Review of my old RX8 (long, with pics)

Don
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18 Oct 2002
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Wargrave, UK
After having a conversation with Vanilla last night, he persuaded me to write a review of my old RX8. Now that it is long gone, I hope to have a fairly objective view. Everything I write comes from the direct experience of 18 months of ownership.

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Styling
Love it or hate it, the RX8 is certainly eye catching. With it's low nose and sculpted angles it's not something that blends in to the background. The tail lights have been described by Jeremy Clarkson as "busier than a bishops hat" and in some ways I agree. The styling doesn't really flow in the way that the RX7 or Nissan 350Z does. To me, it looks like a mish-mash of shapes that were decided upon by a comittee. The side view doesn't really work with the small rear window and large c pillar which is a sacrifice made to accomodate the rear doors.
The interior is a different story entirely. The rotary symbol has been used to great effect with styling details from the holes in the front seats, to the top of the gear knob. Everything looks lovely and helps to give the driver a real sense of occasion whenever he or she slides in to the supportive seats.

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Build quality
In typical Japanese fashion, the build quality is good, if done down to a budget. The panel gaps are tight and all the external, plastic fittings sit well with no movement evident. I suffered a problem with all the alloy components on the car which neccesitated the wheels, strakes, and rotory crest being replaced under warranty. It would seem that the maker selected very poor quality laquor to finish the metalwork which resulted in water ingress and corrosion. I wouldn't have complained too much but I had to wait 3 months for the alloys to be ordered from Japan.
The paintwork is suitably glossy but does seem to be of a rather soft mixture which results in some serious stone chips. I got my first on the day I picked up the car.
Inside, the build quality isn't as good as the styling would have you believe. Some of the harder plastics have a tendancy to rattle and the drivers seat developed a really annoying squeak while cornering. My other complaints were that the illuminated gear knob failed within 25 minutes of me picking up the car and every replacement (6 in total) failed within 5 days of being fitted. The drivers seat, electic adjustment buttons started only working intermittantly and the centre console illumination would randomly fail. I was also not impressed with the quality of the pastics used for the kick plates. The slightest scuff with a shoe would result in a nasty, white scratch which was difficult to remove.

Equipment
You certainly can't accuse Mazda of skimping on equipment. For the price bracket the RX8 sits in, the equipment list is just stunning. Bose hifi, xenon lamps, 18" alloys, alloy pedal set, climate control, electric windows and electric mirrors are all standard. The options list adds, leather seats, sat nav, park radar, and numerous styling additions to this list.
I added nearly everything off the list apart from things like the rubbish sports exhaust and the body kit.
The quality of the equipment is a mixed bag. The climate control never seems to be able to get the cabin "just so" with the driver either suffering cold feet, or a cold face. The sat-nav system looks good but is a bit out-dated. Compared to systems fitted in similarly priced cars such as the VW Golf or BMW 1-Series it's pretty poor. It's not a bad system it's just that for the £1,500 asking price I expected a state of the art system.
It's what the options and standard equipment lists lack which is the most startling. An auto-dimming rear view mirror is missing, as is cruise-control a trip computer and electric folding mirrors. I would expect these items to be available on a Ford Focus and indeed they are, but not on the RX8. It's not like Mazda doesn't offer them in other countries either. All of them (apart from the trip computer) are available in Japan, Australia and the US. Why is it that Mazda have made the executive decision that European buyers don't want and shouldn't be able to specify these items?

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Practicality
This is the RX8's trump card. It looks and goes like a 2 door coupe but is as practical as a mid-sized saloon. The rear door may look like a bit of a gimmick but the do actually work and provide easy access to the rear. Passengers are well catered for whether they sit in the front or the back. It's not exactly palacial for rear seat passengers but it's certainly adequate for 2 adults to be transported without too much complaint.
The boot is of a sensible size although the opening is a bit too small to accomodate a suitcase meaning that the rear seats need to be utilised as secondary storage space.
The reason for the surprisingly large boot is the lack of a spare wheel. Personally I would have preferred a smaller boot but a standard spare.
Overall the practicality is excellent. A small family would have no complaints with this car and that is exaclty the market Mazda are going after: The 30 somethings with 1 or 2 kids who would normally buy a Mondeo or similar.

