Mazda introduced the RX-8, the successor to the popular RX-7, in 2002. After the RX-7, the Japanese automaker envisioned new releases with higher standards of quality, styling and performance to compete in the world market.
The RX-8 is styled like a sports coupe similar to its predecessor. Unlike RX-7, however, it has four doors with rear doors that you could only open from the inside once you have opened the front. This layout afforded the omission of the B-pillar between the front and rear doors, with rigidity provided by a strengthened rear door. The rear doors made entry and exit for rear passengers convenient while still providing a 2-door coupe look.
True to its design concept that started with the 1995 RX-01, which utilised a 1.3L 13B-MSP rotary engine, the design of the RX-8 and its engine was continually developed to produce the final production car. Retaining a front mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, this gave the RX-8 a near-perfect 50:50 front-rear weight distribution ratio. Add to this a price significantly lower than the RX-7, the practicality of possibly seating five adults, and the power of the rotary engine, and what you get is a car that would remain popular for years to come.
Mazda RX-8 (SE3P), 2002-2008
The RX-8 was released with several standard features for safety, convenience and enhanced performance. Dual front airbags, side front airbags and head airbags provided protection in the event of a collision. For convenience, the RX-8 had air conditioning, central locking with remote, power steering, power windows and power mirrors. Traction control, ABS, dynamic stability control, cruise control and traction control system were also standard for driver assistance.
Power was provided by the 1.3L rotary Renesis 13B-MSP (141 kW/ 222 N⋅m) with either a 6-speed manual gearbox or 4-speed automatic transmission. This upgraded engine boasts of improved fuel economy and reduced emissions which were the drawbacks of Wankel rotary engines. Although the exact displacement of the engine is only 1.3L because of its rotary design, the 2-rotor engine on the RX-8 displaces the equivalent of a 2.6L four-stroke piston engine in one output shaft rotation. Being a rotary engine, the whole 2-rotor 13B only weighed 112 kg which is considerably lighter than an equivalent piston-driven engine.
By using aluminium and plastic body panels, Mazda was able to reduce the overall weight of the car. The manual gearbox model was equipped with a composite carbon fibre driveshaft to decrease the rotational mass further. Handling and performance were assisted by the standard limited-slip differential with front double wishbones and rear multi-link suspension systems.
A special edition called Revelation was marketed in Australia in 2006, with production limited to 100 units. These cars featured standard equipment upgrades like the nine-speaker Bose sound system, dynamic stability control, upgraded anti-roll bars, foam-filled cross members and other colour and trims that were unique to this special edition.
For the 2008 model year in Australia, Mazda offered a 40th Anniversary edition to mark the 40th-year milestone of the Mazda rotary engine. This version was available worldwide with market-dependent variations and equipped with a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein dampers and 10-spoke, 18-inch wheels that later became standard from the 2009 facelift.
The Japanese market produced a special version in 2003 called the Mazdaspeed. It came with a performance package that incorporated suspension upgrades together with performance exhausts, lightened flywheel, re-balanced eccentric shafts, performance brake pads, adjustable coil-over suspension, and an improved aerodynamic body kit. These performance packages were eventually sold worldwide as option packages for the standard RX-8s.
Mid-Cycle Refresh, 2008-2012
A mid-cycle refresh or facelift was incorporated starting 2008 and featured external changes in the headlights, front bumpers with a redesigned grille and rear bumpers. The significant change was in the mechanicals, which received an enhanced version of the same engine and was now producing 170 kW of power and torque of 211 N⋅m. Transmission options were the 6-speed automatic or the 6-speed manual gearbox.
Depending on the trim levels, the wheels slightly varied in design depending on the size. Rear spoilers gave it a sportier appearance. The GT and Luxury trims, on the other hand, received upgraded interiors.
Notable for the mid-cycle refresh was the Spirit R limited edition, primarily sold in Japan with a few units released in Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. It was offered with either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic with paddle shifter. These cars received a thoroughly reworked engine that produced 177 kW of power and torque of 216 N⋅m, making this the most powerful RX-8 that ever came out of their factory. In addition to the reworked engine, these cars also came with options for 19-inch wheels, body kit, front fog lights, racing sports seats, and Xenon headlights. The bonnet, rear doors and boot lid were made from aluminium with numerous other high-performance upgrades incorporated to decrease the overall weight and improve handling. Tests on the Spirit R showed an acceleration time (0-100 km/h) of 5.7 seconds, 0.3 second faster than the base RX-8 and could reach a top speed of 270 km/h.
The Wankel rotary engine has always been known to be a fuel-guzzler and produced high emissions. In 2010, the RX-8 failed the emissions standards in Europe and stricter standards in other parts of the world. Mazda discontinued production and, eventually, the sales ceased by 2012.
Will there be a new rotary-powered Mazda in the future?
The rotary engine has been applauded for its ability to produce massive power despite a displacement of only 1.3L. Yet, high fuel consumption and emissions continue to be the engine's weakness. With Mazda's cutting-edge technologies, however, there’s a good chance that it will soon roll out another performance car powered by a rotary engine. Or possibly, further development of the twin-rotor Wankel rotary engine that uses hydrogen as fuel (Hydrogen RE Hybrid) coupled to an electric motor.
Being the last of the rotary-powered sports cars from Mazda, the RX-8 is sought-after by collectors and enthusiasts. If you own one, maintain it well to preserve its market value and extend its serviceable years. Find replacement parts from Carpart, a website that prides itself as one of the best sources of high-quality auto parts and accessories in Australia.