Mazda RX-8

The core of the RX-8 since 2003 has been its 1.3-liter twin-rotor RENESIS rotary engine. With the standard 6-speed manual transmission, the engine makes 232 hp. The optional 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters, available on the Sport and Grand Touring models, makes 212 hp. The front suspension is aluminum double wishbone, and the rear features a multi-link setup with stabilizer bars all around. Steering assistance comes from an electric motor rather than a power-steering pump for fuel savings and better feedback.

Rear passengers enter the small rear compartment using rear-hinged half-doors. The lack of a B-pillar makes this possible without compromising on safety. A series of locking pins hold the doors together and also connect them directly into the roof and floor. Six air bags are standard, as are anti-lock disc brakes with tire pressure monitoring and electronic brake distribution systems. Even the brake pedal is designed to break away in a forceful crash to avoid injuries to feet and legs.

The entry-level RX-8 Sport can be equipped with either manual or automatic transmissions, front and rear stabilizer bars and limited-slip differential for manual models. Power mirrors, doors and windows are standard, as are 18-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning with pollen filter, 6-speaker sound system, cruise control and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

The Grand Touring adds xenon HID headlights, fog lights, HomeLink, rain-sensing wipers and stability control with traction control. Inside, the stereo gets an upgrade to a Bose system, the power driver's seat has a memory function and the leather seats are heated. A DVD-based navigation system is optional. The Grand Touring gets a standard moonroof and satellite radio.

The performance-enhanced R3 has a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers and front suspension crossmembers filled with urethane foam for a more comfortable ride. The wheels are slightly larger at 19 inches and the rear has a wing-style spoiler rather than a lip spoiler. The Recaro seats in the R3 are covered in leather and cloth trim, and the Bose sound system is standard. The factory navigation system is not available for the R3.