2005 Mazda RX-8 Special Edition
Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Russell Purcell

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a week with one of my favourite cars, Mazda’s innovative four-door sports coupe, the RX-8. This wasn’t just any garden variety RX-8, however, but the much-anticipated RX-8 Special Edition.

What makes it special?

The SE rides on lightweight, bright-finished, 18-inch alloy wheels with a unique five-spoke design, and fitted with high-performance, low-profile tires. A rear lip spoiler sits at the edge of the trunk, and both front and rear lamp units feature chrome bezels.

2005 Mazda RX-8 Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

The SE appearance package continues on the inside, where unique beige leather seats and matching door inserts give the interior the high-contrast look of a show car. The twin console lids, parking brake lever and steering wheel all get supple leather covers, with high contrast stitching. The three-spoke steering wheel retains the onboard controls for both the audio and cruise control systems, which are surrounded by “piano black” caps. This high-gloss black plastic looks very sharp and continues down both sides of the centre console. A unique silver plate shifter knob falls readily to hand and features simple black markings on its face. The rest of the styling is shared with other RX-8 models and includes lightweight drilled foot pedals and a high-performance, nine-speaker, six-disc/AM/FM audio system engineered by Bose.

Unique design

While many enthusiasts will recognize the RX nameplate from Mazda’s sporting past, the RX-8 has very little in common with the potent twin-turbo RX-7 last seen in 1995.

2005 Mazda RX-8 Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

Sure, the RX-8 features sexy curves and a rotary engine, but this new model offers up four doors and room for rear-seat passengers, providing they’re shorter.

Mazda RX-8 owners will have to defend classifying it as a sports car, as the presence of four doors and a fairly large back seating area shouts sports sedan, while the look screams sports coupe. Some time behind the wheel will leave no doubt that the RX-8 is a sports car.


Performance

2005 Mazda RX-8 Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

One advantage of being an automotive journalist is that my early-morning skips to work are never boring, as each test vehicle offers its own merits to explore. In the case of the RX-8 SE, however, I tended to take the long route to work.

My test vehicle’s six-speed manual transmission was a bit notchy at first, but as I was one of the first lucky souls to get to test this car, I have no doubt it will emerge as slick-shifting as that in previous RX-8s I have had the pleasure of driving.

The large, 10,000 rpm tachometer takes centre stage as it stares you in the face through the opening in the steering wheel. A small digital display contained within projects your speed in a bold but simple manner. This is the kind of layout you might find in a racing car, as it is an effective means to keep tabs on the mechanical chaos taking place under the hood.

2005 Mazda RX-8 Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

The RX-8 likes to be driven hard. Acceleration is swift, and shift points kissing the car’s 8,500 rpm redline are required if you want to make full use of the car’s potential. Even with a full compliment of passengers, the car feels sprightly, so much so that you would swear it had more than 238 ponies on tap.

Mazda’s design team ensured that the RX-8 would offer responsive handling and excellent road holding by maintaining the RX-7’s compact dimensions and near perfect 50:50 weight distribution (52.2 per cent front/47.8 per cent rear), as well as a low centre of gravity. The car responds to steering inputs like a go-kart, tracks true, and threads corners like it is on rails. The subtle squeal from the grippy rubber and the raspy tone of the engine kept me and my various passengers enthralled over the course of my week behind the wheel.


The good stuff

2005 Mazda RX-8 Special Edition

2005 Mazda RX-8 Special Edition

2005 Mazda RX-8 Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

Mazda is now the only manufacturer in the world to embrace the rotary engine, a clever design which allows for a much smaller but higher-revving engine. There are drawbacks, however, as rotary engines typically have a greater thirst for fuel and oil, as well as an increase in emissions. Mazda engineers tackled these issues during development of the latest RENESIS rotary (which debuted with the RX-8 in 2003), and their diligence paid off in two ways. The new engine meets the world’s toughest emission standards, while still meeting all the performance and economy numbers set by the design team. In fact, the RENESIS proved to be so well-engineered that it won the 2003 International Engine of the Year award at Engine Expo 2003.


Futuristic styling

When you first approach an RX-8, it looks very organic and muscular. The car’s body lines feature a host of rounded shapes and swooping curves that sit atop four large 18-inch wheels. The small greenhouse gives way to a long, forward-sloping hood cascading between upswept pontoon fenders that bookend its wide nose. High-intensity headlights are contained within a pair of narrow parallelograms that look like menacing eyes above the wide mouth of the front grille. The car looks like something from the future. A hint of the Batmobile can be seen in the long hood, while subtle reminders of the last RX-7 swell from the wheel wells and tapered tail.


