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First local drive
Published 7 July, 2003
Article by Glenn Butler
It's rare that an entirely new car comes along that not only redefines existing automotive boundaries, but invents a few new ones as well. Mazda's RX-8 is amazing for more than just what it is -- a rotary-powered four-door sports coupe -- but also for the company that took the risk; a company whose future was looking shaky in the mid 1990s until Ford took a controlling interest.
In 2002 Mazda's hard-earned product renaissance bore first fruit as the world saw the beginnings of an entirely new range of models brimming with enthusiasm and vitality.
The Mazda 6 has almost single-handedly rejuvenated the medium-sized car in the minds of many Australian new car buyers, and the compact Mazda 2 is bringing stylish, engaging motoring to small car buyers, where once price held sway over personality.
The RX-8 is the third wave of Mazda's product-led war, and arguably the most potent. It's a completely new car, the result of four years work, and not the spiritual successor to the RX-7.
It follows in the footsteps of a host of rotary-powered vehicles, started back in the late 1960s with the Cosmo. Australians would best remember the RX-2, RX-3, RX-4, RX-5 and, of course, all six models' of RX-7. RX, by the way, stands for Rotary eXperiment.
Forget the rest, the RX-8 will go down in history for two reasons: its Renesis rotary engine and freestyle doors, perhaps better known as suicide doors -- a name marketing types cringe at in this safety conscious new century.
Innovation is nothing without practical application, and it's the engine's scintillating performance and the cabin's astonishing versatility -- what they deliver -- rather than what they are.
This painstaking attention to detail helps the RX-8 deliver on its core values of performance and passion. But more importantly, none of the under-skin innovation intrudes on the driving experience, or the car's practical appeal.
The RX-8 successfully blurs the line between flexible work-a-day car and weekend warrior -- and answers many enthusiasts prayers for a sportscar you can really live with.
Physically, the Mazda RX-8 is 120mm longer, 45mm narrower and 20mm less tall than the Nissan 350Z. The RX-8's kerb weight of 1337kg gives it a significant advantage over the 1465kg 350Z, which makes up for its 39kW power deficit.
The RX-8's long, sleek body sits low on the chassis, keeping weight as close to the ground as possible, and as near to the center of the RX-8's 2700mm wheelbase as the engineers could achieve.
The engine is mounted slightly further back in the nose in relation to the front axle than in the RX-7, which also serves to reduce inertial movement and improve mechanical grip.
Rotary engines are operationally different to reciprocating piston engines, though the fundamentals are the same. Petrol goes in one end, is ignited by a spark and produces power to turn the wheels.
For a really good plain-English description of exactly how rotary engines work, follow this link to "http://travel.howstuffworks.com/rotary-engine.htm"
Essentially the RX-8's rotary engine -- Renesis -- is an advancement on the last RX-7's 13B engine. It's a two-rotor unit with 654cc each, now with 30 percent larger intake ports located on the side of the chamber, as are the exhaust ports. Mazda claims this change, which eliminates port overlap, improves emissions and fuel economy.
The RX-8 requires premium unleaded and is rated at 12.6litres/100km on a combined city/highway cycle, giving a range of around 450km from its 61 litre fuel tank.
Six-speed manual RX-8s produce 177kW of power -- down 7kW on international models due to our lower quality fuel -- and 211Nm of torque. Automatic versions produce significantly less power -- 141kW and 220Nm -- due to the automatic gearbox's inability to cope with high rpm.
As a trade off, buyers of the more expensive four-speed auto get paddle-shift fitted to the steering wheel. Really though, the automatic gearbox should be a no-cost option, not $700 -- $800 more. Perhaps getting less power for more money explains why nearly nine in ten of Mazda's pre-launch RX-8 orders are for the six-speed manual.
Okay, first things first: the back is not as spacious as a sedan. It's roomy enough to fit six footers -- and access is a relatively painless affair without a bulky central pillar (B pillar) intruding. Two teenagers? No problems at all. Two adults? Fine also, though legroom and headroom may impinge on anyone over the aforementioned vertical limit.
