|Top speed:||235 km/h.|
|Transmission:||6 - speed manual|
|Design:||1,3 litre V2 engine|
|Maximum Bhp||231 hp / 8200 rmp|
|Tires Front:||225/40R 18W|
|Tires Back:||225/40R 18W|
The mid-level sports car field is crowded these days, with everything from Porsche to Nissan to Chrysler vying for buyer dollars. But the 2004 Mazda RX-8 stands apart for two reasons: It's the only four-door, four-passenger sports car; it's the only one powered by a small, high-revving rotary engine. Call it zoom-zoom with room-room. Prices: Mazda RX-8 six-speed manual: $26,680 base; as tested, $33,059. Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles.
Inside and outside the 2004 Mazda RX-8 you'll find little triangles. Those symbolize Mazda's rotary engine with its twin rotors that spin a circle, not ride up and down a cylinder as other engines do. The rotary, dubbed Renesis by Mazda, is of a design pioneered by German inventor Felix Wankel and boosts higher effciency in a smaller package. It revs past 9,000 rpm, puts out 238 horsepower and is virtually vibration-free. The keg-size motor displaces a mere 80 cubic inches. If there's a weak link, it's the torque: 159 ft-lb. That makes for a rather leisurely launch until rpm rises. The RX-8 comes into its own like the high-revving Honda S2000: above 6,000 rpm. The six-speed manual transmission has a short, sure throw, but is not as pleasant as the Miata unit. The clutch engages smoothly and minimum effort is needed. A large tachometer is centered in the instrument cluster viewed through the three-spoke steering wheel, but the speed is registered only as a digital readout. A CD-sized circle marks the Bose audio system location. Seats are two-toned and the back ones are really suitable only for children or tossed items. Entry to the rear is best-in-class, however, thanks to clamshell doors more often found today on trucks. The 2004 Mazda RX-8 begs to be driven hard. The rotary engine produces a unique sound and doesn't seem frightening even going past 8,000 rpm toward the 9,300 redline. The suspension is taut, but not punishing. A very high 0.91 g-force attests to the RX-8's capabilities in corners. In fact, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration recently gave the RX-8 its first ever five-star ranking for rollover resistence. That's as good as it gets and speaks to Mazda's flat cornering. Twisty roads are where this sports car can excel. In straight-line acceleration, the RX-8 will lose to competitors, taking between six and seven seconds to reach 60. And each shift drops rpm enough to be bothersome. Shifts produce both a lag and a jerk. Braking (anti-lock is standard ) is strong; steering is true. The sightline from the driver's seat is excellent to the front, thanks to those fender bulges and a sloping hood that let you see where you are at all times. Visibility to the rear is not good. Around you, there are air bags to the front and sides, plus a head curtain the length of the car. The RX-8 earned four of five stars in a frontal crash test. Expected amenities are standard, from air conditioning to cruise control. Perfect balance. That's what the 2004 Mazda RX-8 has. It balances form and function. It looks great, yet serves the needs of occupants with four doors to ease entry to the rear seats. It balances weight by placing the rotary engine rearward of the front axle and the gas tank forward of the rear axle. The whole package weighs 2,950 pounds. Nimble is a word that comes to mind to describe the tossable rear-wheel driver. Keep rpm in the upper ranges by using those six gears and all is fun. Drive in traffic with low rpm shifts and it can be docile, returning 18/24 mpg. And the price makes this a sports car bargain. The 2004 Mazda RX-8 is far better than the last RX-7, which sold back then for about $42,000 ($51,000 thanks to today's inflation). This one can be had without some beauty options to keep the price under $30,000. Is it practical? No. Adults won't be comfortable in those rear seats for long. Footroom is simply insufficient. But other sports cars don't offer as much, much less more. Combine the thrill of the rotary engine with the functionality of a four-door and you can see why buyers stood in line to be among the first to purchase one.