For the past seven days, I've been tooling around the Los Angeles area in a 2010 Mazda RX-8 R3. Even seven years after it was introduced, the RX-8 is still one of the most unique cars on the road, and despite some drawbacks, it offers a driving experience to match.
Prior to this it'd been a long time since I've driven a rotary-powered to car, so I was quite giddy when I got the keys to the Velocity Red Eight. Not that the normal RX-8 is a mainstream car, but the R3 is the choice for enthusiasts, offering upgraded suspension with Bilstein shocks, forged 19" wheels, and unique exterior and interior pieces.
After letting the car warm up, watching the redline gradually move up to it's 9000rpm point after a couple minutes, I stabbed the throttle for a quick burst up the street. There wasn't a whole lot of power (the 1.3L Renesis is rated at 232hp and 159 ft lbs of torque), but the power delivery, and the sound of the engine are awesome. It was something I'd become addicted to over the following week…
And unfortunately, the temptation to rev the rotary leads to a big penalty at the gas pump. The car is rated by the EPA at 16MPG in the city and 22MPG on the highway, but that's with conservative driving – something very hard to do with a rotary so willing to rev. With the way the car drinks premium fuel, I have to say there were times I wished for more power. This chassis would be magical with another 50-60hp.
Still, the car is a hoot to drive – and the response is unparalleled. Last Saturday afternoon I took the RX-8 for a cruise on the famed Mullholland Drive to get an idea of it's driving dynamics.
In most cases the road was too deteriorated, and the traffic too dense to do much spirited driving, but it was still great fun hustling the car through the corners – even at legal speeds.
There are also plenty of great views to enjoy up on Mullholland. This is looking out on the San Fernando Valley to the north.
…I even did a bit of car-spotting up there. One find was this vintage Alfa.
Along with this well-used 911. And I thought the RX-8 was a fairly compact car…
Even with the traffic and obliterated road surfaces, there's something about special Mullholland Drive. You can almost sense the spirits of Hollywood's playboys blasting around the curves in their sleek machines…
I spent a lot of time driving the RX-8 on the freeway, and found that like most cars with serious suspension – it's not the smoothest riding vehicle. Then again, I'm used to driving modified cars so it wasn't a big deal for me.
Besides its rotary power, one of the RX-8's most distinct features is the rear doors, which give it added practicality over other cars in its class.
None of my friends wanted to squeeze back there try it out though. Maybe I should find some shorter friends? I imagine it'd come in handy for small children though.
Without a doubt my favorite part of the R3 package is the Recaro seats. They look awesome, and a do a fine job of keeping you in place.
They were a little tight for my frame at first, but I got used to them after a while. You wouldn't think seats like this would be approved for a US market car, but it goes to show the Mazda is serious about the driving experience. You have to respect that.
The big 19" forged wheels also got a lot a compliments, with the gunmetal finish standing nicely against the red body.
What I like most about the RX-8 is it's character. The looks, the sound, the tight feel of the six-speed. It doesn't feel like your typical sports coupe, because it's not.
While rolling through some the ritzy areas of LA I even noticed a few Porsche and Ferrari drivers giving the RX-8 some approving looks. I'm not sure if that would happen in a run-of-the-mill G35.
So, if you can live with the car's thirst for fuel and lack of big horsepower, the RX-8 R3 offers one the most engaging drives around.
Here's hoping Mazda will bring more of the same with its next rotary sports car, hopefully with a little extra power for good measure.