The fact that the RX-8 has a useable -- yes, useable -- back seat puts it miles ahead of just about every other sports coupe on the market. Only sedan-based competition like the Holden Monaro and BMW 325Ci would match it for space.
Occupant comfort is pretty good; the whole cabin is arranged primarily for the driver. This means comfy, supportive bucket seats with adjustment for height and reach. The leather-wrapped, sports steering wheel is tilt adjust only.
Mazda has used the rotary emblem to good effect, on the gear-stick, on the instrument binnacle, on the seats, on the bonnet. It shamelessly promotes the heart of the car, a boundless heart that delivers in spades.
The boot's not a biggun, though Mazda claims it'll swallow the requisite set of golf clubs, or even a couple of hard suitcases. Boot space is helped by the absence of a spare tyre, though Mazda Australia provides buyers with a space saver tyre mounted to a cross-brace. We haven't yet seen a car with the space saver in-situ, but we are assured the inconvenience is minimal.
You can always remove the space saver tyre altogether and make do with the puncture repair kit that also comes standard -- or use Mazda's 24hr roadside assist.
Active safety's big on the RX-8, not the least being it's incredibly firm, responsive chassis. RX-8's steering is super quick, which is at once a good and bad thing -- quick to respond, but overly reactive on Australia's lumpy, bumpy roads.
Big four wheel disc brakes -- 13in front and 12in rear -- are equipped with antilock and brakeforce distribution for maximum retardation. Dynamic stability control is fitted standard and can be switched off, though it's one of the less obvious, less intrusive systems around. Rear wheel traction control is part of the DSC system.
Passive safety includes dual front airbags with dual stage inflation, front side airbags and curtain airbags front and rear. Front seat belt pretensioners, whiplash minimizing front seats, side impact bars and impact absorbing crumple zones are also standard. In the event of a collision the RX-8's central computer releases the door locks, and cuts off the fuel pump.
Direct competition? None. No other vehicle offers four door, four seat versatility in a high performance sports coupe body. However, there are cars which do supply similar in-cabin versatility and scintillating performance.
Holden Monaro CV8 is one, BMW 325Ci is another, though performance on the price competitive 320Ci is not strong. Consider also the Honda S2000, Audi A4, Lexus IS200 and Nissan 350Z, which match some of the RX-8's abilities, but not all.
ON THE ROAD ?
It's fair to say the Mazda RX-8 was our most anticipated launch of 2003. We've watched the groundbreaking four-door coupe through all its 'concept car' iterations since first bursting onto the scene at Detroit in 2001. And now we've driven it.
There's something intrinsically addictive about the power delivery of rotary engines, the way your excitement soars with the revs. The RX-8's power delivery is not a massive, surging blow, but rather a precision instrument which doles out almost enough -- always leaving you wanting more. It's not slow, not by any means, and should easily be capable of sub-7sec 0-100km/h and 14s quarter miles, but the seemingly unstoppable way the power builds in time with the revs makes the 9000 gear change beeper a bit deflating.
Below 5000rpm is a relaxed, lethargic affair, and you'll need to keep the revs singing to get the best out of the engine -- 6500 is where the banshees begin to howl. Which brings us to the engine and exhaust sound love it.
Suspension setup on the RX-8 is unashamedly sports biased, but nowhere near as firm as the 350Z. It's short on travel, but does its best to soak up bumps. The rear end, however, feels a little under-damped and over-reactive at times.
The RX-8's electrically assisted rack and pinion steering is super quick, allowing you to keep two hands on the wheel through most corners. It's too direct for Australian roads; the car is prone to weave and wander on the lumpy, cruddy ribbons of black that pass for country roads, and the level of weighting and feel does not totally translate the front-end workload.
