Mazda RX-8
(2003 - 2011)

  • Incredibly unique vehicle
  • All the benefits of a sports car with none of the drawbacks
  • All the practicality of a sedan with none of the tedium
  • That high revving rotary engine becomes addictive
  • Horrendous reputation for reliability
  • Maintenance can often require a full engine rebuild
  • Ancillary systems ageing poorly
  • Insatiable thirst for both fuel and oil
Overview

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.

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What goes wrong
  • There are quite a few reports of the paint fading however, it seems that well cared for and garaged examples seem to avoid this issue. Unfortunately, many
  • The taillights (especially on Series 1 examples) can be prone to gasket cracks which leads to water and condensation filling in taillights.
  • Models fitted with a sunroof can be victim to some rattling as well, this is due to the bolts holding the sunroof in become loose overtime and need tightening up.
  • As with many cars of this vintage, the headlights can yellow/fog over time.
  • Inside the Fuel gauge in the Series 1 can read 1/4 full but can actually be empty.
  • The left front bolt on the Driver’s side seat is known to creak, which some people mistake for the steering column creaking. This is caused by the washer under the bolt and can be fixed with relative ease.
  • Gear Knobs on certain versions are illuminated by a light on the inside which can fail, this is due to the wiring wearing/deteriorating. Mazda made an updated version to resolve the issue.
  • Then there are a few less common issues we found like the door cards can cause leak, the dash can crack and the Centre console particularly in the rear can become quite weak and rattly.
  • Mechanically, unless maintained to genuinely obsessive levels, these engines can be a ticking time bomb.
  • Even then, we are starting to perfectly maintained examples having catastrophic failures thanks to apex seal failures completely out of the blue. Poorly maintained examples can fail with less than 100,000kms of use.
  • Even outside of the engine, more and more reliability issues are being reported. Complications with the oil injection system, inlet manifold and fuel injection problems, ignition coil failures and subsequent catalytic converter melt downs are becoming far too regular.
  • The drivelines can be quite fragile too with plenty of clutch, transmission and differential complications and failures. Especially if the RX-8 in question has lived hard life and been maintained poorly, which seems to be many of them.
Model range, pricing & features

RX-8

  • Price when new: $48,990 - $57,000
  • Price used: $9,500 - $22,500

The base model named “RX-8” offered a comprehensive list of exterior, interior, mechanical and safety features as standard.

6 airbags, ABS, EBD, DSC, limited-slip differential, 18-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, climate control, electric heated mirrors, electric windows and 6-speaker sound system with a six-stacker CD player were just some of the highlighted features that were standard on the base RX-8 model.

All RX-8 models were fitted with the 1.3-litre twin-rotor Wankel (rotary) engine, and all Series 1 models were available in either a 6-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic transmission (later as a 6-speed automatic transmission only available on the “Luxury” model for Series 2 RX-8s).

Furthermore, all RX-8 benefited from the Freestyle door system, where the slimmer rear doors would open at a hinge angle of 80-degrees, but kept the coupe-like body.

Adds:

18-inch alloy wheels
Body coloured exterior mirrors
Body coloured front and rear bumpers
Freestyle door system
Front stabiliser
6 airbags: driver and front passenger; front side and full-length curtain airbags
Front seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters
Child anchor restraint points
Anti-lock braking system (ABS)
Electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD)
Dynamic stability control (DSC)
Traction control
Limited slip differential
Halogen headlights
Lights left on warning chime
Intermittent wipers
Remote central locking
Cruise control
Power steering
Leather wrapped multi-functional steering wheel
Leather wrapped gear shift knob
Adjustable steering wheel – tilt only
Cloth sports bucket seats
Driver’s seat: manually adjustable (slide and height)
Climate control air conditioning
Pollen filter
Electric mirrors – heated
Electric windows with driver’s auto up/down
6-speaker 100-watt sound system
AM/FM radio
Six-stacker in-dash CD player
Audio controls on steering wheel
Illuminated entry system
Lights: Front door, outer mirror courtesy lamps, interior map and cargo (boot) lamps
12V auxiliary power

Series 2 updates:
Six-stacker in-dash CD player (MP3 compatible)
AUX (3.5mm plug) input

Luxury Special Edition

  • Price when new: $63,030
  • Price used: $11,500 - $18,500

In January 2005, a limited-run Luxury Special Edition model was released, and was based on the base RX-8 model.

Compared to the base model, the Luxury Special Edition featured additional mechanicals, exterior design elements and a beige interior trim.

Adds:

Urethane-filled front suspension cross member
Specifically tuned dampers
Semi-gloss headlamp and rear combination lamp bezels
Power sliding glass sunroof
Beige leather seats with double stitching
Beige door trims

Revelation Edition

  • Price when new: $64,570
  • Price used: $25,500 - $37,000

The Revelation Edition was a limited run model that was released in December 2006. It was distinguished by dark-silver 18-alloy wheels, urethane-filled front suspension cross member, sunroof and smart/keyless entry and push button start as well as an Alcantara seat trim with contrasting stitching.

