Mazda RX-8 Spirit R 2012 Review

August 27th, 2012 by Darren Cottingham

We can barely go a week in the auto industry without hearing of a car that beats all previous records for its kind at an auction. Whether it’s a 1950s Ferrari, a 1960s GT40 or a 1970s muscle car they all have two things in common: they are in limited supply (either now or originally) and they were what the young adults of the day aspired to.

Fast forward to now and have a look at what the baby boomers want. They want the car of their dreams so they can recapture their youth. Mazda’s RX models have always been popular and even now are commanding a premium. Check out how much you can purchase an unmolested RX-2, RX-3 or RX-7 for. The RX-7 Spirit R is holding its value well with used examples with 40,000kms fetching around $35-40,000, and they’re not even old yet.

While this is not intended to be investment advice, you have to look at what this final RX-8 is. Only 12 have been imported into New Zealand and just a handful remain. It could potentially be the last rotary-engined car Mazda makes (unless it can make its 2007 concept 16X motor appealing and far less thirsty), and only 2000 examples are being made. You can guarantee that more than 90% of these will be driven almost daily, some will be modified and some will meet an untimely end.

In 30 years time, when the current crop of teenagers become empty nesters with disposable income, how many Mazda RX-8 Spirit R models will still be roadworthy? And how many will only have a handful of kilometers on the odometer?

So, you could buy a Spirit R for $56,695, put it in storage and hope it appreciates enough for your retirement fund. But that’s just speculation, and we’re not sure whether you’d be able to resist getting in it for a back-country blat.

Sink your (hopefully not-too-ample) rear into the deep bucket seats, fire up that rotary engine and it settles into a motorbike-style purr. Blip the throttle and the revs rise quickly up to 8500 – the red line. Perfectly positioned for your left hand is a short-throw, rotary-themed gearstick ready to select one of the six manual gears.

Give it some gas, lift that clutch and the Renesis engine’s unique tone rises with your acceleration. Dip the clutch and grab another gear. Rinse and repeat. Heel/toe on the downshift for a smile-inducing faux-racing experience. Now, it’s not fast by any stretch of the imagination. Compared to the turbo RX-7s that I hankered after when I was in my early 20s, the RX-8 is pedestrian and restrained, and that is possibly to try to tame the massive fuel consumption that rotary engines are famous for. You will be filling up at the pump frequently in the Spirit R as the quoted fuel economy is 12.1l/100km and you won’t be driving it to get good fuel economy.

The suspension is taut and, because the car rides on massive 19-inch wheels with low profile tyres you can feel exactly what it’s doing on the road. Red brake calipers peek through the wheels. At the rear there’s a dual exhaust and on the flanks there is the special Spirit R badge. There are rotary hints in the design language throughout the RX-8 from the bonnet to the knob that adjusts the seat back.

The front seats are the highlight of the interior. They hug you like an over-zealous aunty (but without the slobbery kisses). Their two-tone red and black theme is carried through to the rear seats which are really only good for storing things. Access to the rear seats is using the ‘suicide door’ that will only open once the front door is open.

Sitting in the driver’s seat your instrument view is dominated by the rev counter. The speedometer is a small digital display within the rev counter. Rotary engines rev up large, but not while they’re cold, so the rev counter incorporates a temperature-dependent redline for the engine.

The rest of the instrumentation and dashboard is looking long in the tooth. This is a run-out model and it’s showing signs of the RX-8’s 8-year history. While the RX-8 is pitched as a sports car it is lacking some minor features that are standard on almost all cars now, like a trip computer and Bluetooth phone integration.

Interior features include a 300W, 9-speaker stereo, cruise control, a handbrake level that looks like it’s out of Top Gun, and racing pedals.

The RX-8 feels go-kart-like. You sit low and the handling is responsive. It was hilarious getting out of the RX-8 into my next test car: a Toyota Land Cruiser. Driving the Land Cruiser felt like I was flying in a crop duster because it was so tall and wallowy in comparison.

