For those who crave a truly unique sports car, nothing matches the high-revving, rotary-powered Mazda RX-8. The RX-8 is the only mass-produced rotary powered car in the world.
Carrying on the tradition that started with the 1967 Mazda Cosmo and later the RX-7, the RX-8 is powered by the latest evolution of the remarkably power-dense rotary engine. The reborn rotary is dubbed RENESIS (Rotary Engine genesis – or rebirth of the rotary engine), and it effortlessly spins up to 9,000 rpm with virtually no vibration.
Instead of pistons pounding up and down in a cylinder, the RENESIS has a pair of triangular rotors spinning in cocoon-shaped combustion chambers. Despite its diminutive, 1.3-liter size, the normally aspirated rotary cranks out a thrilling 232 hp when paired with a manual transmission, or 212 hp when bolted to an automatic gearbox.
The tiny rotary makes all of this power from a package 60 percent smaller and lighter than a V6 with comparable output and 40 percent smaller than a four-cylinder. That allows the powerplant to be installed completely behind the front axle for improved weight balance of 52/48 percent while still allowing enough room for four seats.
The engine isn’t the only unique element of the RX-8. Its distinctive four-door body is nearly seven inches shorter than that of the Hyundai Genesis coupe and yet it retains enough interior space for four adults to fit comfortably. To provide easy access to the rear compartment, Mazda designers created a pillarless four-door layout with rear-hinged rear half-doors.
The bold face of the RX-8 flows back into aggressive wheel arches that stand out from taut flanks, giving this unrivaled machine an athletic stance. The wheels are pushed out to the corners of the body creating short overhangs and a no-nonsense profile. The RX-8 is Zoom-Zoom all the way.
For 2011, the RX-8 is available in three trim levels – Sport, Grand Touring and R3 for the truly hard-core driving enthusiast. The standard 18-inch alloy wheels on the Sport and Grand Touring are upgraded to lightweight forged alloy 19-inch units on the R3 with 225/40R19 high-performance summer tires. The R3 also gets a deeper front air dam, side sill extensions and a rear wing to improve the aerodynamics, and xenon headlamps to improve visibility for night driving. RX-8s with manual transmissions feature a torque-sensing Limited Slip Differential for adhesion during extreme cornering. Selecting the Grand Touring with an automatic transmission also includes the Limited Slip Differential.
Inside the cockpit, the RX-8 starts with air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers, an auxiliary audio-input jack, cloth trimmed upholstery and door panels, cruise control, passenger’s seat one-touch walk-in function, steering wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shiftknob and power windows and door locks.
The Grand Touring model adds a Bose® audio system with a six-CD changer, automatic climate control, leather seating surfaces and a heated, power adjustable driver’s seat with position memory. The Grand Touring level also adds Bluetooth® hands-free capability for phones, SIRIUS Satellite Radio and a moonroof. Models with the automatic transmission have Formula One-style paddle shifters behind the steering wheel for quick, precise gear changes during spirited driving.
The R3 model’s Centerpoint surround-sound system enhances the Bose audio, and special Recaro sport seats hold the driver and front passenger in place when the RX-8 is showing off. The optional DVD-based navigation system helps drivers find their destinations, unless of course they are enjoying the drive so much that they want to stay lost.
Thanks to the compact power unit, Mazda chassis engineers were able to use a double control-arm front suspension with lightweight aluminum members to provide precise wheel control and keep the tires in contact with the pavement. At the rear, a compact multi-link layout optimizes handling while minimizing intrusion into the cabin. The RX-8 R3 features unique Bilstein shock absorbers and a urethane-foam injected front suspension crossmember for added strength.
With a curb weight of just 3,065 pounds (with the manual transmission), the RX-8 is one of the lightest four-passenger sports cars on the market. That low-mass design allows the chassis to make the best possible use of the available power and the prowess of the suspension. The RX-8 has plenty of prowess to spare, especially in R3 form, its low inertia contributing to quick reflexes and precise steering when changing direction.
The RX-8 is equipped with a full slate of safety hardware including front, side and side-curtain airbags, antilock brakes and dynamic stability control.
The 2011 RX-8 Sport starts at an MSRP of just $26,795 while the range-topping R3 goes for $32,290.