Adds:

Dark-silver 18-inch alloy wheels
Urethane-filled front suspension cross member
Power sliding glass sunroof
Smart keyless entry
Push start button
Alcantara seat trim with contrasting stitching

40th Anniversary Edition

  • Price when new: $55,840
  • Price used: $11,000 - $17,800

The 40th Anniversary Edition was released in February 2008 and commemorated 40 years of Mazda being in Australia.

As with previous special edition models, the 40th Anniversary edition included a variety of exterior, interior and mechanical additions like special 18-inch alloy wheels, sunroof and Blistein shock absorbers.

Adds:

High-gloss 18-inch alloy wheels
Silver engine cover
Floating rear spoiler
Blue reflector fog lamps
Power sliding glass sunroof
Blistein shock absorbers
Urethane-filled front suspension cross member
Unique leather and Alcantara upholstery

RX-8 with Leather Pack

  • Price when new: $60,100 - $63,280
  • Price used: $13,500 - $38,500

The RX-8 with Leather Pack was offered with the Series 1 RX-8’s and added HID headlights, front fog lamps, sports bucket lamps with leather upholstery, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, aluminium pedals (manual transmission only) and a 9-speaker premium BOSE sound system.

The RX-8 with Leather Pack was available in manual and automatic transmissions.

The RX-8 with Leather Pack was phased out for the Series 2 update in favour of “Luxury” and “GT” designated models.

Adds:

HID (Xenon) headlights
Headlight auto-levelling system
Headlight pop-up washer system
Front fog lamps
Leather sports bucket seats
Driver’s seat: 8-way electrically adjustable (slide, height and backrest)
Aluminium pedals (manual only)
9-speaker 300-watt BOSE sound system

Luxury

  • Price when new: $55,520 - $61,724
  • Price used: $13,000 - $30,000

With the introduction of the Series 2 models, came two new models, the Luxury and GT models that joined the base RX-8 model.

In addition to the base model, the Luxury model added HID headlights, front fog lamps, leather upholstery, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, aluminium pedals and footrest; and a 9-speaker sound system.

The Luxury model was available in either manual or automatic transmission, and was the only model that had the option of being fitted with an automatic transmission.

Adds:

High-gloss 18-inch alloy wheels
Silver engine cover
Floating rear spoiler
Blue reflector fog lamps
Power sliding glass sunroof
Blistein shock absorbers
Urethane-filled front suspension cross member
Unique leather and Alcantara upholstery

GT

  • Price when new: $57,625 - $57,778
  • Price used: $18,500 - $24,500

With the introduction of the Series 2 models, came two new models, the Luxury and GT models that joined the base RX-8 model.

The GT was the sports-focused RX-8 offering more mechanical and “hardcore” additions, of which included: 19-inch alloy wheels, aero bumper, side skirts and rear spoiler; Blistein dampers, Urethane-filled front suspension cross member, RECARO front sports seats and a leather/cloth upholstery.

Adds:

19-inch alloy wheels
Aero bumper (front), side skirts and rear spoiler
Blistein dampers
Urethane-filled front suspension cross member
Leather-wrapped handbrake
RECARO front seats
Leather/cloth upholstery

Should you buy it?

Buying an RX-8 depends far more on the specific example of RX-8 you’re looking at rather than RX-8’s as a whole.

The RX-8 in general offers a very tempting set of skills. To paraphrase motoring journalist god Jeremy Clarkson, you get all of the benefits of a sports car with none of the drawbacks, and all of the practicality of a sedan with none of the tedium.

Plus now the RX-8 has depreciated on the used market, it offers so much car for the money.

But there’s a problem

For an RX-8 to be reliable and offer genuine longevity, it requires almost obsessive levels of attention when it comes to maintenance and upkeep, and it has generally required this immense amount of tender loving care from the moment it left the dealership when new.

Unfortunately, many owners have failed to provide such care and attention and the result is uncared RX-8’s have a habit of going boom and boom can equate to very expensive repair bills.

Should you buy one? Only if the person selling it to you can categorically prove it has been maintained to absolute highest degree, other wise you’re not buying an RX-8, you’re buying a ticking time bomb.

Warranty & servicing

Warranty:

3 years/100,000kms

Servicing:

6 months/10,000kms

Tech specs

Body Style:

4-door coupe

Engines:

1.3 litre twin-rotor Wankel (rotary) petrol engine (all models)

Power:

Series 1 (2003-2008):
141kW (automatic)
177kW (manual)

Series 2 (2008 – 2011):
158kW (automatic)
170kW (manual)

Torque:

Series 1 (2003-2008):
220Nm (automatic)
211Nm (manual)

Series 2 (2008 – 2011):
211Nm (all models and transmissions)

Transmission & drivetrains:

4-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive (2003-2008)
6-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive (2008-2011 – Luxury model only)
6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive (all years)

Fuel Consumption:

12.1 – 12.9L/100km

Length:

4435 – 4470mm

Width:

1770mm

Height:

1340mm

Kerb Weight:

1337 – 1412kg

Disclaimer

Information correct as of May 27, 2022.

The advice provided on this website is general advice only. It has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this advice, you should consider the appropriateness of the advice, having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs.

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