Ten Point Test

Auto Trader Ten Point Test rating: 82%

Every now and then, a truly revolutionary car emerges; one that takes the rule book and tears it up. The Mazda RX-8 is one such car – it combines sports car looks, with four seat practicality, and a pair of cool rear-opening doors.

It’s powerful too, and boasts it’s the world’s only rotary-engined production car. But does it stir the soul like a sports car should?

1. Looks 10/10

Awesome. There isn’t an angle that fails to impress, from its pointed nose complete with an over-sized snout, through to its concept car-like rear lights. Look carefully and you’ll find plenty of references to the triangular rotors that spin inside the RX’s unique engine – like the lines in the bonnet and the rear fog light. But its real party piece are those rear opening doors. They’re like the ones you’d find on an old Black Cab; but better, if only because they’re totally unexpected on a car like this.

2. Looks inside 9/10

The dash is dominated by a huge centre console that begins with the pop-up satnav screen, through the stereo and flows into the back seats. In here you’ll find cubbyholes and cupholders aplenty.

From the drivers’ seat, the huge rev counter and digital speedometer seizes centre stage; even if the speedo readout takes a bit of getting used to. We found the circular design on the stereo a little tacky, but it sounded good, whatever kind of music flowed through it. The satnav screen emerges from the dash at the touch of a button, which looks great.

The only disappointments are the steering wheel which has been lifted from the Mazda 6 saloon and an odd handbrake handle which appeared to have some sort of knuckle guard from an antique sword.

3. Practicality 8/10

Sports cars aren’t supposed to be practical, but the mould-breaking RX-8 pulls it off without sacrificing looks. There’s loads of room up front, and the storage areas are more than you’d ever need. It’s more cramped in the back, but the two seats are certainly more useable than those in the rear of an Audi TT. There’s 290 litres of space with the rear seats up – enough for a set of golf clubs or a couple of weekend bags – rising to 700 litres with the seats folded. This is at the expense of a spare wheel – a conventional spare has been replaced by a can of tyre weld foam.

4. Ride and Handling 9/10

The RX-8’s handling is about as good as you’ll get in a comfortable sportscar. It’s not Elise sharp, but it will leave you feeling more relaxed than the hardcore Lotus. The steering wheel provides the driver plenty of information about what the front wheels are up to. There’s lots of grip as well, although the rear end can be persuaded to slide out under fast cornering if the traction control is switched off. The ride is firm, but soft enough not to leave you begging for mercy on a bumpy road.

5. Performance 9/10

Proving the myth ‘it’s not the size that counts, its how you use it’, the Mazda RX-8 develops 231bhp from its 1.3-litre engine. This impressive power figure is due to its unique rotary engine. Rather than having pistons which fire up and down like a conventional engine, rotary engines have a triangular rotor which spins round. This allows the engine to rev higher – the 231bhp model we tested will reach 9,000rpm. The RX-8 will cover a 0-60mph dash in 6.4 seconds and hit a top speed of 146mph.

There’s an unusual sound under hard acceleration – more like a Starship Enterprise-like thrum than the typical brutal sportscar roar, but it’s pleasant nonetheless.

6. Running Costs 6/10

The RX-8 is cheap to buy – the top-of-the-range 231bhp model is a shade under £23,000, while the slower 192bhp version is £1,500 less. This undercuts the slightly faster Nissan 350Z by more than £3,300. It’ll retain almost half of its value over three years, too.

But it’s not all in the RX-8’s favour. Mazda quotes an average of 25mpg, but in our main urban commute, we struggled to hit the low twenties. It’s unlikely to find favour with company car drivers either, as it falls into the highest tax bracket. Servicing is every 12,500 miles and you’ll get a three year/60,000 mile warranty. Although there are few reported problems, finding a backstreet garage to avoid main agent servicing bills may be a challenge.

7. Reliability 7/10

Mazda performs well in the Reliability Index, so its reputation for robustness should rub off on the RX. However, unless you’ve lucky enough to have a rotary engine specialist nearby, you’ll have to fork out main dealer rates for servicing and repairs, even when it’s out of warranty. There have been a few recalls already, fixing problems from cracked suspension arms to fuel leaks, but all new models will be unaffected. Specialists recommend checking the oil every second fill of petrol and tell owners never to shut down the engine if it doesn’t reach operating temperature.

8. Safety 8/10

All models come with anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, stability and traction control. There’s also driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags. Enthusiastic drivers will lean on the limited slip differential which improves traction grip by channelling power to the wheel with most grip.

9. Equipment 7/10

Our test car featured climate control and plenty of electric toys as standard. We also had the standard BOSE audio setup upgraded to the DVD-based satnav system, which is only available if you opt for the comfy leather seats as well. At £2,638, the package isn’t cheap.

10. X-Factor 9/10

Mazda have pulled off a minor miracle in creating a sexy coupe with saloon car practicalities. There’s enough funky bits to keep the pub bores happy, while the rest of us will be satisfied with its curves and huge reserves of power.
Emerging through the rear reverse opening doors is an experience akin to stepping out onto the red carpet at a film premiere – all eyes will be on you.

Key facts

Model tested: Mazda RX-8 231
On the road price: £22,900
Price range: £21,400 – £22,900
Tested: August 2006
Road tester: Stuart Milne