Mazda RX-8 2008 Review

December 7th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


In Japan there is an old saying, “A nail that sticks up is a nail that is knocked down.” Mazda boss Tuneji Matsuda didn’t care much for this expression back in 1961 when he broke away from his piston-preferring peers and brought the fascinating but (at that stage) flawed Wankel Rotary engine to Japan. Matsuda was thirsty for the success of the rotary engine, so he solved its problems, put it into production and let it dominate the Mazda range in the Cosmo.  When the 1973 global oil crisis hit it was the rotary’s thirst that forced Mazda back into conventional engines.

Matsuda’s desperate grasp at individuality within a conformist industry within a conformist society was an act of rebellion that enriched the motoring world. Now, over forty years after the first mass-produced rotary vehicle and numerous generations of Mazda models later there is only a single currently produced survivor of Matsuda’s rebellious rotary legacy, the Mazda RX-8.

In 2003 the most advanced version of the rotary engine, the 13B Renesis, was dropped into the then new RX-8. For this year’s 2008 model tweaks have been made to the Renesis engine, but Mazda has chosen to focus on improving low-rev engine response and torque delivery rather than increasing raw power. The engine remains strong, producing 170kW@8200rpm of power with 211Nm of torque, and will rocket the RX-8 to 100km in 6.4 seconds. These figures don’t tell the whole story of how rapid the RX-8 can be. The Renesis engine is a high revving temptress that draws the driver into the renegade rotary attitude. To get the most from the RX-8 you need the tacho up around a totally unsociable 8,500rpm but this smile-inducing fun comes at a price.

Poor fuel economy almost killed the rotary during the ‘70s and although now improved it still remains the RX-8’s Achilles’ heel. An average consumption figure of 12.5L/100km isn’t great, but get those rotors spinning around the 9,000rpm redline and the RX-8 will drink like an arts major on student loans day. Despite Mazda’s work on low-end torque, getting caught in the wrong gear remains frustrating. However, gear changes are a pleasure using the RX-8’s 6-speed manual transmission, shifts are short, neat and have a fulfilling mechanical feel. The revised model’s gearbox offers closer-ratio lower gears and a higher sixth-gear for motorway cruising. The RX-8 is perfectly capable running the straight line of the motorway, but get it on some twisty roads and it will groove to its own beat.

Handling is exceptional, the rear-wheel-drive RX-8 grips the road with flawless balance and poise, proving that much of the magic from Mazda’s MX-5 has found its way into the RX-8. This is largely helped by a perfect 50/50 front/rear weight distribution that allows the tail end to be lively on request, but ultimately controllable. The already sharp steering has been further improved in the 2008 RX-8 and underbody aerodynamics has also received treatment reducing high-speed lift and aiding stability. So Mazda’s outsider knows how to sprint and knows how to dance, but how does it look?

The rotary spirit has smashed its way out of the engine bay and exploded all over the rest of the vehicle. The RX-8 has interior and exterior aesthetic tributes to its rotary motor starting with a rotor shape set into the bonnet line. The car’s oversize front fenders have been toned down but still pull away from the rest of the vehicle and follow a low line underneath the rounded doors over widened rear guards to link up with a bulging rear bumper. New 18-inch rims add to the bling and twin exhausts sitting below intricate rear-light clusters finish the look. Overall the RX-8 sits sleek and flat with more curves than Nikki Watson holding a beach ball and a flagrant disregard for any so-called styling rules.

The RX-8’s rear-hinged suicide doors work equally for form and function, helping any unlucky passenger who needs to shoehorn into the small back seat. Symbolic rotor-shape cues are continued on the inside with a custom gear knob and plastic inserts in the front seats headrests. The interior has been improved for the 2008 model with modified seating and harder wearing materials used on high impact surfaces. Grand piano glossy black plastics and contrasting silver surrounds give the rogue rotary a touch of class, but the plastics seemed to scratch easily. Seats are well bolstered and comfortable with eight-way power adjustment for the driver. An electric sunroof, a 6-disc CD player with 300-Watt amplifier, and side airbags are standard fare on the 2008 RX-8.

The RX-8 deserves some credibility as a hard-nuts sports car, but it can also be quite docile in unsporting scenarios; a light clutch makes stop-start commuting bearable, and while it’s low-slung and low-roofed, all round visibility is good.

In 1961 Tuneji Matsuda had greater plans for the future of the rotary engine than just a single Mazda model, but the RX-8 remains the final disobedient outpost of his vision. Now the RX-8 is a unique prospect, not just to those who crave the alternative, but also to anyone who enjoys exciting motoring. The RX-8 sticks out with its style, engine sound and pace, if you want to knock it back inline, you better be coming with a large hammer and even then you won’t catch it.

Click through to the next page for a list of specifications.

