2011 Mazda RX-8 Grand TouringPosted on July 26th, 2011
Iconic Sports Car is Forever Young
By Nina Russin
The Mazda RX-8 is as much a product of the 1960s as it is the twenty-first century. It is the only mass-produced car which uses a rotary engine, based on the design Felix Wankel developed in 1957. The engine uses a triangular-shaped rotor rather than reciprocating pistons to compress and ignite gasoline. The engine, which is shaped like a cocoon, is a fraction of the size of a traditional block; yet it can develop exceptional power.
When I was a kid growing up in the 1960s, the Wankel engine was big news. I remember seeing one on display at the 1964 World Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York, and I also remember seeing its first production application, in the Mazda Cosmo 110S. I was amazed that such a small engine could produce so much power. Frankly, I still am.
Even after the advent of computer controls, the rotary engine continues to outperform other engines of its size in terms of horsepower and torque. For example, the 1.5 liter engine is the Mazda2 develops 100 horsepower, as opposed to 232 horsepower from the 1.3-liter rotary Mazda RX-8 engine.
There is a downside to the engine: that being fuel economy. In order to produce adequate power for a 3100 pound car, the rotary engine revs very high: about 3500-4000 rpm under normal driving conditions. Fuel economy for the test car is about 18 miles-per-gallon on average, and the high-revving engine requires premium gasoline.
Three available grades
Mazda refreshed the RX-8 coupe’s styling for the 2009 model year. The two-plus-two comes in three grades: Sport, Grand Touring and the RX-8 R3.
The test car is the upscale Grand Touring model, equipped with a six-speed manual transmission. All grades are also available with a six-speed automatic transmission and paddle shifters, though the engine on those models is slightly detuned.
Base price is $32,260, not including a $795 delivery charge. Standard equipment on the rear-wheel drive Grand Sport includes 18-inch alloy wheels, dual exhaust, bi-xenon headlamps, automatic climate control, keyless entry and ignition and leather trim. Both the driver and front passenger get heated seats, and the eight-way power driver’s seat comes with three memory settings so multiple family members can share in the fun.
Unlike most coupes, the RX-8 has rear doors, so one doesn’t have to be a contortionist to get into the rear seats. Second-row seats have a surprising amount of head and legroom for a car with a 106-inch wheelbase. I was able to fit in one quite comfortably.
The RX-8’s small engine contributes to exceptional balance front-to-rear, which makes it a wonderful candidate for challenging roads. I decided to use the Bush Highway east of Phoenix for my test drive. The section of two-lane road which weaves through the western edge of the Tonto National Forest is known for its sharp turns and pitchy hills.
One of the things I love about the RX-8 is its sound, which is somewhat like a formula race car. The engine has an extremely high red line: about 9000 rpm. It can run all day at 5000 rpm- a rather high speed for a conventional engine- and not break a sweat. As a result, it’s easy to keep the engine revving high enough for peak torque, which means that acceleration at any speed is robust.
The direct drive steering system is perfectly tuned to the car, offering exceptional on-center response at speed. A four-wheel independent suspension with stabilizer bars on both axles keeps the chassis pancake flat in the corners. Taking a decreasing radius turn at over 60 miles-per-hour is a piece of cake.
A shirt-throw shift lever is delightful to use, snapping through the gears. The clutch is light enough to make the RX-8 functional in stop-and-go-traffic, with plenty of pedal feel for performance.
Visibility around the perimeter is pretty good. The side mirrors do a good job of compensating for blind spots in the back corners, despite their small size. Over-the-shoulder visibility is quite good. I had no problems monitoring traffic in adjacent lanes on the highway.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the RX-8 in firm, linear fashion.
I like the RX-8 styling as much as its performance. The v-shaped hood bump hints at the rotary engine below, while a strong shoulder gives the car a planted, athletic look. The proportions front-to-rear are very much those of a coupe, with a large hood and snub rear end.
By hinging the rear doors in the back rather than at the B pillars, designers made the most of the access and egress area to the back seats. Functional dual exhaust pipes are nice punctuation for the back of the car.
Inside, the car is surprisingly spacious. A power moonroof on the test car brings extra light into the interior.
A center console runs the length of the interior, giving both rows of passengers access to some storage and cupholders. Doors have map pockets but no bottle holders.
I found both the gauge cluster and digital display on the center stack easy to read in bright sunlight. A digital speed display in the gauge cluster is easier for the driver to read than the analog gauges. Redundant audio, Bluetooth and cruise control functions on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction.
The trunk contains an inflator kit in lieu of a spare tire to maximize space and keep weight off the chassis. The trunk is large enough to hold a couple of pieces of luggage or the weekly groceries. There is a small pass-through which allows the driver to load in some longer items such as skis. While it will not hold large items, the RX-8 has enough cargo space to function as the primary car for certain buyers.
The RX-8 comes with dual front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control. Mazda’s three year/36,000 mile comprehensive warranty includes 24-hour roadside assistance.
Mazda builds the RX-8 at its Hiroshima, Japan assembly plant.
Likes: A beautifully-styled and engineered sports car with a unique engine which appeals to driving enthusiasts.
Dislike: Poor fuel economy.
Model: RX-8 Grand Touring
Base price: $32,260
As tested: $33,055
Horsepower: 232 Hp @ 7500 rpm
Torque: 159 lbs.-ft. @ 5500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 16/22 mpg city/highway
One response to “2011 Mazda RX-8 Grand Touring”
John Brownlee July 31st, 2011 at 18:44
It is indeed an amazing handling car. Owned a 2005 GT 6 speed MT for 5 years and made the mistake of trading it in for a more practical V6 luxury sedan. 10 months later I am thinking of getting another 8! Test drove an 2011 model and found the changes they made to the car (Series 2) in 2009 have improved the overall driveability quite a bit. Nicely improved transmission (borrowed from the Miata no less) and better gear ratios for city driving. I even liked the new exterior upgrades more than my old 8. Sadly this is the last model year for the car — it will surely be a classic.
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