Driving Impressions: Mazda RX-8 40th Anniversary Edition

Expert Reviews Mazda

Mazda RX-8 at Mazda Raceway

Sometimes you just have to let it all hang out. Sometimes you are inspired to drive the wheels off a car because you just can. And there are the times when it all comes together and you know everything is just right in the motoring universe. Such was the case when I took Mazda’s 40th Anniversary Edition RX-8 to (of all places) Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca located in Monterey, CA.

After two weeks of wet and sloppy weather in northern California, the rain took a break and the sun took its rightful place in the sky. How lucky can you get? I should have bought a lottery ticket this week. Our review schedule had the RX-8 on the right day for some exceptional fun on the historic road course of Laguna Seca.

Running strictly with a “straight-from-the-factory” setup and premium grade fuel, the RX-8 showed its made of the right stuff by keeping up and chasing down other cars that had stickier rubber and more aftermarket modifications. With a 50/50 front/rear weight balance, a set of sticky and highly predictable Bridgestone Potenzas, the RX-8 was downright fun blazing through the turns around Mazda Raceway. Stomp on the brakes, turn the wheel briskly, and the rear-end comes around setting you up for the entrance into the famous corkscrew. Coming up to the entrance of turn 4, tap the brakes lightly, let the weight and traction shift to the front tires, get back hard on the accelerator and the RX-8 rockets out of turn 4 humming all the way to it’s redline well before the braking markers at turn 5. Yeah, its that good.

Very few cars match the balance and power combination straight from the factory. Powered by a 1.3 liter rotary engine and mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, the horsepower of the RX-8 crests at 238 at 8,500 rpm. Low-end torque has never been a strong suit of rotary engines, and with a mere 159 lb-ft coming together at 5,500 rpm, the RX-8 doesn’t really feel potent below 4,000. Truth be told, the Renesis rotary engine loves to rev and the power curve is smooth all the way to it’s 9,000 RPM redline. Just don’t ask about the engine’s fuel economy.

Factory specs for the RX-8 rotary engine require 5W-20 weight oil and oil levels need to be monitored closely for all RX-8 owners. I had to add a little more than half a quart of oil after three 20-minute track sessions. For those who are forgetful, the engine light will flash at you as a reminder that engine oil needs to be added. The design of Mazda’s rotary engine is such that the oil metering pump (OMP) constantly injects oil into the combustion chamber to keep the apex seals lubricated, as well as allowing them to glide on the walls of the rotor housing. Thus, it is normal to burn oil during regular usage and at a faster rate if the engine is operating a lot in the upper RPM range.

Running an RX-8 at the track can’t get much easier. Drive into the paddock, check the oil levels and tire pressures, strap on your seatbelt and helmet, and your off to the races. When your session ends, repeat the above steps. Oh, don’t forget to watch the fuel gauge. Those rotary engines are thirsty little beasts.

RX-8 cooling off in the paddock

Now that I’ve had a little time to decompress, zipping around the corners of Laguna Seca in the RX-8 was the most fun I’ve had at the track for a long time. The past couple of times at Mazda Raceway my track days were cut short by broken brake rotors and blown water pumps with my regular track car. Getting out there for a full day, on a dry track, and with a super-fun car made up for all the past track events that were cut short and discouraging to boot. Now, life is good again.


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  • Roger says:

    I have had two RX-8′s, my latest being the Anniversary Model which has the bilstein sport suspension which is a plus over my previous 2004 model. Driving this car is like having your feet on the ground instilling confidence going into a corner at hig speed braking and powering out. You get a lot of bang for your buck with this car. I have seen mileage figures in our club exceeding over 200,000 miles on the original engine. Just follow the maintenance schedule and enjoy the ride.

    • Derek says:

      Those Wankel motors are practically bullet proof when maintained and serviced regularly. I had a 1st gen RX-7 that had zero motor and transmission problems, and lasted well over 150k miles before I sold it. A simple job of changing the oil every 3500 miles can make a big difference in longevity.

  • Bobby says:

    now put some slight work into it like $2000 and you got a racecar

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