Monday, February 7, 2011

2004 Mazda RX-8 - Long Term Test

Mazda discontinued their very popular and refined RX7 because of the difficulty they had meeting ever tightening emissions standards with the very peculiar "Rotary" engine the car was famous for. The RX7 was priced to compete with Corvettes, Porsche 911s  and Honda NSXs. The market was shrinking and the high development costs it would take to refresh the RX7 to remain competitive led to its demise in 2002. Mazda did not want to lose their "Zoom Zoom" sporty persona and had another car in development scheduled for release in 2003 in Japan. The car in question, the new RX8, could be considered an improved RX7 on some fronts, but enthusiast have always considered it to be a watered down version. A mixed drink in comparison to a shot of Jack Daniels if you would? The new car (scheduled for release in 2004 outside Japan) would be a true sports car without any of the usual drawbacks offering compromises for day to day use.

The true genius of the car that made it to production was the rear half doors that allowed easy access to decent sized rear seats. This level of practicality has never been available in a sports car before. Where the RX7 had a twin turbo 2 rotor "Wankel" rotary engine producing 276hp, the new RX8 came equipped with a naturally aspirated 1300cc 2 rotor version. This new engine produced 197hp(4spd. auto)-238hp(6spd. manual) in North America. Named "Renesis" (Rotary-Genesis) due to how Mazda engineers went back to basics and re-thought every aspect of how a traditional rotary worked. The break-through that occurred was the relocation of the ports inside the engine. By placing them on the side of the rotors and not around the circumference, efficiency was improved and emissions drastically reduced. Rotary engines are known for being able to rev tremendously high and with buttery smoothness. This was not lost in development and the "Renesis" engine has a rev limiter set at an astronomical 10,000rpm. The engines ability to rev allows the final drive ratio for the car to be 4.444 to 1. This roughly translates to a 238hp car being able to keep up with a 300hp car at virtually every speed in the upper limits of each cars respective rpm range. At the time of the RX8's development the CEO of Mazda was a former race car driver and he would not settle for a car that handled well. It had to handle great. The first step to achieving this is reducing weight. The RX8 was able to keep chassis rigidity high and keep weight around the 3000lb mark. That is very low for a modern four passenger car. The placement of weight was carefully managed as well. Perfect handling is most easily achieved in cars with even weight distribution. The compact rotary power plant was packed deep under the hood well behind the front wheels, giving the car a perfect 50/50 Front/Rear weight distribution. With some fine tuning of the suspension geometry the car was ready to hit the track and the sales floor.

        After spending six months with the RX8 the cars character remains a pleasant surprise on even the most mundane errands. The first thing you notice about the car is the chaotic lines and angles the body panels create. There are curves where there are usually sharp edges and vice-versa. The front fenders seem almost reminiscent of the C3 Corvette. The looks of the car are not anything to write home about but after some time around the car they really do begin to infect your judgment. The only line that still perplexes me is the profile of the rear windshield. Its angle doesn't seem to fit with rest of the car. Perhaps a hatch-back rear windshield carried over from the RX7 would have worked.

It is the details in the design that Mazda can be proud of. The complexity of the tail/head lamps is definitely something that takes time to appreciate. This car has aged well and will be a classic even if it's not to the extent of the RX7.

        Stepping into the RX8 is something that points out how much Mazda wanted to impress. The design is welcoming and comfortable, yet isn't soft or boring. It feels like sitting in a brand new Rawlings baseball glove. The center console is a piano black glossy finish that leaves something to be desired with its shape. The big circular radio seems out of place even in a "rotary" powered car. The rotary influences that are well integrated are found in the "rotor" shape of the shift knob and of the hole in the headrests. Turning the key awakens the mysterious and magical engine which quickly settles to a futuristic "Wurring" idle under the hood. The gauges light up and present their simple layout. A big tachometer stands front and center with a digital speedometer in the un-used corner, perfect for quick glance readings. Analog fuel level, oil pressure and water temperature gauges grace the adjoining readouts. The location of the racing inspired billet pedals is ideal, especially for those that are familiar with heel-toe downshifting. The touch points are all made of high quality leather and billet which never fails to make the car feel more expensive. Some of the interior panels come up a bit short on reliability as the hard plastics on the transmission tunnel and glove box door seem to scratch easily. The 7 year old interior has stood the test of time well as everything works as it did new. The 9 speaker BOSE stereo still pounds out the tunes from an in-dash 6 CD changer and all the climate controls work great. None of the button/control markings show any signs of wear either. The higher transmission console gets in the way with larger objects some times and the opening in the rear seats to trunk is barely able to swallow a set of skis. Sorry to disappoint those of you that were considering the car for use as a cargo carrier but the trunk is below average as well. The seats are nicely adjustable and allow for anyone under 6'2 to fit comfortably. The rear seats are very accessible in comparison to other sports cars and they are quite roomy for the most part. Adults in the rear may have to sever their feet to fit in if a corresponding front passenger happens to be tall. The interior is where the owner spends the majority of there time with their car and the Mazda RX8 is a winner in that department on showmanship points alone.


