2009 Mazda RX-8 R3 Test Drive “More Performance and Styling”
Originally launched in 2003, the Mazda RX-8 was an enigma at the start with its four-small ‘suicide-style’ rear doors, and generating power from a Rotary engine. The upside of the RX-8 was that it has won 52 global awards since 2003 including 2004 U.S. Best Sports Cars and UK Car of the Year 2004, and Car and Driver’s Ten Best list for 2004-2006. All together, Mazda has sold nearly 158,000 RX-8s around the world.
For 2009 Mazda further evolves the four-door, four-seat sports coupe giving it a refreshed exterior and interior design, with enhanced performance for the new R3 model that I tested. Unchanged is the core of the RX-8-a high-powered, lightweight and perfectly balanced machine powered by the world-renowned 1.3 liter, twin-rotor RENESIS rotary engine. This engine is smooth and high-revving, but generating only 232hp and 159lb.ft. of torque, and a curb weight of just 3,064lbs. the RX-8 needs more power to hold its own in the high-performance sports car segment. Reaching 60mph from a standstill in 5.6sec., it is slower than the Ford Mustang GT and Nissan 350Z.
The R3 comes with the more powerful 232hp engine and only mated to the short-throw, six-speed manual transmission turning the rear wheels. Additionally, the RX-8 gets a final gear ratio change on the manual transmission from 4.444 to 4.777 for improved performance. Getting all of the power down to the pavement is a standard limited slip differential.
The RX-8 uses an aluminum double-wishbone front suspension reducing unsprung weight. By mounting the upper and lower arms on a highly rigid sub-frame, the long arms ensure linear alignment changes throughout the jounce and rebound of the front wheels. The new R3 model receives a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein monotube shocks, coil-springs, stabilizer bar and two front suspension crossmembers filled with urethane foam up front for better handling control when cornering at high-speed. The new rear setup on the R3 features multi-links, Bilstein monotube shocks, coil springs and stabilizer bar. An electric rack & pinion power-steering system transmits just the right amount of road information back through the steering wheel. Mazda engineers chose to pursue their own path by using an electric motor for steering assistance rather than a conventional power-steering pump. The electric motor provides additional assistance at low speeds to ease parking and reduces steering wheel assistance at higher speeds to give you more road feel, responsiveness and feedback. I felt more weight at high speeds and less weight when driving under 25mph. The R3 quickly reacts to your inputs and instantly guides the front wheels where you want them to go. The nimble handling is a reward for the car’s lightweight, aluminum double wishbone suspension, low stance and near perfect 52/48% weight distribution. The quick ‘racecar’ like turns make driving the new R3 model more fun and exciting.
The RX-8 comes standard with traction control but you can turn it off when you feel like tossing the rear around a bit when cornering on back roads.
Enhancing both the performance and looks of the new RX-8 R3 are big, 19X8in. forged aluminum-alloy wheels wrapped with 225/40R19in. Bridgestone high-performance tires.
Quickly slowing you down from speed are large, 4-wheel ventilated disc brakes. Up front are 12.7in. rotors clamped with dual-piston calipers, and 11.9in. rotors clamped with single-piston calipers. Braking control is enhanced with ABS and Electronic Brake Force Distribuion.
The RX-8 was designed with a unique athletically sculpted exterior that provides a sense of originality that’s unrivaled in the marketplace today. In 2009, RX-8 receives design enhancements that are meant to freshen the styling and give RX-8 a higher-class look without changing the basic design theme. Refinements include restyled front and rear bumpers, the front fascia, front headlamp clusters, rear LED taillights and larger, 31/2in. wide exhaust pipes. The new R3 model receives a bolder front bumper with integrated fog lamps above chrome horizontal bars with brake air-ducts below, a larger oval grille, an angular splitter cut into the bottom of the bumper, new headlamp clusters with HID lamps, a new rear spoiler, and deeper side sills.
Interior changes include a redesigned steering wheel, new center stack, and a variable red zone on the tachometer. The extremely low cabin floor allows the seats to be mounted low in the chassis, which, along with a low instrument cluster and hood, enhance driver visibility. The new R3 adds Recaro sport seats with leather side bolsters, leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake. The red stitching gives the interior a more luxury feel. Also new is the aluminum foot pedals and 300-watt, Bose Audio system with Centerpoint surround sound, 9-speakers, AudioPilot noise compensation technology, and a Bluetooth hands-free phone system. Standard equipment includes dual power mirrors, A/C, auxiliary audio output, power windows express up/down, power door locks, Mazda advanced keyless entry, upper center console with readouts for outside temperature, clock, and climate control functions, tilting steering wheel, (I would like to have seen a telescope feature to bring the steering wheel closer to my hands), steering wheel audio and cruise-control buttons, flow-through center console with dual-cup holders and storage bins front and rear, flip-up ash tray, overhead console with dual map lamps and sunglass storage, rear window defogger, aluminum scuff plates, black with aluminum accents, signature RX-8 floor mats, black piano veneer and aluminum tone trim throughout.
Standard safety systems include alarm and engine immobilizer, dual front airbags, side airbags and side curtain airbags, tire pressure monitoring system, front and rear 3-point safety belts with front pretensioners/load limiters, front and rear crush zones and steel beams in each door.
The new 2009 RX-8 R3 is a much better looking and handling model than last year but it seriously needs more power to keep up with the competition in the $32,000.00 price range.
Price: $31,930 (MSRP)
Type: Compact Coupe
Where Built: Japan
EPA Class: Subcompact Cars
Length: 175.6 in.
Width: 69.7 in.
Height: 52.8 in.
Wheel Base: 106.4 in.
Ground Clearance: 4.7 in.
Curb Weight: 3064 lbs.
Gross Weight: 3818 lbs.
Front Head Room: 38.2 in.
Front Hip Room: 53.3 in.
Front Shoulder Room: 54.8 in.
Rear Head Room: 36.8 in.
Rear Shoulder Room: 54.9 in.
Rear Hip Room: 48.1 in.
Front Leg Room: 42.7 in.
Rear Leg Room: 32.2 in.
Luggage Capacity: 7.6 cu. ft.
Maximum Cargo Capacity: 8 cu. ft.
Maximum Seating: 4
Base Engine Size: 1.3 liters
Base Engine Type: Rotary
Horsepower: 232 hp
Max Horsepower: 8500 rpm
Torque: 159 ft-lbs.
Max Torque: 5500 rpm
Drive Type: RWD
Turning Circle: 34.8 ft.
0-60 mph: 6.0 seconds
Fuel Tank Capacity: 16.9 gal.
EPA Mileage Estimates: (City/Highway/Combined)
Manual: 16 mpg / 22 mpg / 18 mpg
Range in Miles:
Manual: 270.4 mi. / 371.8 mi. / 304.2 mi.