NEW FOR 2008:

– Exterior colours: Phantom Blue Mica deleted

For 2008, the Mazda RX-8 is virtually unchanged. Base prices rise by $100 over 2007 levels.

Unique in the North American marketplace, the RX-8 uses a 1.3-litre rotary engine, also known as a Wankel engine, for its inventor, Felix Wankel. With the standard six-speed manual transmission, the engine develops 232 horsepower; mated to an optional six-speed automatic, horsepower drops to 212, although both configurations make 159 lb-ft of torque.

Although the RX-8 looks like a coupe, it has small, rear-hinged rear doors, which can only be operated when the front doors are open. A full-length console makes it a four-seater. Trim lines are the GS and GT

Features on the GS include 18-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, front and rear stabilizer bars, heated mirrors, headlight washers, fog lamps, variable intermittent wipers, six-CD premium stereo with wheel-mounted controls, cruise control, leather-wrapped tilt wheel, power locks with keyless entry, power windows, driver’s height adjustment, floor mats, exterior temperature gauge, and engine immobilizer. Models with the six-speed manual include limited-slip rear differential and aluminum foot pedals.

The GT adds stability and traction control, self-levelling Xenon headlamps, keyless start, auto-dimming rearview mirror, garage door opener, eight-way power driver’s seat, heated leather seats, and anti-theft alarm. A power sunroof can be added as an option.

The RX-8’s engine uses triangular rotors turning in a chamber to spin the driveshaft; its main advantage is horsepower well beyond its displacement. Mazda first used a rotary engine in 1967 and is the only company offering a production version today. The horsepower difference between the two transmissions is largely due to different intake port configuration, and a higher redline with the manual. However, rotary engines also have disadvantages, including higher fuel consumption, cold-weather starting problems, and high oil consumption – the owner’s manual recommends checking the oil at every second fuel fill-up. Some drivers complain that the car’s relative light weight makes it a poor choice for driving in snow.

It’s an impressive machine, with almost 50/50 weight distribution, direct steering, flat cornering, and brisk acceleration. The engine is dead-calm smooth, since there’s no reciprocating piston movement. Styling cues inside and outside mimic the triangular rotary design, and the interior is beautifully finished – save for an ugly handbrake lever that sticks up even when the brake is off – and cradles four passengers in nicely-bolstered and very comfortable seats.

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