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Car reviews - Mazda - RX-8 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Engine response, engine note, pedal placement, steering feel, chassis dynamics, good brakes, good forward vision, light weight, body-hugging seats, rear seat accommodation
Room for improvement
No analogue speedo, lack of bottom-end urge, firmish suspension, tramlining, noisy tyres, no trip computer, no steering wheel reach adjustment, vision from rear seats

7 Oct 2004

INTRIGUING, challenging, exciting, delightful, endearing, difficult. And that springs to mind merely after taking a lap around a stationary RX-8, as its pronounced fenders, rolling shapes, edges and valleys reveal a styling effort that is in turn affronting, then subtle - but always interesting.

The driving is a no less engrossing experience.

This car may have four doors but it is still from the driver's seat that RX-8 best expresses itself. This is a wonderful car that has the capacity to simply exhilarate.

Anyone who is familiar with two-stroke motorcycles will connect with the RX. The rotary engine has the same sort of lickety-split rpm rise and fall, all the while delivering a sound effect like a kazoo on speed.

Hit the chamfered accelerator pedal - which is situated perfectly in relation to the brake for heel-and-toeing - and watch the tacho needle sweep around the dial to 9000rpm. "Beep" goes the change light and then snag another gear in the short-throw gearbox.

Weird though, while there's a full-size tacho in the middle of the Alfa-like three-dial instrument pod, there's no speedo, just a small digital readout. One of the few things we did not like.

The engine does not have the power and torque of a large V8, so it is not a point and squirt car. The RX-8 is all about accurate and fast turn-in, real steering feel and a level of mechanical grip from the chassis that allows you to carry cornering speeds that can shock. Thankfully, the DSC proves a quietly competent interventionist when enthusiasm outweighs ability.

Back that lot up with great brakes, excellent forward vision (the A-pillars don't hide the apex of tight corners), a reasonable 1337kg kerb weight and body-hugging sports seats - and there could be few better choices for a fang on your favourite drivers' road. And we don't mean better choices among its competition or under $100,000 or anything like that. This car is a star full stop.

But nothing is perfect. The RX-8's focus on driving rewards means that rougher and more chopped-up surfaces move the car around. It tends to tram-track on those large tyres, as well as jumping and moving across the road as its suspension and direct steering react to larger bumps.

You really do have to pay attention in such conditions. And while that's acceptable when out for a fast drive in the country, it's easy to imagine it becoming a tiresome chore on a daily commuting basis on somewhere like Sydney's very average road system.

The funny thing is the firmish set-up does not translate into a harsh ride, maybe that's a reflection of the substantial wheelbase (2700mm) and track (1500mm front and 1505mm rear), which is not that far off an Aussie large car.

Fore-aft weight distribution is also a perfect 50:50 thanks to the small rotary engine's front-mid position, and the movement of the petrol tank inboard of the rear axle. Renesis runs on PULP by the way, consuming a claimed 12.6L/100km as a manual and 12.2L/100km as an auto, and meets the Euro Stage III emissions standard.

Those tyres are the cause of the other substantial concern we noted on the launch drive. They were very noisy on coarse chip surfaces. Excellent when the going went smooth again, but too noisy otherwise. Again, a factor which would get tiresome.

Any other complaints? The manual gearbox (there were no autos on the launch drive - surprise, surprise) occasionally allowed a miss-shift on the three-four plane.

Move away from the driving experience into the cabin and there's more to like and more originality. Pleated cloth seats, circular centre console, a high-mounted transmission tunnel, neat little rotary symbols in the gearlever knob and see-through headrests and pistol grip parkbrake to name a few.

But we would like the car to have a trip computer and reach adjustment of the steering wheel.

And ... oh yes ... Freestyle. Yes, adults can get in the back and could even travel there for a little while, although the small porthole windows mean it feels somewhat claustrophobic.

There is room to get in and out and, no, you cannot open the rear door unless the front door is opened first. So no bailing out on the run unless you have the co-operation of a front seat passenger.

Not that you'd be planning too many rushed departures from RX-8 - particularly from the driver's seat.

This car really extends the middle finger at the philosophy currently emerging from Europe - and long been in favour in Australia - that the way to build a sporting car is to start with a big engine and make it bigger and more powerful and then stick it inside a big body. AMG, M Sport etcetera.

RX-8's incredible engine, inspiring chassis, challenging looks and innovative design make it the most exciting car to go on sale in Australia so far this year. Can't wait for another drive.

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