The unmistakable sound of a rotary Mazda hasn’t produced a rotary-powered car in a few years, but the legend that was the RX-7 will not soon be forgotten.
History and heritage; a powerful phrase often misused when describing certain vehicles. Brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Ford, and Aston Martin come bearing a long history that has earned them a huge customer base that buys products partially out of pure loyalty. There are a bunch of niche market vehicles out there that are valuable and someday may even be priceless based on heritage. Mazda hasn’t produced a rotary-powered car in a few years, but the legend that was the RX-7 will not soon be forgotten. Cylinders, gas mileage, and reliability are all forgotten when discussing the RX-7 and its now-defunct successor, the RX-8. Even though it’s out of production, Mazda Canada has put a white 2011 Mazda RX-8 on their heritage fleet. I was initially scheduled into an even rarer 1993 RX-7, but another writer had a mishap with it shortly prior and it was subsequently yanked off the fleet for the remainder of the season.
Regardless, I’m a firm believer in the fact that everything happens for a reason. A few years ago I purchased a pre-owned first-generation Mazda3 GT. At that time, I could get an RX-8 GT with similar mileage for the same price. Even my insurance company was okay with it; they considered the RX-8 a 1.3L 4-door sedan, so the rates were very affordable even for a young bachelor like myself. My petrolhead friends all persuaded me not to buy one (against my better judgment) because the RX-8 had a thirst for both oil and fuel. After this road test I arrived at the conclusion that I should have disregarded all those “well-wishers” and chosen the rotary sports car instead of the economy sedan.
Yes, it burns oil. Yes, the fuel mileage is a combined 16L/100km on premium fuel. Yes, it’ll break if you look at it funny. The beauty of the Mazda RX-8 however is that all of this is forgotten after the first shift at over 8,000 rpm. The 1.3L rotary sounds like a jet engine, and is easily the smoothest engine on the market (er… formerly on the market). The car doesn’t feel like it’s pushed along by gasoline; it’s so buttery smooth and light it feels like it runs on whipped cream. The 6-speed manual is an incredibly easy shifter to master; rev matching became second nature in a matter of minutes.
Mazda’s “freestyle” rear doors make the rear seat of the 3,000 pound sports coupé easily accessible. The RX-8 is a real 2+2, and 6’ adults can easily become comfortable in the back. They didn’t skimp on features either; my 2011 came with projector HID headlights, leather seats, a sunroof, and an auxiliary port to play my trusty iPod. A navigation system was optional, but there wasn’t one on my tester. There are also a few triangular styling cues on the interior of the RX-8 that pay homage to the rotary engine design, including the shifter and on the seats.
The RX-8 is a superbly comfortable car both when cruising on the highway as well as when hooning through the twisties. It happened by chance that Mazda put this car back onto the heritage press fleet right when my colleague pulled his classic Chevrolet Camaro Z28 out of winter storage. We decided to take the two cars on a sunset cruise through the Niagara Escarpment, and upon our return I had my mind blown. Never before have I had such a satisfying drive. I had the windows down, the sunroof open, and for the first time ever, my stereo completely off. The RX-8’s screams at over 8,000 rpm produced a symphony that I’ve never before heard. I love the roar of a V8, the purr of a supercharged V6, or even the rumble of a V12; but nothing prepared me for the high-pitched wails of the Renesis rotary. Damn, this is one beautiful motor.
The Mazda RX-8 is one temperamental car. Its issues are not to be taken lightly. A good friend of mine purchased a heavily-used 2004 example a few years ago and has invested thousands and thousands of dollars into keeping it on the road. I believe he’s on his third engine. Each and every time he complains that there’s something wrong with his car again, I tell him to get rid of the thing. There’s something holding him back though that I’ve never been able to comprehend even as a diehard car guy.
After a week with this mint-condition 2,000km example, I’ve begun to understand what goes through my friend Nick’s head. The RX-8 isn’t a car; it’s a passion. It’s an addiction, and for some owners, an obsession. If I’d bought the black RX-8 in my undergraduate days instead of the Mazda3 I settled on, I’d probably have gone broke trying to keep it on the road. I bet I’d still have it though; and that’s one car I would never have gotten rid of. With used RX-8 prices virtually hitting rock bottom, a beautiful low-mileage example can be had well under $10,000. Is there really any good reason not to buy one?
2011 Mazda RX-8 Gallery