As some of you remember, I reviewed my brand-new RX-8/R3 about 3 months ago (https://www.gminsidenews.com/forums/f...rx-8-r3-92044/).
Well, I never did update that review with some decent pictures, so I'm fixing that here, and I am also going to give my longer-term impressions of the car as I've driven it daily for 4 months now. The other thing that sparked my memory was that Car and Driver just had a comparison of the best handling cars < $100k. The R3 came in at #3 behind the Porsche Boxster Spyder and the Elise SC. It beat out the Z06, M3 and GT-R. That's a pretty good showing for this $30k vehicle (I paid $29k out the door, and some have been getting this car for significantly less).
Back to my impressions: First of all, the car is every bit as sweet as the day I drove it off the lot. Better in fact, now that it's had time to break-in. I have had a lot of different cars over the years. There were three that had me wanting to drive them after spending a long time in them. They were:
- My 1997 C5 Corvette
- My 2007 Saleen Supercharged Mustang GT (475bhp)
- And now .. the 2010 RX8/R3
It actually is worse with the R3. I've never had a car that I've so desired to drive. It really is an extension of the driver. It's telepathic. My Corvette felt positively sloppy in comparison. I find myself coming up with excuses to take it out of the driveway. Mazda did an amazing job with this car.
The car requires more concentration than you may be used to in your current vehicle.
I remember when I first got it, I found myself drifting ever so slightly off my lane! The steering responds to microscopic inputs. I was used to a large and sloppy dead-zone in my steering in my HHR SS and (especially) Mustang GT. This car made me start paying attention again. It's razor sharp, turn-in is awesome and the car seems to respond to any mental suggestions that you give it. Before it seems like your hands have responded, the car does. It's pretty cool.
If you leave the DSC turned off -- it loves being tail happy. But it is a very linear controlled slide that is very controllable. It's the sort of thing that makes you happy you are in a light RWD coupe. Since power delivery with the rotary is very linear, it's child's play to control throttle steering. I've said it once, and I'll say it again: This car makes you feel like a superhero piloting a car in a movie. It makes you look good!
It's small wonder that RX-8s dominate B-Stock in Auto-X. It's an easy car to drive fast.
I continue to be impressed by the shifter in this car. Nice short-crisp throws. You would have a hard time missing a gear in it. I rarely use 5th gear -- and often go straight from 3rd -> 6th when I'm concerned about gas mileage.
I believe this is the same unit as in the latest Miata. It's great. Direct linkage, no cables.
So what's it been like to live with this car day-in and day-out? In a word: good. It's obviously not as utilitarian as my HHR SS was. But it's much easier to live with than my Mustang GT was. Now that I have to take my son to school in the mornings, I feel lucky that I never did fall into the temptation of buying a 370Z. Without back-seats it would have been impossible for me to help my wife out in the mornings (or in case of emergencies when I'd have to pick up some combination of my children). I wouldn't have felt comfortable keeping my son in the front-seat of a 2-seater (even though it would be legal).
Part of this has to do with the "Freestyle" doors that Mazda has put on the RX-8. Similar (but different) to suicide doors -- they allow easy access to the rear seats when compared to a traditional coupe. Makes loading up the children in the mornings much easier, and keeps the coupe styling that people love.
The R3 comes with Recaros. These are relatively unadjustable and very snug for those who are of a greater than average midsection. They are fantastic through the curves however. Keeping you completely stable in the seat and allowing you to focus on the steering rather than bracing yourself.
They are prone to excessive wear however if you do not watch how you get in and out of them due to the side-bolsters. I had this problem with my C5 Vette as well. So far I make sure I scoot the seat all the way back before entering or exiting.
This is where people will more than likely look elsewhere. It is a 232bhp Wankel Rotary engine (from the equivalent of 1.3L of displacement!). Able to rev to 9,500 rpm (I believe more due to limitations on the tranny than the engine) with ease, and weighing less than a traditional piston engine, it is the heart and soul of the RX-8. It is both the heart of the car, and it's Achille's heel. I for one have wanted a rotary car since I grew up with the legendary RX-7s. But I knew what I was getting.
- You get worse gas mileage.
- You need to add a quart of oil around every 1,500 miles (they burn oil by design)
- You get a wicked exhaust note that sounds like a hopped up sport-bike!
- You get a fairly light engine that allows the RX-8 to get it's 50/50 weight distribution. The car is essentially front-mid-engined due to the engine being right up against the firewall. See my other review for pictures of the engine bay.
Now the RX-8/R3 is fairly light weight, so its power deficit is not its death knell. It is 3,060lbs according to Mazda (this is about as light as my C5 Corvette). This is in a world where my old Mustang would have tipped the scales at around 3,700lbs. Let me tell you -- driving a car that is light is a great experience.
But I've rediscovered the old maxim -- it is better to drive a slow car fast, than a fast car slow. I am able to wind out this rotary unit every day without being in danger of running afoul of the cops. It's fun, it's thrilling and it's very unique in the world of motoring. I personally love it. It always felt strained driving my Vette or Mustang in the "real world" because they always felt like they were lugging around. But opening them up would open me up to a world of illegal activities. While it is still easy to get in trouble with the RX-8, I feel like I have more of an envelope to play with its motor and wind it out.
On the flip-side of all this, it can get a little bothersome for the non-gear-head to think about checking their oil level every few stops at the gas station. These stops will be relatively frequent as the car only gets 16/22mpg. I average closer to 17mpg in mixed driving. My 475bhp Mustang GT averaged about 15mpg for comparison, my LS1 Vette probably got closer to 18mpg.
If this sounds like I love my car -- it is because I do. There's very little besides gas mileage and power that I'd love to see improved. The rest of the car Mazda got spot-on. And honestly if I had a choice again between a 500hp supercharged monster like my old 'Stang and this car -- I'd take this car. If you gave me a choice between my old C5 Vette or this car, I'd take the RX-8. I have a feeling I'll have it for a very long time.
This car is an amazing extension of your body. If you can get past it's quirks and it's lack of power in comparison to modern offerings like the 5.0 Mustang and SS Camaro (not to mention the 370Z) you will find a willing dance partner in the RX-8 R3. There is a reason that it wins handling comparisons with cars that cost 3x as much. It, like the Miata have to be driven to be understood. A car like this is more than the sum of its spec sheets. It's like trying to explain to someone who has a Windows Mobile (pre WM7) phone why the iPhone was so good. The WM6 user will say, "look, I have the same features -- if not more of them!".
But the genius of the Apple product is that everything worked well together, and in a seamless harmony to the point that the user forgot there was a device in front of them -- to them, they thought they were just using an extension of themselves. This then is what the R3 does, and it is a rarity in the modern automotive world.
I hope Mazda continues to make a car like it for a very long time.