Mazda RX-8 review (2003-2010)

Our Rating: 
2003-2010 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The four-door Mazda RX-8 breaks convention with a rotary engine and distinctive styling

Smart looks, enjoyable drive, practical four-seat interior
Poor fuel consumption, rotary engine lacks torque

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The Mazda RX-8 is a desirable, but unusual and unconventional sports car. Though it was launched back in 2003, it still looks futuristic and sleek, and is beautifully detailed. Under the bonnet, it features a high-revving 1.3-litre rotary engine, which is unique in the new car market. It's very compact, and very light. Unfortunately, the engine isn’t very fuel efficient, but it certainly provides a reasonable slug of power to the rear wheels if you give it enough revs. The RX-8 is great to drive, too, and delivers sharp steering and supple, comfortable suspension. Production ended in 2010 - high CO2 emissions meant the car was no longer competitive with rivals like the Nissan 370Z or Audi TT.

Our choice: Mazda RX-8 R3

Engines, performance and drive


The Mazda RX-8 is defined by its unique high-revving 1.3-litre rotary engine. The engine is very light and produces 231PS, and is mated to a fast-shifting six-speed manual. Body control is excellent, with low roll in the bends, while ride comfort is also high. Thanks to its rear-wheel-drive layout, the RX-8 is an entertaining car to drive. Direct steering and stiff suspension combine to make the RX-8 a delight on any road.

MPG, CO2 and running costs


Mazda's rotary engine might look like a work of genius on paper, but in the real world it's high fuel consumption makes it expensive to run. Parts are reasonably priced, as is servicing, but there's no escaping the fact that insurance, and tax are also expensive.

Interior, design and technology


The Mazda RX-8 stopped traffic with its distinctive looks when it was launched in 2003. Its futuristic design still looks fresh today, and gives the car an unmistakable appearance. It's compact dimensions are part of the appeal, but that doesn't mean Mazda has overlooked the car' detailing. Inside there are bucket seats, complete with rotary piston shaped inserts in the headrests, plus piano black detailing on the dash. The unusual four door design is more than just a gimmick. There really is a surprising amount of space inside.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


This really is a coupe that you could use as a family car. The interior is spacious with plenty of storage space, the instruments and controls are all well positioned in a style familiar to Mazda's more recent offerings like the 6. Prices are low and equipment is high, making the RX-8 an appealing proposition.

Reliability and Safety


Despite the pillarless four-door design, the RX 8 is a robust and safe car. There are front and side airbags and all versions offer traction control. Watch out for the engine. If the car has been driven hard, it will need a major service at 80,000 miles too, as the tips that press the edge of the piston wear and need replacing. The engine also has a large appetite for oil, and if it's driven around town a lot can become choked up with soot making it hard to start.

Last updated: 5 May, 2012