Mazda RX-8. Brave. Different. When it lobbed into Oz in 2003, there was nothing else quite like this rotary-powered, ‘freestyle-doored’, thoroughbred sportscar wrapped in a stylised sedan body. And since it bowed in 2011, globally at a death of inadequate emissions, there’s been nothing anything like it since. It looked different. It went different.
Fans of this adventurous Mazda are drawn to its unique cocktail of facets that bring a distinctive character. Detractors charge that its same quirks just missed their marks in amalgamation, a pale and weird four-door facsimile of RX-7 purebreds that came before it.
The RX-8 was noisy and thirsty, if bloody quick with wonderful handling, thanks to lean weight and its front-mid engine arrangement. It was a naturally aspirated anomaly you could buy new off the showroom floor, right when petrolheads were discovering the turbo delights of then-rare Mitsubishi Evos and the lure of grey-imported halo icons such Nissan GT-Rs and Toyota Supras.
It’s become a bona-fide cult car, if one that probably deserves higher stature than it has enjoyed.
It came with a six-speed manual, paired to its 177kW and 221Nm evolution of the little six-port 1.3-litre ‘13B’ engine called the Renesis. In 2003, the base version wanted for $56k while the leather-dipped Luxury version asked for under $63k. Either way, the 0-100km/h sprint was a 6.2-second prospect.
Despite tipping the scale at a mere 1350kg-ish, which does many favours for dynamic agility, its claimed 12.2L thirst spiraled into the high teens because it begs to be revved to its 8200rpm redline compensate for a lack of low-rpm torque. But light her up and, jeez, it’s dynamite, both on the march and in the curves, where it’s focused suspension tune and LSD rear axle return arguably the RX-8’s loftiest talents, even if the chassis can be bloody snappy in the wet (trust us).
Yes, yes…there was an auto. Don’t go there. Mazda neutered the engine to a four-port 141kW configuration to suit the make-do four-speed design in early versions, extricating the very hard-revving nature that was key to RX-8’s unique character.
Before long, collector-skewed versions, such as 2005’s Luxury Special Edition ($63k), started cropping up, followed by 2006’s Revelation ($65k) and, rounding out Series I, the 40th Anniversary version in homage to the providence of Mazda’s rotary engine ($56k). All, unsurprisingly, manuals.
The key changes came the Series II in 2008.
Here, RX-8 copped a refreshed and sharper look, engine and suspension fettling, and new transmissions. A new six-speed auto allowed its paired engine, now six-port, to lift 17kW to 158kW, injecting the slushbox versions with some added purpose.
A new GT flagship variant was added, bringing tasty 19-inch wheels, underbody bracing and Bilstein-bred suspension, plus a mild Jenny Craig treatment to shave around 23kgs off the kerb weight. Power was downrated in Aussie spec to 170kW for the manuals, though a short final drive ratio netted marginally friskier acceleration for Series II.
Mazda never did go the turbocharged route for its four-door, effectively four-seat rear-driven outlier, though plenty of pundits in the aftermarket have had a good crack.
Still, the RX-8 enjoyed reasonable popularity until its screaming N/A heartbeat not long complied with toughened emission laws in Euro and was taken off sale in 2010. A stay of execution lasted in Australia until 2012.
Mazda’s unique rotary pitch remained off the wider enthusiast radar for some time, though recent trends have seen prices start to head north pretty quickly for what’s now becoming a better appreciated sportscar.