Mazda RX-8 Grand Touring Review

Time, development and refinement. Those are three things that can improve a car, and the Mazda RX-8 has benefited from all three.

Like most people, I was wowed by the look of the RX-8 when it first came out a few years back (making its screen debut in the "X-Men 2" movie)...but a bit underwhelmed when getting to know it in person. The suicide-style four door arrangement looked cool in photos, but was awkward in person. The body's proportions never looked just right from any given angle...and, frankly, it wasn't that fun to drive.

Well, the doors are still dorky (not much can save that but a restyling and possibly a return to two doors), but a bump up to 18 inch wheels has solved the proportion issue handsomely, and the engineers have obviously been working overtime to make the Zoom-Zoom a little zoomier.

The Grand Touring level comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission coupled to a 1.3 liter rotary engine making 232 horsepower. Not a monster, but more than adequate. You also get a sport-tuned suspension (which gets a lot of credit for the increased fun factor), high-performance tires (ditto), and nice stuff like a power moonroof, air conditioning, a 300-watt Bose audio AM/FM/6-disc CD changer audio system, Bluetooth, leather-trimmed seats, and a bunch more for a base price of $31,670.

The tester had only two options, Sirius Satellite Radio ($430)and a navigation system ($2,000), taking the price with delivery charges to just under $35,000, and making it prime competition for say, a loaded Nissan 350Z.

Mileage has never been a rotary engine strong suit...the RX-8's EPA estimate is 16 city/22 highway...which is midsize SUV mileage these days. Props, though for stellar safety ratings...four stars for the driver in a frontal crash, five for the passenger, as well as four stars for front seat and rear seat protection in a side crash and five stars for rollover.

The RX-8 isn't an instant must-have, but Mazda's been working hard to make sure that if you give it a chance, it will make a better than average case for itself.

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