8.25.2011

2011 Mazda RX-8 Review

Front 3/4 view of red 2011 Mazda RX-8 parked on racetrack
The 2011 Mazda RX-8. End of the line.

I plead coincidence. This review of the 2011 Mazda RX-8 was on my schedule for this week before Mazda's announcement on Tuesday that it was discontinuing production. So this is a review and a farewell.

For seven model years, the RX-8 has been something of an underachiever...never quite meeting expectations of performance set by its looks nor expectations of performance in sales.

Part of the problem was compromise. Staying true to a mission pays off in sporting machines (the Mazda MX-5 Miata being a textbook example), but the RX-8 came with two too many seats (the rear ones being virtually unusable) and two too many doors (though half-doors would be more a more accurate way to describe the openings used for rear-seat access). As a result, the immediate impression was one of awkwardness. A head-on competitor to the Nissan 370Z would have been more satisfying.

Beyond that, there were more issues: A small rotary engine (1.3 liters) with limited output (232 horsepower, 159 pounds per foot of torque) meant it felt slow off the line and needed to be revved high and driven hard to feel like a sporting machine. Which was a double-bind, because rotary engines aren't known for their fuel economy...and the best the EPA could come up with for an RX-8 estimate was 16 city/22 highway.  Put all that together with a vague shifter and (in early models) a startlingly touchy clutch (stall it at one light, chirp the tires at the next), and the recipe just wasn't there.

Rear 3/4 view of 2011 Mazda RX-8 driving
Rear view of the 2011 Mazda RX-8.
Well, Mazda fixed some of those things. I was surprised during my week in the 2011 Mazda RX-8 at how much better the car rode and handled (suspension upgrades), at how vastly improved the shifter and clutch were and how those improvements made the engine's power more accessible. It had been refined into a very enjoyable car, and for the price and equipment, not a bad choice in the segment.

Base price for the base model is $26,795. Our tester was the Grand Touring model, which begins at $32,260. And that's where ours stopped, too...no options, since the Grand Touring brings a huge list of standard features (18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, high performance tires, Xenon headlights, fog lights, automatic climate control, a 300-watt Bose AM/FM/SiriusXM/6-disc CD changer audio system with 9 speakers, power windows and locks, 8-way power driver's seat with 3 memory settings, leather-trimmed and heated front seats, leather-wrapped shift knob, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, and Bluetooth. Tack on the delivery charge and it's $33,055.



Interior shot of 2011 Mazda RX-8
The stylish and comfortable cabin of the 2011 Mazda RX-8.
So, the real story on the RX-8 is that it's ending just as it was getting good. If you want one, now's the time. Dealers are starting the clearance sales and Cars.com says that as of this writing, there are 216 left at U.S. dealers.

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