Is it a coupe or a sedan?

2005 Mazda RX-8 Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

The biggest surprise comes from the fact that the RX-8 has four doors: two normal doors, as well as two suicide-type half-doors fitted with hidden handles and pop-out windows. The presence of four doors does not make a sedan, however, as the two rear occupants will definitely know that they are riding in a sporty machine by the exhaust tone and high-pitched scream of the engine.

There is no centre pillar, so ingress and egress through the wide door opening is effortless. Once seated in the back compartment, passengers will be surprised by the amount of space, as long as they stand less than six feet tall. The stretched roofline is no doubt responsible for this amazing roominess. The centre console continues through the car, dividing the space into four distinct zones, but also making each passenger feel more a part of the car.

The seating position is low but comfortable, and all switchgear and instrumentation falls readily to hand and eye. The pedals are well placed for heel-and-toe driving, and visibility is excellent as the long hood quickly drops away.

2005 Mazda RX-8 Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

Cargo room is minimal, as would be expected in any sporty car. The trunk is large enough for a couple of golf bags or your luggage for a weekend excursion, while small storage bins and cubbies are strewn throughout the cabin. Unfortunately, the rear seats do not fold down, but there is a pass-through behind the centre armrest to allow for longer items to be transported in the trunk.


Design cues

2005 Mazda RX-8 Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

Mazda is proud of its success with rotary engines and chose to emphasize this by incorporating rotor emblems throughout the car. The most noticeable resides on the hood, where a large centre recess mimics the design of the RENESIS engine cover housed beneath it. Rotor-shaped plated bezels fill seat cut-outs and add a sporty touch to the cockpit, as does the rotor-emblazoned short-shift shifter knob.

2005 Mazda RX-8 Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

The unique Black Cherry exterior paint looks black in low-light situations, but becomes a spectacular cherry red when soaked in the sun or cast on by headlights.

A sporty instrument cluster competes for your attention with a clever layout for the HVAC controls and nine-speaker Bose audio system. This car “rocks” in more ways than one.


Decisions, Decisions

If the RX-8 SE is a little too flashy for your liking, there are two other trim packages available, the GS and GT. The GS arrives with manually-adjustable cloth seats as standard equipment, but the rest of the list is generous.

2005 Mazda RX-8 Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

For the relatively low price of $36,895, the RX-8 offers luxuries such as cruise control, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, air conditioning, power locks and windows, remote keyless entry, engine immobilizer, and 18-inch alloy wheels. Safety features such as four-wheel anti-lock brakes, front and side-curtain airbags, fog lights and headlight cleaners are also standard.

Stepping up to the GT ($39,695) adds heated leather seating surfaces (two-tone on certain colours), an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror, anti-theft alarm system, auto-levelling Xenon headlights and Mazda’s capable dynamic stability and traction control. A limited-slip rear differential is standard on all manual transmission cars, as well as on the automatic-equipped GT. If you need to feel the wind in your hair, a power moon roof is available as an option ($1,000), as is a navigation system ($3,000).


Safety First

2005 Mazda RX-8 Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

For the most part, modern automobiles are safer than they have ever been, but high-performance models require that safety takes an even more prominent place in the design. Mazda has equipped the RX-8 with big four-wheel disc brakes with both ABS and electronic brake force distribution; dynamic stability and traction control (DSC) is standard on GT and SE models to help keep this rocket ship under control.

Dual-stage front airbags, dual front side airbags and front and rear side curtain bags will activate in the event of a collision or rollover. At this price point, this is an incredible value.


Conclusions

The 2005 Mazda RX-8 SE is one unique automobile, offering sexy styling, sports car performance and the practicality of a four-door sedan – and a surprisingly low price.


Technical Data:

Base price $40,995
Freight $925
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $42,020
Type 4-door, 4-passenger sports sedan
Layout Front engine/rear-wheel-drive
Engine 1.3-litre, 2-rotor rotary
Horsepower 238 @ 8500 rpm
Torque 159 @ 5500 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Tires 225/45 R18 performance tires
Wheelbase 2700 mm (106.4 in.)
Length 4424 mm (174.3 in.)
Width 1771 mm (69.7 in.)
Height 1340 mm (52.8 in.)
Cargo capacity 290 litres (10.2 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 12.8 L/100 km (22 mpg Imperial)
  Hwy: 9.2 L/100 km (31 mpg Imperial)
Warranty 3 yrs/ 80,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

Connect with Autos.ca