Mazda has been the one manufacturer who was able to
make the Wankel rotary actually work, stay together and become a
worthwhile engine. For me, the Mazda rotaries have all been brilliant,
having raced a couple and had an RX 7 as a drive car for a couple of
years. So I was very interested to see what our Down-under
correspondent John Weinthal would make of the new RX-8. Here are the
Words from Weinthal
RX-8 is unique in at least a couple of fascinating details. It is the
world’s only current production car powered by a rotary engine and
it is the only production four door, four-seat sports coupe. It also
has unique styling with none of the current fad for retro or even a
nod in the direction of any other car - existing or past.
“At AUD 56,170 with six-speed manual transmission
it represents great value for those who want sports coupe performance
with more than adequate room for four average size adults. While auto
adds AUD 830 to your RX-8 in Australia, in the US it costs about AUD
2,100 less than the manual. Figure that out!
manual version of the 1354 kg RX-8 develops a more than adequate 177
kW, but the auto makes do with 141 kW from the same notional 2.6 litre
naturally aspirated twin rotary engine. All this adds up to a car in a
class of its own.
“However, there are other performance cars which
would-be buyers might well consider. The most obvious is the more
powerful Nissan 350Z costing within a couple of thousand dollars, but
strictly transport for two and no more. Similar performance will be
yours with the more conventional but deliciously stylish four-seat,
front-wheel-drive Alfa Romeo 147GTA three-door hatch. This Alfa is
more than worthy of consideration for its outright performance and how
it will surely reward the enthusiast driver with few compromises.
to the Mazda. It proved a far from easy car to review. It has so much
appeal, yet there are some basics which could prove a bit much over an
extended period. First you must love the looks. It is very different
and not to everybody’s taste. I am a lover, both externally and
“Second, you must drive like a full-blooded
enthusiast most of the time. The RX-8 does not reward the tenderfoot.
Forget swanning along in top or even fifth gear all day.
“The lightweight and compact rotary engine has
only five moving parts. Although it is not turbocharged, it continues
the rotary tradition of having a prodigious thirst for premium petrol.
Apart from denting your wallet this also means limited range.
“But the positives are many - terrific comfort
and safety gear; intriguing technology backed by a three year
unlimited km warranty; great handling, accelerative potential for
those willing to work the six-speed manual box, delicious steering
feel and brakes of formidable effect.
“The ride is sports firm, but nothing like the
near harshness of the Nissan or a Subaru WRX STi. The Mazda’s ride
is totally acceptable in terms of its performance and excellent grip
on this earth.
“The deciding factor for some will be the unique
entry to the back seats through the rear-hinged doors. No coupe is
easier to climb into the rear, and it is also very handy for carrying
things on the back seat. For a family with younger children, there
would be no more back-breaking twisting to put toddlers into their
“Equipment levels, particularly on the Luxury
Pack model, are up with the best in the AUD 60,000 range. They include
climate control air, huggingly comfortable and stylish leather seats,
xenon headlamps, an excellent sound system, cruise control and the
usual power seats, windows and mirrors.
“Drawbacks - for some - will be the relatively
torque-free rotary engine and its great thirst. On the other hand it
sits far back and low in the body. This contributes to the outstanding
handling, and the rotary sounds fantastic nearing its 9300 rev limit.
“For my money, however, the rotary still delivers
more as a talking point than as a must-have benefit. The RX-8 ensured
a very special motoring week, but I am unsure that its large novelty
appeal would endure.”
(This is obviously an area where John and I can
agree to disagree. Petrol is the cheapest part of motoring as soon as
you look at the costs of insurance, repairs, registration and all the
other financial anti-inducements to sporting motoring. My experiences
with Mazda rotaries has left me an ardent enthusiast of the engine for
life. Dr. Iain.)
From the moment Henry Ford I started mass producing
cars, motorists began en masse to individualize their own particular
vehicle. There are many reasons for the need to mass produce -
economies of scale being a major one, as well as ease of servicing and
parts, but the human psyche needs to say “Hello, this is me! I’m
can remember back in 1968 buying a pale green bog standard Morris 850
and putting a two white vinyl stripes down the sides of the bonnet,
ostensibly so that I could find ‘my’ pale green Mini in parking
lots full of them, but the real reason was to be different and assert
one’s own individuality.
Of course this need for individuality spawned a
complete new industry - the after-market modifications. Some of these
over the years have been of doubtful value (the plastic bug deflectors
perched on the bonnets of cars in the 60’s are testimonials to
this!), all the way through to downright fraud, but they exist because
of our basic human need.
was able to get my bottom in a modded CRV the other day. Honda CRV’s
are fairly plentiful on the road, being perceived as good value for
money, but like all of today’s offerings (especially Japanese) tend
to be mind numbingly bland. The owner of this CRV has sporting
aspirations, so much of the outlay on his individual CRV was directed
at correcting this blandness. This included 17 inch Lenso wheels
fitted with 225x45 Bridgestone Potenza RE 77’s, lowering the car by
1.5 inches and fitting Koni shocks all round.
Power and performance options are another very
popular way to go in the after-market stakes and this CRV was fitted
with a low resistance K&N Ram Air filter and then the electronics
were reprogrammed with a Unichip.
Back to the visuals, and front and rear bumpers
were added and a custom grille. There is also under-car blue neon
lighting (see the movie Too Fast, Too Furious I was told).
Since we do spend much more time in our cars than
we would expect going from A to B through the traffic jams, the CRV
also has a 6-stack DVD player and 7 inch TV monitor, piping sound
through a Sony Explode amp connected to a 7 speaker system including a
10 inch sub-woofer. This makes this CRV something akin to the
Muangthong Thani concert arena on wheels!
I went for a short run, and undoubtedly the sound
system is better than you get in the local movie theatres. This is not
just surround sound, it goes through you as well if you turn up the
However, for me I was more interested in the
performance, road-holding modifications. Going to low profile rubber
often makes the ride too harsh, but this was not the case with this
CRV. The wider track wheels and lowering gave the car a very
sure-footed feel, while the re-chipping did give more available oomph
from the small 4 cylinder engine, one that is not known for excess
All in all, I believe that the owner has improved
upon the base product (at a price of course); however, the TV screen
in the central dash would not be one of my modifications or extras. I
consider it to be more of a safety hazard, drawing your eyes away from
the road. Certainly it could be said that it would only be used when
the vehicle is stopped, but in that case I’d rather watch a larger
screen somewhere else.