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 ends production of RX-8 sports car

August 23rd, 2011 by Darren Cottingham

Mazda has ended the manufacture of its RX-8 sports car and subsequently finished mass production of the rotary engine. While the news may come as a shock to rotary fans it may not be the end of the road for the hard-spinning motor.

Unofficial reports are stating that the final RX-8 rolled off the production line last month and the remaining stock should be sold by the end of this year.

The RX-8’s demise into extinction didn’t happen suddenly and has been on the cards since Mazda stopped offering the car in Europe last year. The RX-8 couldn’t make the grade with the stricter EU emission standards and was sent packing. Over in the States, Mazda sold just 1,134 of the models last year and 2011 has been even slower.

It’s a tough end for a car that was coveted and admired when it launched back in 2003. The best sales year for the RX-8 was 2004 when it sold 23,690 units. It’s hung on as the last in the long line of rotary-powered sports machines that started back in 1971 with the RX-2, continued through the years with the successful RX-7, which lasted for three generations, and ultimately ended with the sharp-handling RX-8. Continue reading “Mazda ends production of RX-8 sports car” »

Mazda to cease RX-8 production

May 6th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

According to recent reports, Mazda’s ageing RX-8 is preparing an exit from the American market after the 2011 model year. The rotary-powered sportscar is scheduled to do the same in Europe because of its inability to meet new Euro V emissions standards.

There are a number of issues that all manufacturers that have chosen to borrow the rotary engine design from Felix Wankel have had to deal with, but the most troublesome have been poor fuel efficiency, high exhaust emissions and excessive oil consumption. Now, these same long-running issues are set to kill off yet another rotary-powered model from Mazda.

It seems unlikely that Mazda will simply give up on rotary power but in terms of a replacement Mazda has not made any formal announcements. There has been much talk of a new RX-7 to take over but that would be unlikely until at least 2013. If that goes ahead the high-winding Wankel 1.3-litre RX-8 will likely be replaced by a two-seat coupe RX-7 instead of the RX-8’s unique almost-four-door, four-seat layout. The engine in the new RX-7 is expected to grow in size to 1.6-litres, to better help low-end torque while delivering even more top-end power. How exactly the new RX-7 will get around the emissions controls in Europe and America is, for now, a mystery. However, Mazda has championed the rotary engine for so long, it will be determined to find a way.

Mazda’s top designer wants to create new RX-7

March 15th, 2010 by Darren Cottingham

Ikuo Maeda, Mazda’s big cheese in the design studio was recently responsible for penning the new Mazda2. Previously he designed the RX-8, and the Kubura concept (pictured) but most interestingly it was Maeda’s father that created the original Mazda RX-7. Now, Maeda has spoken out about his desire to bring the RX-7 back to life, saying “I do have a strong yearning to revive the RX-7 during my tenure.”

Rotary enthusiasts globally would like nothing more than for Mazda to bring back the 7, but apparently other top Mazda officials are less interested, asking “Why go backwards?”

For many at Mazda the excessive warranty claims make the RX-7 not the fondest of memories, if there’s a next time it should be done right.

For it to have any chance at all, Maeda claims Mazda will need the U.S. economy to come back, first and foremost. Until then, keep your fingers crossed.

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 [email protected] 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

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.

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.

Revised Mazda RX-8 in New Zealand

August 14th, 2008 by Darren Cottingham


Mazda New Zealand has announced the arrival of the 2009 model year RX-8 which features refinements to the drivetrain, chassis and new automatic and manual transmissions.

Mazda engineers strove to enhance the driving enjoyment that’s at the heart of the RX-8 experience by refining the RENESIS engine, whose naturally aspirated, free-revving operation up to 9,000 rpm realises exhilarating performance.

The engine sits low and well back in the engine bay in a configuration Mazda calls, advanced front-midship layout. This means that the new RX-8 maintains the original’s ideal 50:50 weight distribution, placing weight evenly over all four wheels and ensuring exceptional stability.

The chassis itself has been further strengthened to bolster rigidity and give the engine and suspension a tauter platform. This highly rigid body and modified suspension enables sharp and linear vehicle response to steering inputs, and delivers the handling of a genuine sports car as well as the high-grade ride comfort expected of a refined four-seater.

Two new transmissions, a 6-speed manual and a 6-speed electronic activematic have been developed for the RX-8 based off the transmissions available for the MX-5 — another Mazda front-engine, rear-drive sports car. Some internal changes and alterations to the gear ratios were made so that the new transmissions would work cohesively with the high-revving characteristics of the RX-8’s RENESIS rotary engine.

The 6-speed activematic is a new electronically-controlled transmission — which delivers smooth and linear acceleration at all engine speeds.  It also incorporates the newly-developed Direct Mode. This allows the driver, while the car is in “Drive” to instantaneously select the optimal gear for the driving circumstances without first having to switch to manual mode.  The driver can quickly change down a gear via the steering wheel mounted shift switches to decelerate using the engine brake when driving downhill, or they may wish to change gears to accelerate for an overtaking manoeuvre. After this has been accomplished the car will revert back to normal automatic “Drive” mode.

In the current atmosphere of spiralling petrol prices, Mazda’s engineers chose not to increase the RENESIS rotary engine’s peak power figure, but instead focused on improving the low- to mid-range engine response and torque delivery.  The power output for the manual remains unchanged at 170 kW @ 8200 rpm, while the automatic increases to 158 kW @ 7500 rpm (up 17 kW) and torque of 211 Nm @ 5500 rpm for both transmissions. The result is an RX-8 that is more responsive at lower revs, and is equally happy to explore the stratospheric reaches of its 9000 rpm redline.

RX-8 Recommended Retail Pricing:

Recommended Retail Price
(including GST, excluding ORC)

2009 RX-8 COUPE 6MT


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