sweet, looks and interior so distinctive I still look at them now. Costs negligible - £3500 to buy the car, 22mpg and a £20 bottle of oil every now and then.

What killed it for me was two things - engine rebuild anxiety and power curve.

RX8 engine worries are all over the internet; too much oil - "pop", not enough oil - "pop". Mine never went pop but the worry of a £2500 bill on a £3500 car was substantial. Also, for a car that consumes oil like screen wash, why no reservoir?

Power curve - the engine is arguably a 1300cc. Also arguably, due to the dual rotors, a 2600cc. In real life, its a 1.3 to 4500rpm and a 2.6 over it. Given that it cruises nicely at 2500-3000rpm, you are generally in the wrong gear by a couple of ratios.

I loved the handling and the look - why couldn't they have just retired the engine and put something decent in it?

cerb4.5lee

10,362 posts

115 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
I've always liked the idea of these but never been quite brave enough to take the plunge. TVR ownership was bad enough in terms of reliability, so I don't think I've got the energy left for one of these.

otolith

35,971 posts

139 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Mine never handled like that.

FWDRacer

3,532 posts

159 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
A car sadly let down by the petrol powered washing machine under the bonnet. Load of wankel.

otolith

35,971 posts

139 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
The engine was the best and worst thing about them. You pays yer money and takes yer choice. If we were all rational, we'd all drive diesels.

3yardy3

125 posts

49 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Berkut666 said:
I had the PZ Ltd Ed a few years back. Sold my Evo 6 and bought a low mileage very clean one. Went into the purchase eyes open (yes it was slower than the Evo, I knew they drank oil and petrol, painful when things went wrong etc) It had been a few years since owning anything RWD so I was open to the change.

Things I loved - The look, the doors, the seating position, the lay out of the interior with the placement of the gearstick especially being perfect for me, the noise when driven hard, surprisingly comfy for 4 people, even the boot wasn't bad considering the styling.

Things I didnt mind - Fuel and oil consumption. Went into it open minded so I knew it would happen. Used about 1L of Oil every 1000 miles. Some are better, some way worse.

I hated 1 thing and 1 thing only. The handling. It was awful, to the point it was dangerous. It put the rear out in any weather and at most speeds. At first I thought it was me so I let other try it and they agreed. So I spent alot of cash on the car. Tyres, suspension, alignment etc etc and it was still awful. Even in the dry, driving Mrs Daisy, it would squirrel about with the traction light flashing. Not in a fun way but in a "ahhhhhh I am going to die" way. No RWD I had before or after was that bad. Maybe it was just mine but it would put me off another.
Agree with you in regards to driving one in the rain... but because it was wet and you knew the back would come out to play it made it even more satisfying... you wouldn't dare drive fast in the rain but youd definteley have fun.

in the dry... quite hard to lose traction in my opinion.

otolith

35,971 posts

139 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
The original RE040s were not great in the rain (they weren't great in the rain on my Civic Type-R or my Elise either). The RE050A was better in the wet but to me felt less sharp in the dry.

daytona111r

358 posts

139 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Always been impressed with the packaging of these with the small read suicide doors. This is how a 4 door coupe should be done - not sure why others haven’t followed suit.

TaylotS2K

1,501 posts

142 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
Maybe controversial, but I never really did like the look of these.

otolith

35,971 posts

139 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
daytona111r said:
Always been impressed with the packaging of these with the small read suicide doors. This is how a 4 door coupe should be done - not sure why others haven’t followed suit.
A lot of the packaging doesn't work unless you have a very compact engine or you're willing to sling a lot of the weight out front and suffer the nose-heaviness.

Vocal Minority

8,582 posts

87 months

Wednesday 12th September
quotequote all
iwantcheese5 said:
Berkut666 said:
I had the PZ Ltd Ed a few years back. Sold my Evo 6 and bought a low mileage very clean one. Went into the purchase eyes open (yes it was slower than the Evo, I knew they drank oil and petrol, painful when things went wrong etc) It had been a few years since owning anything RWD so I was open to the change.

Things I loved - The look, the doors, the seating position, the lay out of the interior with the placement of the gearstick especially being perfect for me, the noise when driven hard, surprisingly comfy for 4 people, even the boot wasn't bad considering the styling.

Things I didnt mind - Fuel and oil consumption. Went into it open minded so I knew it would happen. Used about 1L of Oil every 1000 miles. Some are better, some way worse.

I hated 1 thing and 1 thing only. The handling. It was awful, to the point it was dangerous. It put the rear out in any weather and at most speeds. At first I thought it was me so I let other try it and they agreed. So I spent alot of cash on the car. Tyres, suspension, alignment etc etc and it was still awful. Even in the dry, driving Mrs Daisy, it would squirrel about with the traction light flashing. Not in a fun way but in a "ahhhhhh I am going to die" way. No RWD I had before or after was that bad. Maybe it was just mine but it would put me off another.
That doesn't sound like a healthy RX-8, they're very neutral in my experience and only snap out on rubbish tyres in poor conditions. With good tyres everything should be well telegraphed to the driver so you know when it's going to step out.
I am afraid your RX8 had either been crashed or was somehow else maligned.

I hill climb mine in the Midland Championship, and aside from being too heavy to be truly competitive in a class of french hot hatches it is great fun. I find the handling very balanced and posied, the back breaks progressively, and then only when I am chucking it around. I grant you it can be loose in the wet, but only when pushing on.

To illustrate, on a sodden day on ice cold Nankang AR1s I have a twitch round Orchard at Prescott - which is this corner



Tiny litle fidget and easily catchable. It's flat out in the dry.

The car handles well and loves being revved. I am really enjoying it.





Edited by Vocal Minority on Wednesday 12th September 14:15