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A UNIQUE BLEND

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, Apr 18, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Mazda RX-8

A UNIQUE BLEND By HARVEY SCHWARTZ

Mazda engineers and stylists have a long history in the sports car segment, starting with the Cosmo Sport, RX-7 and MX-5 Miata, and have now taken the sports car as we know it into another realm. The all-new RX-8 branches off the 2-door, 2-seat sports car tree by offering the first sports car with 4-seats and 4-doors, plus the RX-8 is the only sports car in the world not powered by a piston engine. Thanks to the compact dimensions of its new RENESIS rotary engine, the RX-8 has virtually the same exterior dimensions as the Porsche 911 Carrera, and can accommodate 2-adults up front and 2-smaller people in the rear. Mazda says you can get 2-adults in the rear, but I don't think so (small children, yes).

© All photos by Harvey Schwartz

Mazda engineers set out to create a new sports car formula by blending three seemingly contradictory ingredients: strikingly original sports car styling, a superior blend of sports car handling, and performance, ride comfort and practicality for four people. One of the key factors in achieving these goals is RENESIS, a new-generation twin-rotor Mazda rotary engine that is smaller and lighter than the company's previous rotary, but produces even more power. Because it has a new side-intake and side-exhaust layout, the engine delivers 250 hp at 8,500 rpm and 162 lb.ft. of torque at 7,500 rpm without the weight and complexity of a turbo or supercharger, while achieving improved fuel efficiency and cleaner emissions. The new RX-8 features a sophisticated front-midship engine layout, similar to the new 350Z, as well as a freestyle, four-door configuration without a center pillar, which enables a more comfortable interior with space for four persons, while maintaining a real sports car's bold and aggressive good looks. The 50-50 front/rear weight distribution and a low yaw-inertia moment give the new RX-8 outstanding handling. I really enjoyed my test drive of the all-new RX-8. Lets take a closer look and see why the RX-8 is fun and exciting to drive.

The bold and aggressive styling is fresh and gives the viewer a dynamic feeling of motion. Exciting surfaces run from the aggressive front air intake along the body to the trunk lid, and the classic rear-wheel drive sports layout places visual emphasis on the big 18in. rear tires. Short front and rear overhangs, along with characteristic flared over-fenders, underline the vehicle's look of stability. The compact design of the RX-8's rotary engine allows for aggressive lines extending from the air intake along the low hood and power bulge in the center of the hood with a rotor as the motif. The uniquely designed HID headlamp clusters are behind clear lenses. Along with the short front overhang, the styling features of the RX-8 combine to create a dynamic image emphasizing the car's sports car heritage. Also, the front fender wheel arches stand high and clear of the low hood to visually manifest the RX-8's power and provide you a clear view of the front corners of the car. The rear view is designed to create a vivid impression as the car drives away-an important trademark of any sports car, and is partly achieved by the RX-8's short rear overhang. Rear combination lamps receive a mechanical touch with aluminum accents, while the 2-2in. wide, chrome, dual exhaust pipes are placed to the left and right. The all-new RX-8 is beauty in motion when standing still and that is Mazda's new design philosophy. The adoption of the free-style door system, four doors without a center pillar, means the RX-8 features an unprecedented combination of the look and feel of a real sports car in a four-door vehicle. The shape of the rear pillars, and rear window, pay homage to the first generation Cosmo Sport and RX-7, while this new, innovative package provides enough space for four passengers.

The cockpit of the RX-8 follows Mazda's traditional sport spirit, and gives a feeling of urgent expectancy as soon as you open the door. I felt it as soon as I got behind the wheel. The interior's basic framework features strong, contoured surfaces flowing from the power bulge on the hood, through the dashboard and center console to the rear parcel shelf. Along with the center console, designed with a characteristic aluminum frame, the center 'backbone' that lies beneath the vehicle is readily apparent. A stylish 2-tone color scheme employs black and exterior body color for the seat and trim, while aluminum accents are tastefully used for areas within your reach such as the center console, transmission tunnel and shift lever. In addition, the shift levers, front-seat headrests and side-sill covers feature an unmistakable triangular shape of the rotary engine's rotors. The new look is an integration of the traditional with the modern. The lightweight front buckets feature a rigid, molded form for the seatbacks, allowing reduction of cushion thickness without sacrificing comfort. This reduces weight and gives a couple of extra inches to the rear legroom but it is still too short for average or larger adults for comfortable seating. The racecar designed high-back bucket seats offer supreme lateral support during spirited driving. The sun visors even use a mesh texture material to further reduce weight.