Price: $55,350

What we like:

  • Exciting driving experience
  • Unique vehicle
  • Exceptional balance and handling
  • Affordable sports car

What we don’t like:

  • Low-end torque
  • Poor fuel economy
  • Platform could handle more power and speed
  • Auto is slower

Mazda RX-8 (2008)  – Specifications


Front midship Renesis
2 rotors in-line, naturally aspirated, multi-sideport

Engine capacity cc: 1,308 (654 x 2)
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Maximum power kW: 170 @ 8,200rpm
Maximum torque Nm: 211 @ 5,500rpm
Fuel system: Multipoint electronic injection
Fuel tank capacity L: 65
Fuel consumption L/100km: 12.9
Recommended fuel: Premium unleaded (min. 95 RON)

Chassis and Suspension

Weight distribution Front:Rear: 50:50
Brake type – Front and Rear: Ventilated disc
Brake diameter Front mm: 323 Rear mm: 302
Suspension Front: Double wishbone with mono-tube shock absorbers and torsion bar stabilisers
Rear: Multi-link (five links per side) with mono-tube shock absorbers and torsion bar stabiliers
Steering: Rack drive electric power assisted (engine revolution sensing) rack and pinion
Turning circle – Kerb to kerb m: 10.6
Tyres: 225/45R18 91W
Wheels: 18 x 8.0 JJ (alloy)


Overall length mm: 4,470
Overall width mm: 1,770
Overall height mm: 1,340
Wheelbase mm: 2,700
Ground clearance – Laden mm: 101
Track Front mm: 1,500
Rear mm: 1,505
Cargo room Volume L: 290
Kerb weight kg: 1,402

Words and Photos, Adam Mamo

Is it a Morgan a Mazda or a Himiko?

December 5th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

Mitsuoka Himiko fq

Mitsuoka the Japanese company that is famous for transforming existing cars into wannabe classic British-style rides is at it again. It’s latest effort is an instant classic, it’s called the Himiko and it clearly wants to be a Morgan. The source for this unique vehicle is the Mazda MX-5, itself a throw back to British roadsters of old. The conversion is amazing and the Himiko gives little clue to its MX-5 base, except for the doors. The car even comes with a retractable hardtop. Totally brilliant.

Mazda wins LA Design Challenge

November 25th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

MAzda Kaan concept fq

Mazda has managed to take the top honors at the LA Design Challenge with its KAAN concept. The design itself is a look into a future where roads are paved with an electro-conductive polymer, which provides juice to the electronic tyres that allow the KAAN to reach speeds of up to 250 mph. Up to 30 KAANs would travel together in formations that would cheat the wind, so Mazda designed the vehicles so that they could fit tightly together.

The theme of the competition was to depict what motorsports would be like in 2025. Chuck Pelly, director of Design Los Angeles, said that the choice was made because Mazda’s entry was “the most innovative and artistic design,” and that the KAAN “ultimately brought unique styling back to motorsports.”

Great concept, a little ambitious for 2025 but it’s all good fun. The other finalists were very unique too.

Click here to see the news item of all the LA Design Challenge finalists

2010 Mazda3 – more details released

November 19th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

Mazda 3 fq

Mazda has released a few more details on its 2010 Mazda3 just two days ahead of its official unveiling at the LA Auto Show later this week.

As with the out-going model there will be a base 2.0-litre engine that comes standard along with an optional larger unit, now enlarged to 2.5 litres. The displacement increase matches up to a power increase, raising power output to 167hp from 156. Both engines sit under a newly-domed hood and breathe air from a grinning front grille that seems to be the new car’s most controversial styling feature.

Both a four-door hatch/wagon and a sedan will be offered, but only the sedan will go on show this week in LA. Check back as we bring you more news from the LA Auto Show.

Mazda’s hydrogen powered rotary goes to Norway

October 17th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

Mazda RX7 Hydrogen fq

Mazda Motor Corporation announced today that is has introduced the Mazda RX-8 Hydrogen RE (Rotary Engine) vehicle to Norway’s public roads in collaboration with the Hydrogen Road of Norway, (HyNor) project. This marks the first time that a Mazda hydrogen rotary vehicle has been put into regular use on public roads outside Japan.

HyNor is a national project in Norway that aims to establish a clean energy transport system based on hydrogen fuel. Beginning in the fiscal year 2009, Mazda will provide approximately 30 RX-8 Hydrogen RE vehicles for the HyNor project under commercial lease contracts.

The RX-8 Hydrogen RE validation vehicle is being delivered in advance so that Mazda and HyNor can jointly assess its driving performance in Norway. It will also be exhibited at environmental and other events for potential customers who are interested in leasing a hydrogen vehicle.

“Up to now, real world use of Mazda’s hydrogen rotary vehicles has been limited to Japan.  Participation in the HyNor project marks our advancement to the next stage,” says Akihiro Kashiwagi, Mazda Program Manager in charge of hydrogen RE development. “After we validate the first vehicle on Norwegian roads, we intend to deliver 30 more units under commercial lease contracts.”

