The RX-8 was a great car. We've talked about it before so it's no secret how we feel. It achieved critical acclaim around the world, winning over 37 international awards. It won the 2004 U.S. Best Sports Car and was named Car and Driver’s “Ten Best” list in 2004, 2005, and 2006. The RX-8 won first place on the “Four of a Kind” comparison test held by Car and Driver magazine. In 2010, the RX-8 came in in 3rd place, out of 7 as one of Car and Driver’s “The Best Handling Car in America for Less Than $100,000.” Yet somehow, the RX-8 got canceled, and (as far as we know) there are no plans to bring it back.
When you consider that sports coupes similar to the RX-8 Mazda are increasingly popular (cars like the Subaru’s BRZ, Ford Mustang, the Hyundai Genesis) - and that these cars are selling at a steady pace, it's hard to understand why Mazda can't bring back the RX-8.
Here's why the old RX-8 was so popular, and why Mazda needs to replace it ASAP.
The RX-8 Was Special
Offered by Mazda from 2004 to 2011, the RX-8's main claim to fame was its innate "fun to drive" quality. When drivers slid behind the wheel, they often compared the experience to driving a race car. While not the most powerful sports coupe on the road - the rotary engine produced only 159lb-ft of torque - the car's combination of handling, excellent feel, and the engine's relatively flat torque curve in the top half of the RPM range made it a blast to drive.
The RX-8 was powered by a lightweight, 1.3-liter RENESIS rotary engine that maxed out at 9,000 RPM (assuming you had a stickshift). With a max of 232hp, the RX-8 wasn't winning many drag races, but it's not as if the car wasn't fast. After all, it only weighed 3100lbs (depending on equipment). What's more, the combination of the high-revving motor and the close-ratio 6-speed manual created a unique driving experience.
As mentioned, the real-wheel drive RX-8 was a wonderful car in the corners. With a double-wishbone suspension up front and a multi-link rear, a low curb weight (3,064 to 3,111lbs), a perfect 50/50 front and rear weight distribution, and a low center of gravity (the lightweight engine helped), the car was quick in the corners.
Finally, no discussion of the RX-8 should neglect the vehicle's unique design inside and out:
- In order to minimize weight, Mazda employed plastic and aluminum throughout the vehicle body
- All four doors were rear-hinged, making rear-seat access considerably easier than similar-sized rivals
- The back seat offered a usable amount of space, not just a place to put your coat and briefcase
- The striking exterior's flowing curves laid the groundwork for all of Mazda's designs up to the present day
Despite the $26,435 to $32,960 asking price, the RX-8 looked exotic and exclusive.
The End Of The RX-8 And The Beginning Of The RX-9
Mazda's rotary engine offered two big advantages over comparable, standard 4-stroke gas engines - smooth power delivery and a high revving engine - but it had two big shortcomings: emissions and fuel economy. This is because the Wankel rotary engine is inherently less efficient than other engine designs. As a result, looming emissions regulations and fuel economy mandate led Mazda to cancel the low-volume vehicle in 2010 (not to mention, there was a global financial meltdown in 2008 that definitely didn't help sales).
But fuel economy rules and emissions regulations just might be the RX-8's salvation, assuming it's reincarnated as a hybrid engined RX-9. It's been rumored that Mazda is going to offer a combination hybrid/rotary-powered coupe, and it's been announced that Toyota and Mazda will be sharing hybrid technology, fuel cell technology, and more. Finally, we know that the RX-8 and MX-5 shared a platform, and Mazda has a shiny new iteration of the MX-5 that should be easily adapted for use as an RX-9.
A combination rotary/electric powertrain could be just what the new RX-9 needs to be a success. The electric motor could provide more low-end torque than the standard rotary, while the high-revving rotary could provide all the power once revs hit 4,000 or so. That might make for a faster RX that's also fuel-efficient and emissions compliant.
But whatever Mazda decides to do, we hope they decide to do it quickly. The world needs a new RX.