        Releasing the emergency brake and engaging first is when the true nature of the RX8 zoom zooms to life. The shifter of this 7 year old car has a feel that is better than 99% of cars available today. It has positive engagement, great location, short throw and smooth operation. The emergency brake could just as easily be referred to as a "Drift engagement lever" due to its great "rally car-esk" positioning. Every trip in the car, no matter how old and fragile the passengers, always led me to a quick apex clipping corner and a stab of the throttle before shifting late. The RX8 is set up so superbly and has such an engaging drive that it never fails to bring a smile to the drivers face. The low gearing  and the willing revs of the engine are great for disguising the car briefly as a race car. Below 6,000rpm the car still pulls hard despite its low torque figures (169ft.lbs), which is nice for daily driving. The car sounds and feels nearly as racey below that 6,000rpm without destroying speed limits. It is definitively capable of breaking all speed limits known in North America when its in 8,000-10,000rpm sweet zone. The motor is so smooth Mazda has integrated a beep that sounds through the stereo at 9000rpm so the driver realizes shifting should soon follow. As for 0-60 times: after being driven for 7 years the numbers are oddly better than new. This RX8 remains stock but rotaries are rumored to improve power output slightly with age and proper maintenance. I measured a 0-60 time of 5.9 seconds and new the RX8 was listed around 6.5 seconds. Confused as to whether this was true or not I dug up this long term test from car and driver and they experienced the exact same phenomena: http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/car/05q3/2004_mazda_rx-8-long-term_road_test . The cornering of the car is great and precise even after the amount of time the chassis and suspension have been fighting with pot holes. Power slides are effortless and are as controllable as ever. It conjures up the teenager within when the rain/snow starts to fall.
November 26th the car saw its first snowfall. By February, 112cm had fallen.
       Owners will quickly halt all immature driving when they make their first trip to the tire shop. After 45,000kms the car needed a new set of shoes and the OEM Bridgestones cost roughly $2000 CAD to replace. The typical service at Mazda done every 3months costs $49 and includes a top up of all the fluids under the hood and an oil change. Many rotary owners report flooding their cars after shutting down the motor before it has a chance to warm up and lean out the fuel mixture. The situation requires a tow to Mazda in some cases and is a major inconvenience regardless. With the knowledge of this possibility I have avoided the issue by not shutting down the car when cold. Another interesting thing about rotary engines is how they have no internals that aren't part of the combustion chamber and therefore need oil carefully injected in to cool and protect moving components. Mazda techs recommend a top of with "conventional only" oil every second tank of gas. I found that the car uses roughly 1/3 of a quart between services at Mazda but it does vary based on the driving conditions. The fuel consumption is best described as dismal. The 1,300cc motor got me around in the 3029lb RX8 with an SUV-like average of 14.1L/100km (16.7MPG US). Mazda also recommends premium grade fuel for the RX8. Mazda issued a warranty extension on the internal components of the engine for all RX8s. Now warranty coverage is to 8 years 160,000kms meaning that virtually all RX8's will be covered until September of this year. Reliability overall has been nearly flawless. In 7 years and 56,000kms the only issue that has presented itself is the bottom two lines of the rear defroster have stopped melting ice. Seeing as the rear spoiler blocks that portion of view anyways, so it is of no concern. I do feel guilty putting such a well sorted sports car through a rough Atlantic Canada winter but it has taken it in stride. With a good set of Dunlop Graspic winter tires and steelies($1300CAN) the car has only gotten stuck as a result of the lump of meat in the driver seat getting over confident negotiating a snow plows mess.

        The car is usable as a daily driver and its quirky needs are easily manageable when compared to the rewards. The motor is heavenly smooth and power delivery is uniquely satisfying. (I once drove in 4th gear on the highway at 6500rpm for over 10min before I realized what gear I was in). The driving dynamics that make any great sports car enjoyable are present in this car. For someone to fully understand why it is worth dealing with the horrendous mileage and potential for flooding I can only recommend a test drive. You will understand. It is a great car regardless of its finicky nature and short fuse motor. I love it and recommend driving one.....but I wouldn't recommend one to a friend I care about. I give the car an 8.5/10

6 comments:

  1. back seat is a little squishy!!!!!! and if your a tall guy not much head room! still a chick magnet though!!!!

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  2. This particular vehicle has the optioned 8 way power adjustable drivers seat and at 5'11" I have about 2" of head room. I would suggest no one over 6'2" consider the vehicle or 6' if you're going to track the car and need a helmet. The back seat is "cozy" and pinches the toes more than anything. By going as a 2+2 and avoiding a 5th center seat Mazda ensured shoulder/hip room in the back is generous considering the car's competition.

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  3. Find all types of powerful Xenon Fog Lights, Led Driving Lamps, Xenon Fog Lamps, Car Fog Lamps, Led Fog Lamps, Halo Fog Lamps and kits for higher visibility. Driving during very dark nights may also require one to use fog lamps.

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  4. this car is really awesome good shape and the rims are much attractive.

    22 inch rims

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  5. Great review! I'm planning to buy a car next month because my car is too old and I think I really need to buy a new. I think this car is perfect for me. Thank you for sharing!

    http://www.swengines.com/Engines/Mazda~motors/

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  6. Thanks a lot for sharing such a nice information and you have made a good review. Old cars are always better than new cars that is available today. But before buying a old car, one must evaluate the car in a right way. This Valuation of Old Car is done either by using old car valuation tool or by car technicians. After doing an evaluation, the buyer gets an idea and makes it easier to fix a price for it.

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