For 2007, changes to the Mazda RX-8 are strictly cosmetic. New exterior colours are Crystal White Pearl, Phantom Blue Mica and Stormy Blue Mica, while Snowflake White Pearl is retired; new interior Sand leather replaces Black/Saddle Brown and Black/Red leather.
Unique in the North American marketplace, the RX-8 uses a 1.3-litre rotary engine (also known as a Wankel, for its inventor), mated to a six-speed manual transmission. In this configuration, it makes 232 hp; when joined to an optional six-speed automatic, horsepower drops to 212. Torque remains the same for both, at 159 lb-ft.
Trim lines are the GS and GT. Although the RX-8 looks like a coupe, it actually has four doors; the back ones are rear-hinged, and can only be opened once the front doors are opened. A full-length console accommodates seating for four.
Features on the GS include four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, 18-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension, strut tower bar, headlamp washers, fog lights, variable intermittent wipers, six-CD Bose stereo with nine speakers, cruise control, air conditioning, power locks with keyless entry, manual driver’s height adjuster, leather-wrapped wheel, side and curtain airbags, and aluminum pedals on manual-equipped cars.
The GT adds dynamic stability control, traction control, self-levelling Xenon headlamps, Intelligent Key keyless entry and ignition, auto-dimming rearview mirror, garage door opener, eight-way power driver’s seat, heated leather seats, and anti-theft alarm. Optional on the GT only are a power sunroof and navigation system.
The RX-8’s engine uses triangular rotors turning in a chamber to spin the driveshaft. Its main advantage is horsepower that’s well beyond its displacement; Mazda, which first used the system in its 1967 Cosmo Sport, offers the only production rotary today. The horsepower difference with the two transmissions is largely due to different intake port configuration, and to a redline that’s 7500 rpm with the automatic, and 9000 rpm with the manual. Disadvantages to a rotary include higher fuel consumption, higher oil consumption (the owner’s manual recommends checking it at every second fuel fill-up) and a tendency to not always start right away in cold weather.
It’s impossible to drive the RX-8 without being impressed by it; it has almost 50/50 weight distribution, direct steering, flat cornering, and galloping acceleration. Because there’s no reciprocating piston movement, the engine is dead-calm smooth.
Styling cues both inside and outside mimic the triangular rotary design; the elegant interior is marred by an ugly handbrake lever that sticks up even when the brake is off. The six-speed comes with aluminum pedals that look great, but are slippery with wet shoes. Some owners claim that the car’s relatively lightweight design doesn’t perform well on snowy roads and that, combined with its dislike of cold-weather starting, means that many of these end up in the garage in areas where winter means foul weather. Come spring, though, this is one fast and fun ride.