Full 2010 Mazda RX-8 Review
What's New for 2010
For 2010, the Mazda RX-8 lineup loses the Touring model and the Premium package. As a result, equipment shuffling ensues and the Grand Touring trim picks up more standard features.
The 2010 Mazda RX-8 marches (or should we say drives) to the beat of a very different drummer. First of all, it's pleasingly lightweight and boasts a communicative, well-balanced chassis, two things that are increasingly rare in today's world of bloated sedans and SUVs. Second, the RX-8 boasts a rotary engine rather than typical sports-car choices like an inline-4, V6 or V8. The RX-8 also has a surprisingly roomy backseat that's easily accessed by a pair of smaller rear-hinged doors. The RX-8 might be a bit of an oddball, but it's certainly an endearing one.
No other current production car in the world has a rotary (a.k.a. "Wankel" after its inventor, Felix Wankel) engine, which has a pair of somewhat triangular-shaped "rotors" that spin smoothly in one direction, as opposed to pistons that move up and down. This design allows the RX-8's engine to rev up to a 9,000 rpm redline with the ease of a Makita drill. This eagerness, along with the uncannily smooth power delivery and jet-enginelike sound, make piloting the 2010 Mazda RX-8 a real kick for enthusiasts.
But there is a price to pay -- actually two prices to pay -- for the thrill of driving the only rotary-powered car on the planet. One is the rotary's lack of low-end torque, which can sometimes be annoying in everyday use. "So just keep in on the boil -- it's more fun that way anyway," you may think. But while the 1.3-liter rotary is very efficient in terms of power for its displacement, the inverse is true of fuel economy. That lovable high-revving nature does a job on fuel consumption -- mileage ratings for the 3,000-pound RX-8 are the same as those for the company's full-size, 4,300-pound seven-passenger CX-9 crossover SUV.
Sadly, that last point really hurts the RX-8's recommendation factor. Given the car's stellar handing and smooth performance, we could live with the rotary's soft low-end performance if it got decent mileage. But having the former along with a V8-like thirst for fuel is a double whammy for the Wankel. The BMW 128i, Chevrolet Camaro, Mustang GT and Nissan 370Z provide better performance and/or fuel economy for a similar price. That said, none of those cars provide the RX-8's practical four-door coupe body style or that uniquely thrilling rotary engine.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Mazda RX-8 is a four-seat coupe with a pair of rear-hinged access doors. There are three trim levels: Sport, Grand Touring and R3.
The base Sport features 18-inch wheels and performance tires, a rear lip spoiler (manual-transmission models only), air-conditioning, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, full power accessories and a six-speaker stereo with CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The Grand Touring trim adds a limited-slip rear differential, automatic xenon headlights, foglights, heated side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, a sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an eight-way power driver seat with memory, heated front seats, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, keyless ignition/entry, Bluetooth and a nine-speaker Bose surround-sound system (with satellite radio and a six-CD changer).
The high-performance R3 trim level has a handful of the Grand Touring features (such as xenon headlights, Bluetooth, keyless ignition/entry and the Bose audio system) and adds a more aggressively tuned suspension, 19-inch wheels, a rear wing spoiler, a restyled front bumper and Recaro front sport seats.
The lone option is a touchscreen navigation system (with voice commands) for the Grand Touring.
Powertrains and Performance
The rear-wheel-drive Mazda RX-8 is powered by a 1.3-liter rotary engine. The engine's output depends on the transmission selected. Models with the six-speed automatic (with paddle shifters) receive 212 horsepower and a redline of 7,500 rpm. The six-speed manual version has 232 hp and an atmospheric redline of 9,000 rpm. All RX-8 engines produce a rather meager 152 pound-feet of torque.
Although generally quick by most measures, acceleration is hardly impressive for a sports car. In our tests, a manual-equipped RX-8 went from zero to 60 mph in 7 seconds. Fuel economy is unimpressive at 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined for a manual-equipped RX-8.
The 2010 Mazda RX-8 comes standard with antilock brakes, front side airbags and front side curtain airbags. Stability control isn't offered on the Sport trim but is standard on the Grand Touring and R3. In government crash testing, the RX-8 earned a four-star rating (out of a possible five) for driver protection in frontal impacts and five stars for the front passenger. In side-impact testing, the RX-8 received four stars.
Interior Design and Special Features
Giving the 2010 RX-8 a serious advantage over class rivals is its true four-passenger capacity. The Mazda-dubbed "free style" reverse-opening rear doors -- they're of the same design that many extended-cab compact pickups have -- make loading people and cargo much easier. Provided they are shorter than 6 feet tall, passengers seated in the back will find supportive seating and ample room all around. The rear compartment is equally accommodating for luggage or grocery bags. The trunk is a different matter, as its opening is small and no flip-down rear seat function exists to increase luggage capacity.
The RX-8's cockpit features a circular theme, with three round gauges and a circular central dash control stack that houses the stereo and climate control functions. Look closely and you'll also spot numerous triangle details throughout the cabin, a visual homage to the car's rotary engine design. Although the gauges are easily read, we have mixed feelings about the central display used for the audio system and climate control, which some find to be too crowded with information. The optional navigation system is operated through a touchscreen and voice recognition interface, which works well.
Although the 2010 Mazda RX-8 has the look of a race-tuned sports car, its demeanor on the road is considerably more docile. There's plenty of grip in the corners and solid feedback through the steering wheel, but its compliant ride means that the RX-8 won't beat you up on the daily commute. The rotary engine requires high engine speeds to make serious power, but the delivery is virtually vibration-free and noise levels are subdued. If you like a smooth engine (in feel, sound and power delivery), there's none smoother. Overall, the RX-8 is one of the best examples of a car that's both fun to drive and very livable on a day-to-day basis -- just be prepared to pay at the pump.