New sports coupes arrive like summer lightning and depart like uneaten guacamole: ignored, slowly fading to brown, awaiting the inevitable flush. The six-year-old Mazda RX-8 languishes through 2008 with sales the Hubble telescope wouldn�t register: just 2591 units through the end of August.
Mazda isn�t giving up, however. The Hiroshima headquarters considers rotary engines integral to its identity, so the RX-8 stays, a place keeper for a future all-new rotary engine currently code-named �16X� and due perhaps by 2012.
Meanwhile, the RX-8 gets a little stir to keep it green. Most obvious is the new front bumper that flares the grille and brake-duct openings for a more dangerous, grinning-cobra menace. Four glassy robot eyes now fill the taillight teardrops, the exhaust tips are bigger, and fresh wheel designs adorn the various trim levels.
Underneath, Mazda adds chassis stiffeners to further tighten an already athletic platform, and tweaked rear-suspension geometry settles the back end and helps sharpen steering response. The prop shaft also has been strengthened to reduce driveline vibration and noise.
Also new for �09 is the R3. At $32,600, the RX-8 R3 is priced just $930 above the luxury Grand Touring and trades a few of the GT�s comfort bits�heated mirrors, automatic climate control, power seats�for go-fast bits such as 19-inch forged aluminum wheels, Bilstein shocks, and Recaro-brand leather-trimmed buckets. A spoiler, side-sill extensions, fog lights, and an even angrier front bumper also ride along, as does a 300-watt Bose stereo.
Steering that answers to palm twitches remains the RX-8�s best selling point, the R3 cruising flat and neutral through the wiggles without tire squeal or shimmy. Call us surprised that our skidpad runs were lower, generating 0.87 g to our previous 0.92. Brake performance stays about even, and the R3 impresses as every bit the joy toy its predecessors were.
The six-speed-only R3 runs on the same 232 horsepower and 159 pound-feet of torque as other RX-8 manuals (autos have 212 horses) but has foam-filled front crossmembers linking the front-suspension pickups for better sound-and-vibration damping. At 3060 pounds, the R3�s curb weight exactly matches that of our last RX-8 test car [�Four of a Kind,� June 2007].
The low-torque RX-8 was always tricky to get rolling without a stall. A shorter rear-end ratio in all 2009s�4.78:1 versus 4.44�means less revving and clutch slip in everyday driving. However, the second-to-third shift is now perilously close to 60 mph, which likely slowed the acceleration runs (6.7 seconds to 60 mph versus 6.5). Fuel economy isn�t helped or, apparently, hurt. We averaged 15 mpg, same as before.Sporty cars come and eventually go, but for now, Mazda�s entertaining eccentric is signing up for another rotation.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 2+2-door coupe
PRICE AS TESTED: $32,600 (base price: $32,600)
ENGINE TYPE: 2-rotor Wankel, aluminum rotor housings with iron liners and end plates, port fuel injection
Displacement: 80 cu in, 1308cc
Power (SAE net): 232 bhp @ 8500 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 159 lb-ft @ 5500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 106.4 in Length: 175.6 in Width: 69.7 in Height: 52.8 in
Curb weight: 3060 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 6.7 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 17.7 sec
Zero to 130 mph: 40.3 sec
Street start, 5�60 mph: 7.7 sec
Standing �-mile: 15.1 sec @ 93 mph
Top speed (drag limited): 141 mph
Braking, 70�0 mph: 152 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.87 g
EPA city/highway driving: 16/22 mpg
C/D observed: 15 mpg