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Future models - Mazda - RX-8 - Coupe

Mazda's RX-8 a stun gun

Up front: The RX-8 is powerful and muscular, dominated at the front end with an aggressive air intake, short overhang and sharp lines extending up along the low bonnet.

The RX-8 has undergone a stunning makeover since the prototype was first shown

17 Oct 2001

MAZDA has unveiled the final mass-production version of its stunning RX-8 coupe, a car which returns the Japanese manufacturer to its sports car roots and makes a thunderous statement about its new direction.

Going into production late next year and due Down Under around June, 2003, the rotary-engined RX-8 has undergone a substantial makeover since the near-finished prototype - currently on display at the Sydney motor show - was first shown in Detroit last January.

It keeps good Mazda's promise to build what is claimed to be the world's first four-door sports car, retaining the butterfly-door arrangement and an athletic build.

Yet it is design that was deemed an obvious area for improvement.

According to Mazda president Mark Fields, the front end of the car in particular was in need of repair.

"The front end didn't have enough definition to it and I think our designers have really come to the party and come up with a very, very good solution," Mr Fields said.

It is impossible to disagree. The finished RX-8 is an impressive bit of gear to behold - powerful and muscular, dominated at the front end with an aggressive air intake, short overhang, sharp lines extending up along the low bonnet, characteristic overfenders, high-tech headlights and an emotive rotor-shaped "power bulge" in the centre of the bonnet.

The large diameter, 18-inch aluminium wheels with Z-rated 225/45-series tyres do not go unnoticed either.

The innovative door arrangement, which Mazda is certain will pass Australian regulations, allows a smooth surface flow from the front end to the rear, whereupon the pillars and window provide a subtle reference to the classic first generation Cosmo Sport and RX-7.

A further rotor cue can also be seen with the distinctive rear fog-light.

Chief designer Ikuo Maeda - the man now charged with transforming the MX-5 - said he drew inspiration from classic Mazda sports cars but felt an imperative to move ahead.

"What I was trying to do was to put the RX-7 flavour onto the RX-8 but modify it," he said.

"The sighting of RX-7 is timeless. It's a beautiful design, but in terms of (visual) strength it's a little bit weak compared to RX-8, which has a muscular stance." The cockpit is minimalist, dark and tight, with classic sports car details and Mazda's usual commitment to ergonomics. Aluminium trim is used for areas within the driver's reach such as the centre console and the high transmission tunnel, while rotor motifs are evident on the shift lever, front headrests and side-sill covers.

Rear ingress and egress is made simple with the rear-hinged doors and we can attest to the claim that two average-sized adults can be comfortably accommodated within.

The 2700mm wheelbase helps here, along with clever design features such as slim front sports seats. As it has done with the MX-5, Mazda also claims the boot will fit two golf bags.

As for the engine, RX-8 marks the debut of the new generation "Renesis" rotary, which is smaller and lighter than the previous 13B-REW turbo rotary engine and mounted further rearward and lower than in the RX-7 to help ensure an ideal 50:50 front/rear weight distribution.

Driving the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission, the naturally aspirated twin-rotor Renesis features side intake and exhaust ports. It produces 184kW at no less than 8500rpm and maximum torque of 216Nm at 7500rpm.

Mazda powertrain engineers, who are still fine-tuning the engine, have a goal of achieving 6.0 seconds from rest to 100km/h.

"The main issue we want to make sure is done right is the engine development," said Mr Fields.

"We want to make sure that we cover the key customer issues on the existing rotary - fuel economy, oil consumption, emissions - and the powertrain engineers are making very good progress in that regard." Long-arm double-wishbones are used for the front suspension and a multi-link configuration at the rear. The steering is rack and pinion with electric power assistance.

Large 17-inch ventilated disc brakes appear front and rear, with a supporting cast of four-wheel anti-lock brakes and stability control.

Several measures were implemented to ensure good side-impact crash protection, given the door configuration dispenses with a centre pillar. These include a rigid underbody frame and a strong, high-mounted "backbone" located in the upper part of the transmission tunnel running through the cabin.

A curtain airbag extending along the side windows is also used in conjunction with frontal airbags and seat-mounted side airbags for the front occupants.

The kerb weight, still to be announced, will fall at about 1300kg. Aluminium components include the bonnet, rear doors and parts of the chassis.

On current reckoning, Mazda Australia expects the RX-8 to be priced below $70,000.

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