Full 2011 Mazda RX-8 Review
What's New for 2011
The 2011 Mazda RX-8 carries over unchanged.
In the automotive marketplace, the 2011 Mazda RX-8 is an endearing oddball, a lightweight four-seat coupe with suicide doors, spectacular balance and a unique engine design that squeezes maximum power from minimum displacement. If not the true spiritual heir of the beloved RX-7, the RX-8 is a worthy, linear successor.
The RX-8 is still the only production car powered by a rotary engine, which uses a pair of 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 motor to spool up to 9,000 rpm with ease, but doesn't offer much power down low. The rotary's lack of low-end torque can be frustrating in town or in traffic, but its eagerness to scream -- along with buttery power delivery and jet-enginelike soundtrack -- makes piloting the 2011 Mazda RX-8 a real kick for enthusiasts.
But kicks cost, and the RX-8 incurs them at the pump. For all its efficiency making exemplary power from a small mill, the lithe 3,000-pound coupe gets about the same mileage as Mazda's full-size 4,300-pound seven-passenger CX-9 crossover SUV. Here our enthusiasm to recommend the RX-8 dampens. Given the car's athletic ability, we could live with the rotary's soft low-end performance if it got decent mileage. But minimal twist with a V8 thirst is a double whammy.
This is pretty much the same thing we've been saying since the RX-8 debuted in 2004. Newer competitors like the Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang and Nissan 370Z provide better performance and/or fuel economy for a similar sticker price. But considering the RX-8's practical 2+2 layout and its comparable ease of access, it's a still a smart alternative choice in the sport coupe segment.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 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, 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. Manual-transmission models gain a limited-slip differential and rear lip spoiler.
The Grand Touring trim includes the limited-slip differential and spoiler, and adds 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, available only with the six-speed manual transmission, 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 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 that produces 212 horsepower through the six-speed automatic transmission, or 232 hp when equipped with the six-speed manual (at a breathtaking 9,000 rpm). Every RX-8 engine produces a meager 152 pound-feet of torque.
Although generally quick in the upper regions of the tachometer, the RX-8's acceleration is still below average for a sports car. In our tests, a manual-equipped RX-8 ran from zero to 60 mph in 7 seconds; the last Mustang V6 coupe we tested did it in 5.6 seconds. Fuel economy is likewise unimpressive at 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined (six-speed manual).
The 2011 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.
The RX-8 has not yet been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash tests. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to 2011) were four stars (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
The "freestyle" (Mazda's term) reverse-opening doors give the 2011 RX-8 a unique edge on other performance coupes. Just as with an access-cab pickup, it's a lot easier getting into and out of the second row. Rear legroom is also decent and better than what you'll find in a Camaro. Passengers shorter than 6 feet tall will find supportive seating and ample room all around. The rear compartment is equally accommodating for luggage or grocery bags, but the trunk is a different matter. Its opening is narrow and there isn't an option to flip down the rear seats to increase capacity.
The RX-8's cockpit features a circular theme, with three round gauges and a circular central control stack that houses the stereo and climate control functions. Look around and you'll also see several triangle details, a design homage to the car's rotary engine design. The gauges are attractive enough and easy to read, but we get dizzy from the information overload of the audio/climate control central display. The optional navigation system, operated through a touchscreen and voice recognition interface, works well, however.
Although the 2011 Mazda RX-8 looks like a race-tuned sports car, its road demeanor is actually pretty docile. It offers solid steering feedback and plenty of grip in corners, but the ride won't beat you up during a daily urban commute. The rotary engine requires high engine speeds to make serious power, but its delivery is muted and virtually free of vibration. Few engines offer smoother feel and power delivery. Overall, the RX-8 is one of the best examples of a car that's both fun to drive and easy to live with every day. Just be prepared to pay at the pump.