HyNor is a unique Norwegian initiative to demonstrate the implementation of a hydrogen energy infrastructure along a 580 km route from Oslo to Stavanger in Norway. Hydrogen filling stations are being established along this transport corridor to enable refuelling of hydrogen vehicles. The project aims to revolutionize transportation in Norway by encompassing buses, taxis and private cars, and varying types of transport systems, including urban, inter-city, regional and even long-distance transport.

Mazda3 to make world premiere in Los Angeles

October 10th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

Mazda 3 fq

The all-new Mazda3 sedan will have its world premiere at the Los Angeles Auto Show to be held from Wednesday November 19 through to Sunday November 30, 2008.

Following the release of the 2nd-generation Mazda2 and Mazda6, the all-new Mazda3 sees the first full redesign of Mazda’s big-selling sports compact in 5 years.

Mazda claims that every element of the all-new Mazda3 has been developed for heightened exhilaration, with a more refined sporty ride, top class fuel economy and quietness. Environmental and safety features, based on Mazda’s “Zoom-Zoom” vision, aim to achieve a balance with the fun-to-drive personality.

The brand new version of Mazda’s sports compact carries forward the legacy of the current Mazda3. Since its launch in 2003, the current Mazda3 has sold approx. 1.8 million vehicles in over 100 countries and has won global motoring awards, including awards in New Zealand.

Andrew Clearwater, managing director, Mazda New Zealand says the all-new Mazda3, due for release next year, represents another critical step forward for Mazda, “The new Mazda3 embodies Mazda’s latest car-making philosophy and engineering technology, making it a striking statement of the evolution of Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom promise.”

“From day one, the Mazda3 has been one of the most popular vehicles for Kiwi car buyers and even today, five years into its life cycle, sales have performed well above our expectations. With the continuing trend toward smaller more efficient vehicles, I’m absolutely convinced that the all-new Mazda3 will extend upon the success of the current generation.”

Following the world debut of the North American specification sedan with 2.0- and 2.5-litre engines at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show, the five-door hatchback version of the all-new Mazda3 will be revealed in line with Mazda’s global sales schedule.

Revamped Mazda RX-8 launched at Pukekohe

September 22nd, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

Mazda RX-8 launch 1

The new Mazda RX-8 sees better fuel economy, more power, new gearboxes (6-speed auto, or the 6-speed manual derived from the MX-5), and is a full $6,500 cheaper than the outgoing model.

Improvements to the chassis have given the RX-8 an excellent mix of track aggression and road manners as the 1300cc rotary howls away or purrs gently, depending on the angle of the throttle.

We’ll have a full review of the RX-8 in a few weeks when we’ve had a chance to drive it on the road.

In the interim, our sister publication NZ Performance Car features the RX-8 in its latest magazine, in the shops now.

Mazda makes leap in fuel economy

September 16th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham

Mazda has independently developed an idling stop system, called the Smart Idle Stop System (SISS), which improves fuel economy by about ten percent (in Japan’s 10-15 mode tests*).

The SISS uses direct injection technology to achieve an excellent engine restart, ensuring drivers do not experience any discomfort with the new system.  Mazda plans to begin progressively introducing this core environmental technology to the marketplace in 2009.

Andrew Clearwater, managing director Mazda New Zealand says the Smart Idle Stop System will be an important addition to Mazda’s vehicles.  “Mazda is focussed on improving fuel efficiency across our vehicle line up.  The new smart idling stop system will benefit motorists in busy urban areas where vehicles frequently stop at traffic lights or in heavy traffic.”

Idling stop systems save fuel by shutting down the engine automatically when the car is stationary, and restarts it when the driver resumes driving.

Conventional idling stop systems restart a vehicle’s engine with an electric motor using exactly the same process as when the engine is started normally. Mazda’s SISS, on the other hand, restarts the engine through combustion.  Mazda’s system initiates engine restart by injecting fuel directly into the cylinder while the engine is stopped, and igniting it to generate downward piston force.

In order to restart the engine by combustion, the pistons must be stopped at exactly the correct position to create the right balance of air volume in each cylinder. The Smart Idle Stop System provides precise control over the piston positions during engine shutdown to accomplish this.  The SISS indexes each cylinder and initiates fuel injection before the engine begins to rotate.  This enables the engine to be restarted in just 0.35 seconds for vehicles with an automatic transmission, roughly half the time of a conventional electric motor idling stop system.

In addition to saving fuel, Mazda’s Smart Idle Stop System ensures that the engine will restart quickly and with exactly the same timing every time.  Drivers will feel no delay when resuming their drive, which means they can enjoy a comfortable and stress-free ride.

* The 10-15 mode test is the Japanese standard for emission certification and fuel economy for light duty vehicles.  It consists of two separate drive cycles.  The 10-mode drive cycle is a low speed drive cycle test, while the 15-mode is a higher speed assessment.