The technical highlight of Mazda's RX-8 is its rotary power. The tiny 1.3-liter engine produces 238 horsepower, enough to launch the light Mazda from 0 to 60 in a little less than 6 seconds. Although there's enough power on tap, the modest torque won't snap your head back. In fact, this is an engine that requires just the right gear selection to maximize its efficiency.
The rotary sensation isn't about stump-pulling torque or tire smoking--it's about enjoying the turbine whine and smooth acceleration. For most adult enthusiasts, this is not a difficult taste to acquire. And the six-speed manual transmission has close ratios to match the RX-8's engine speed with the requirements of spirited driving.
Mazda has given the low torque a boost by using a fairly high rear-axle ratio. At highway speeds, the little rotor is humming at 4,000rpm, a speed that invites an upshift in most new cars. But the higher engine speed is neither harsh nor obtrusive to driving enjoyment; it just extracts a fuel economy penalty. The RX-8 gets an EPA rating of 18mpg in the city and 24mpg on the highway. By comparison, an eight-cylinder Corvette gets 18mpg and 28mpg for city and highway, respectively.
The Mazda RX-8's greatest contribution to safety is its ability to avoid that lumbering SUV driven by an avid conversationalist. The vehicle's perfect balance is complemented with independent double-wishbone suspension up front and multilink in the rear. Big antilock disc brakes with vented rotors and electronic-brake assist bring the 3,029-pound coupe to a quick stop, and the electric-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is precise. If a collision is unavoidable, the RX-8 protects its occupants with a steel safety cage and dual-stage front air bags supplemented with side air bags mounted in the seat backs.
There are lots of sport cars vying for attention in today's market. The average buyer in this category wants a combination of high style and performance. Mazda delivers a nice balance of those attributes at an affordable price along with a four-year/50,000-mile warranty for peace of mind.