The cockpit felt just like a sports car cockpit with a great looking cluster featuring a big, centered 10,000rpm tachometer with large LED readout for mph. To the left are smaller gauges for fuel/engine coolant and to the right is a smaller gauge for oil pressure and mileage. Bright LED readouts warn of system or safety failure. The leather wrapped and tilting, 3-spoke steering wheel felt perfect in my hands and the wheel also contains controls for the audio system and cruise control. Reaching the center stack or any of the buttons, dials or levers was no problem, plus each was illuminated for safe nighttime driving. The pedals were faced with rear aluminum, as was the neat, small and fun to use gearshift lever. As I mentioned before, the rear seats are OK for children but tight for an average size adult. It is a good idea but I would use it only for storage when needed. I do like the rear console with storage. Mazda has opened up the space inside a 2-seat, 2-door sports car by using new design techniques without sacrificing too much of the sports car look and performance. The freestyle door system uses a conventional hinged door system up front while the lightweight aluminum rear doors are hinged at the rear, thereby doing away with the center pillar and thus freeing the entry or exit space front or rear. Combined with the nicely sized trunk, the RX-8 has more storage space than any other sports car on the market. The RX-8's response and performance deliver driving pleasure far beyond the normal. One key factory in achieving RX-8's excellent performance and superb handling is its lightweight, perfectly balanced 50:50 weight distribution, and small yaw-inertia and low center of gravity. The front mid-ship layout is further enhanced by RENESIS. Naturally aspirated, the RENISIS is smaller and lighter than Mazda's previous turbo rotary engine and is only 13.3 in. high, the same height as the transmission. This made it possible to mount the engine approximately 2.4in. further rearward and some 1.6 in. lower than the RX-7. The longer 106.3in wheelbase helps it to further achieve nimble, controllable performance and stable high-speed handling. RENESIS, the key to the new RX-8's front midship layout, features a side-intake, side-exhaust layout, with the exhaust ports moved to the side housing of the rotor chamber. This allows the size of the ports to be freely set, resulting in an expanded air-intake port area, which is 30% larger than in conventional rotary engines. This greatly improves intake resistance and contributes to an output of 250 hp at 8,500 rpm and torque of 162 lb. ft. at 7,500 rpm. Additionally, the adoption of dual exhaust ports for each chamber achieves twice the port area of conventional designs and also allows exhaust port timing to be delayed for increased thermal efficiency in the expansion process. Unburned hydrocarbons are retained for combustion in the next cycle, which greatly reduces emissions. A three-stage induction system, featuring shutter valves at the intake ports of each rotor, utilizes the incoming air's dynamic charge effect and improves filling efficiency, while twin electronic throttles precisely and flexibly control the valve operation. Furthermore, a wet-sump lubrication system with oil-pan height just half that of conventional designs also reduces engine size and weight.

To give the RX-8 the rigidity a genuine sports car demands, a strong, high-mount backbone is located in the upper part of the transmission tunnel. This backbone runs from the front bulkhead through the cabin to the rear bulkhead, and functions as the main frame of the chassis-enhancing rigidity and allowing reduction of body-panel thickness and weight. The lightweight closed-section PPF (power plant frame) locks the entire powertrain, including the differential gear, into a single rigid unit. This mechanism enhances the direct and linear acceleration feel and crisp shift operation with plenty of sports car driving pleasure and excitement. Even with a 106.3in. wheelbase, which is more than a Porsche 911 wheelbase, the RX-8's front mid-ship layout drastically shortens the distance from the gearbox to the differential. This allowed engineers to install a one-piece propeller shaft made of carbon fiber, which further reduces weight. The 6-speed manual transmission pulled me in each gear all the way up to the 10,000rpm redline. A long-arm, double-wishbone suspension at the front and independent multi-link beam suspension at the rear provide ideal suspension geometry. Long arms and links achieve suspension linearity and roll control, while optimum roll-center height maximizes suspension stroke. All four-tires remain perpendicular to the road throughout the length of suspension travel for superior grip, even under the tightest cornering. You get superb handling with no sacrifice in ride comfort and thanks to the greatly reduced yaw-inertia moment, optimum roll-center control and tire camber control, plus sharp response to steering inputs. This unique chassis and suspension design allowed the adoption of larger diameter 18X8in. aluminum wheels with high-grip 225/45ZR18in. tires. Rack and pinion power steering gives accurate feedback on road conditions, while an electric power-steering pump delivers precisely the right amount of assist to match driving conditions. Large 12.7in. front vented discs and 11.9in. rear vented discs give sure, positive braking in support of safe, sporty driving. Six point rubber mounts on the rear subframe improve both driving and road noise.

Placing the RENESIS engine front midship allows for a sufficiently large crushable zone between the engine and front bumper, and ensures improved absorption in head-on and offset frontal collisions. In addition, the new RX-8 also provides superior performance in withstanding side-impact collisions. The RX-8 has a highly rigid body structure for a sports car, in spite of the pillarless, wide-opening design. To achieve a superior body structure, a large number of measures were adopted, including a rigid underbody frame, the high-mount backbone running through the cabin and carefully planned chassis reinforcements. A reinforcement structure forms a virtual center pillar built into the door frames, while top and bottom latches lock the rear door to the body. A safety lock mechanism also allows the rear doors to open only if the front doors are open. Active safety measures include ABS, dynamic stability control that senses when the vehicle is beginning to skid or spin, and counters it by controlling engine torque and applying the brakes as needed. Other safety features include 3-point safety belts with pretensioners and load limiters up front, front and side airbags and energy absorbing steering column. The all-new RX-8's come standard with power windows/door locks, remote keyless entry, anti-theft immobilizer, car alarm, cruise-control, power side mirrors, and an AM-FM CD audio system.

Options include Xenon headlights, electric sunroof, navigation DVD/screen, heated seats, leather trimmed upholstery, and a Bose premium audio system. Prices start at only $25,180 up to $32,480.00 for a fully loaded model like the one I tested. The all-new Mazda RX-8 is a great and unique sporty car. You can call it a sporty 4-door coupe, or 2+2, or ?

© Harvey Schwartz

For more information on Mazda products, go to www.mazdausausa.com.

SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: Mazda RX-8 Price: $25,180-$32,480 Engine type: RENESIS 13B twin rotor rotary Horsepower: 250 at 8,500 rpm Torque: 162lb.ft. at 7,500 rpm Drive configuration: front engine/rear drive Transmission type: 6-speed manual Front suspension: Independent double-wishbone Rear suspension: Independent multi-link Wheels/tires: 18 X 8 in aluminum wheels 225/45ZR18 performance tires Brakes: front 12.7 in./rear 11.9 in. ventilated discs with ABS Overall length: 174.3 in. Overall width: 60.7 in. Overall height: 52.8 in. Curb weight: 3,029 lbs. EPA mileage: 17 mpg city / 26 mpg/highway 0-60mph: 6sec.

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