Performance and economy
The stated 0-60 time of 6.0s seems a bit optomistic. The best I ever managed was around 7.5s and that was after trying several different techniques. This starts a familiar pattern of figures that Mazda state that don't actually ring true. The second figure is the power of the engine. Mazda state to be 230bhp at the flywheel. Many people have tested their RX8s on rolling road dynos and very few of them have produced outputs in excess of 200bhp at the flywheel, with some way down in the 180s. The third figure that can only be described as an out-right lie is the fuel economy. Mazda state 25.2mpg for the combined cycle, a figure at which any RX8 owner will laugh. The best I ever managed was 22mpg and that was on a long motorway run, sticking to 65mph. My average economy throughout ownership was 18mpg. That, along with it's thirst for oil (1L every 1500 miles) makes running an RX8 an expensive proposition. Even my A8 with it's monster 4.2 V8 gets better gas milage.
For me, the fuel and oil economy was a bit of a non-issue due to the presence of a fuel card, kindly provided by my employer. The only way in which it annoyed me was that the 60 litre tank resulted in a range of less than 250 miles.
After that royal slating of the stated figures you would think that I don't think much of the car's performance. You would be wrong. Even though it doesn't measure up to what the manufacturers figures suggest, it is still a very capable and fast car if...... and this is a big if......you know how to drive properly. Heel and toe down changes are a necessity as is a good appreciation of suspension loading and selection of the correct gear for the upcoming corner. Drive it in a point-and-squirt manner with no real care and you find it to not be particularly rewarding to drive.
The key to driving it fast is conservation of speed. The car weighs only 1300kg and has oodles of grip so you are able to keep those corner speeds high. The car is also extremely predicatable and will slide exactly how you expect it to. Keeping those revs up is also key. Let the techo drop below 5,000rpm and you are going nowhere. This is due to the lack of torque. A figure of 157lb-ft is similar to that of your average 1.8 Ford Focus but it arrives at 5,500RPM and there is precious little below that.

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Driving
This is where the RX8 comes in to it's own. Show it a B-Road and you will be in love. Very little will stay with a competant driver in an RX8 due to how communicative the chassis is. You can push it and push it until it's lets go, then just make a tiny adjustment and it will all come back in line. The feel through the steering is just superb with exactly the right amount of weight and feedback. The brakes are sharp with tons of feel and the ABS and traction control systems have been tuned to let you have quite a bit of fun before they call time and bring you back to the world of the sensible.
Long distance driving is another matter. Motorways aren't much fun as overtaking from 60-70mph require a downshift from 6th to 5th or even 4th sometimes. On a long run this can be tiring and the lack of cruise control makes things worse. Why Mazda decided that only the Japanese, Australian and US markets should have cruise and us Europeans wouln't want it is beyond me.

Issues
While I owned it the following went wrong:
2 flooded engines neccesitating a call out from Mazda Assist.
1 bolt through a tyre which immobolised me due to the lack of a spare wheel.
Alloy corrosion needing the replacement of all wheels, strakes and crest.
Bodywork corrosion where the rear doors meet the sills.
Catalytic converter collapse which needed a replacement.
Failure of the illuminated gear knob which never got fixed.
Nasty squeak from the drivers seat which was fixed under warranty.
Nasty rattle from the drivers side, rear door. which was never fixed.

Overall
A bit of a mixed bag, the RX8 ownership experience is littered with amazing highs and soul destroying lows. The driving experience down empty backroads is just so sublime, there is no other word for it. In contract to this, the constant rattles and build quality issues ruined the overall experience for me.
Many of my complaints come from my useage pattern. For a living, I drive motorways a lot of the time and the RX8 just isn't an appropriate car for this job.