The RX-8 turned heads during my time with it. Even though it’s been around for a few years, the new wheels and bodykit make this the best-looking RX-8 there’s been. It’s come of age. The question now is what value you’ll get from it, whether that’s monetary in the future, or by putting a smile on your face now.

Check out second hand RX-8s for sale here.

Price: $56,695


  • Could be an investment (if not for the future, at least for you to invest in having some fun driving)
  • Handles well
  • Intoxicating rotary engine sound
  • It’s the best-looking RX-8


  • Dated instrumentation
  • High fuel usage for the performance

Words and photos: Darren Cottingham

Mazda’s rotary engine program on death row

August 11th, 2011 by Darren Cottingham

Mazda has keenly championed the rotary engine since it was originally used in the 1967 Mazda Cosmo but now the future of this iconic motor is uncertain.

The Wankel rotary has powered numerous Mazdas over the years, including the RX-2, RX-3, RX-7 and finally the RX-8. Mazda even sold a rotary-powered ute between 1974 and 1977. But in 2011 the automotive landscape is much different and Mazda big wigs are currently in discussions about where to go next with the unique powerplant.

While the engine hasn’t been officially axed altogether, current economic conditions have forced Mazda to re-evaluate several programs and the rotary engine is one of the things that could be dropped. For now, the company has halted development of the engine and will focus on new SKYACTIV technologies.

Mazda still believes in the advantages of rotary power including its light weight and fewer moving parts but its weaknesses are more apparent than ever. The rotary engine doesn’t burn as clean as a piston engine, it consumes more oil and is very thirsty for petrol. In these times of emission regulations and minimal fuel usage – the rotary just doesn’t fit in. Continue reading “Mazda’s rotary engine program on death row” »

New Mazda RX-9 could use Toyota’s hybrid drivetrain

May 26th, 2011 by Darren Cottingham

Mazda’s next rotary powered machine is often the subject of rumour and speculation with claims that the RX-Series of vehicles may end with the RX-8. But fresh reports are suggesting that there will be an RX-9 and what’s more, it will use a hybrid drivetrain borrowed from Toyota.

These latest rumours have some weight behind them because last year an agreement was signed between Mazda and Toyota that would have the Zoom-Zoom company licensing the same hybrid tech that powers the Prius. Back then, Mazda announced that its first hybrid vehicle would reach the market in 2013. But nobody really thought it would come in the form of an RX-9.

Naturally a rotary engine will still spin under the vehicle’s bonnet, but it will likely take on a low-powered form with the hybrid system adding extra grunt. Doesn’t sound so flash right? Well not when you consider the rotary motor’s traditional design flaws of weak torque at low rpm, leaky seals and high fuel consumption. If the borrowed hybrid system can solve these issues it may be what saves the rotary engine from production car extinction. Continue reading “New Mazda RX-9 could use Toyota’s hybrid drivetrain” »

Mazda getting formula right for next-gen rotary RX-9

November 8th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

More info is slowly leaking out about Mazda’s much speculated work on a rotary-powered successor to the old RX-7 and the current RX-8. Like usual, nothing has been officially confirmed but the new machine in development is believed to carry the RX-9 nameplate. It is also expected to ditch the the innovative but odd four-door layout of the current RX-8, and will make use of a reworked platfrom from the current model MX-5 roadster. But what all you rotor heads out there really want to know about is the new engine.

Called, at this stage, the 16X project, the new Renesis rotary engine is expected to grow in size considerably over the RX-8’s and come packing around 230kW — that’s significantly more power to play with than the 173kW that exists in the current car. But it’s not getting big power from the engine that is the tricky part, Mazda is hard at work keeping the engine as clean and efficient as possible. This is a necessity in these environmentally-friendly times, particularly as the current RX-8’s high fuel and oil consumption have driven it out of some markets already.

Stay tuned as we bring you more updates on Mazda’s progress in keeping the rotary engine alive.

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.

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