That said, the RX-8 turns in quicker, sharper and with more grip than anything close to its price, aided equally by the car's low weight, low center of gravity and super sticky 18inch tyres.
The rear end exhibits a modicum of mid-corner adjustability, though the car's primary balance is for safe, easily fixed understeer. The RX-8 is one of the most exciting sub-$100,000 cars we've driven in a long time -- more fun than the scintillating Nissan 350Z, and laced with more soulful character than any car we can think of.
Article written by: Glenn Butler
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I put the frown not because the article was bad but because I have driven the car and i have a diferring slant on some off the comments see my review.
My RX8 drive (Warts & All!)
Today was the test drive for Queensland, Australia drivers at the Willowbank Raceway. Much anticipated the day finally arrived for all the family to go.
This is my honest and objective review:-
Style: Great effort at producing a 4 door 4 person sports vehicle.
Misses the WOW factor. Nice lines without the macho feel of some of its competitors.
Brakes: Great! What one would expect from a car in the 21st century.
Interior: Looks good. Questionable is the durability and wear and tear on the laquered areas and chrome look plastics on the drive train. I'm an analogue fan personally and the digital speedo is both difficult to find on the dash and read. 2-tone red and black leather really dresses up the interior so the red, silver, titanium and black buyers should be pleased. Cloth interior changes the look and feel - average.
Suspension: For my taste this is too soft and not sporty enough. AND YES there is some body roll if the car is driven hard.
Steering: Pin point accurate!! GREAT STUFF!! Hard to fault.
Turning circle: Could be better.
Engine: Smooth, linear and constant acceleration but IMO definately lacks low down torque and whilst overall power is adequate for its intended use the real sports drivers will find this not really up to speed. Fun only between 6,000 to 9,000 rpm. Needs more overall power.
Visibility: Good for most areas and for adults but small children cannot see out if sitting in the rear. When changing lanes care is needed as side mirrors are wanting.
Exhaust: Whilst twin they are small in size and definately don't look as sporty as they could. Rear end needs dressing up.
Rotary sound: Yes it's sweet but lacks real OOMPH - this could be improved - bad for us but the aftermarket guys will be happy.
Boot space: Enough room, above average for a car of this size.
Under the hood: Lacks in presence and presentation. Loses out on visual appeal - there's nothing to show off - only plastic covers.
Road holding: Tried really hard to shake her off but excellent grip and handling.
0-100: If you are prepared to rev to 8,000 rpm you may get 6.2 secs. Otherwise, who knows???
Overall: This car is easy to drive and drive relatively fast even for ordinary drivers. It is a very forgiving car. Fun car to drive if you want a faster and better than average Sunday drive, however, it lacks the "EDGE FACTOR" that I want in a sports car. Red lined the car 3 times and it was fun. Looked out for the car running hot - this was not a problem. The car sits nicely if not a bit too high.
Mazda has been brave in putting this car together. In trying to please all the people by the car's diversity it may have compromised itself and lost some of the edge it could have had.
I am still undecided about my pre-order and will wait until I can drive the car in the suburbs rather than a racetrack with only 2 other cars in very safe and controlled conditions. After my own drive, I was lucky enough to experience the car as a passenger whilst it was being driven by Tim (our guide and a professional race driver) who knew and really put the RX8 through the paces which was great fun.
Can't help but wonder how much better the car could be if it had not been compromised. Maybe the Mazda Speed RX8 or the next RX7 will really ZOOM ZOOM!!
Mazda put on a great day and most people seemed generally pleased. Everyone's expectations of what makes a great car are different so we all need to drive it for ourselves and not rely only on reports and reviews.
Originally posted by Lock & Load I put the frown not because the article was bad but because I have driven the car and i have a diferring slant on some off the comments see my review.
Basically, you thought it was disappointing out on the track, whereas the writer of the article thought it was a great car in real-world driving on the road. You could both be right, they are quite different environments.
RX-8 High Power
Velocity Red, Black Leather