Some figures
Bought on 3rd January 2004 for £25,450 including options
Delivered on 11th May 2004
Sold on 26th November 2005 for £17,500
24,600 miles covered
2 sets of tyres used @ £104 per corner
1 accident repair (non fault) @ £1200
15 litres of oil used (approx)
1,366 gallons of fuel used (approx)
2 serivices needed @ £110 each
2 years insurance at £600/year
2 years road tax at £180/year
Total cost of 18 months ownership: £15,604 all in = 63p/mile not including insurance
 
Don
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Don't forget, with my 0-60 times I was trying not to destroy the car. I did actually have to use it on a daily basis.
This is the whole point though. The RX8 isn't a fast as it looks. My A8 would waste it off the lights.
 
Soldato
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I'm going to have to completely disagree on the steering feel. The steering weighted up at speed but that felt artificial and when pushing on the steering wheel told me nothing about what was going on beneath the tyres. Maybe I was expecting too much hoping into one from an Elise but I was really struck by just how bad it was and that alone would put me off ever buying one.
 
Don
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Del Lardo said:
I'm going to have to completely disagree on the steering feel. The steering weighted up at speed but that felt artificial and when pushing on the steering wheel told me nothing about what was going on beneath the tyres. Maybe I was expecting too much hoping into one from an Elise but I was really struck by just how bad it was and that alone would put me off ever buying one.

Interesting. I agree that it will never compare to an Elise or VX220 but it's certainly well ahead of anything else in it's class such as a BMW 330ci or Nissan 350Z in terms of feel.
In fact, the feel is the only thing I miss.
 
Soldato
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Lovely review, thanks very much for that. Thread should be archived!

I'm sitting on the fence regarding the RX8 now. I was thinking of buying one later this year. The MPG doesn't bother me because I have a fuel card.

This might sound picky but one thing really bothers me. I can't replace the CD player. It is totally built into the dash. Sure, I could mount a head unit under a seat, maybe in the glove box, but that's a lot of effort. I'm a bit of an audiophile so replacing all the stock gear would be a given.

It doesn't seem to be that fast but i'm not too bothered, I like it's looks, it's powerful enough and sounds like it handles a dream. I'll miss a decent amount of torque though.

I was playing that Need for Speed most wanted the other day. All the cars were 'ok'. then i drove the RX8 and the handling was amazing! Not that computer games are anything to go by.

What does the engine sound like Rilot? Grunty? mechanical? Does it have that little buzzer that tells you when to shift? :D
 
Don
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It sounds interesting. A bit electric as astandard but an aFn filter and Racing-Beat exhaust soon sorted that out. Sounded excellent with that lot fitted.
Yup, it has the buzzer at 8,500rpm.
 
Soldato
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Ahh I didn't know you updated a few bits. how much did the filter and exhaust set you back?

Looking at the RX8 now I wish they'd have done the exhaust like the new focus civic - i.e made it the same shape as the mould around it. That was you wouldn't have two circular pipes coming out the back, you'd have them triangular if you know what I mean!
 
Don
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Vanilla said:
Nice, I didn't notice them before. Are they bigger than the standard ones?

Did they affect your warranty at all?

Twice the size of the stock ones and half the weight. They sound ace too.

Not sure about the warranty situation. The law is now on the side of the owner with the manufacturer having to prove that the modifications you have done, have caused any problems.
They would have a hard time proving that a replacement pipe caused a squeak in the seat. They would have an easier time proving that it caused the cat to fail.
 
Soldato
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Interesting review Rilot.

My mum has a 190ps RX8 and from the brief 15 or so minutes I have driven it during the test drive I really liked how it drove. The car is ideal for her, she's always liked sporty looking cars (her first car was a top spec capri and over the years she's had such things as a toyota supra turbo). She only drives about 15 miles a day however mainly on A and B roads to and from work so fuel economy isn't particularly important.

There isn't a motorway anywhere near us so that's not a problem either. Although there is a reasonable amount of space inside, you do feel quite closed in, and for a long motorway journey or being stuck in trafic I'd want to be able to stretch out a little more.

The standard equipment list is pretty decent as you say, but it is odd that they then pinch pennys by not having things such as a trip computer.
 
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