Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
This is a sports car and maybe you have to give Mazda some slack when climbing into the rather low cockpit. But once in, the 8-way adjustable seats coddle your torso with well-bolstered seats and a power-adjustable lumbar support feature. My better half, being slightly shorter than me, complained about hitting the back of her head on the metal epitrochoid-shape pressed into headrest; I thought it was a cool design feature. Finding the right driving position was easy using the intuitive controls on the left side of the seat. One thing that was missing was a telescoping steering column; tilt was adjusted with a manual lever. Overall, I found the driving position and all of the controls just right for my 5’7″ frame. The height of the center console perfectly supported my forearm and the ergonomic shape of the shifter sits comfortably in my hand. Heating and air conditioning systems work well and the radio system sounds good. With the small LED display, located in the center dash, you have to either push or turn various knobs to see more satellite radio information (same issue on the Mazdaspeed3).
Due to the wide center tunnel, the foot wells for both the driver and passenger are tapered and narrow. Mazda designers obviously recognized this and decided to sew a rubber or vinyl piece to the right side of the tunnel adjacent the accelerator to prevent wear. It’s not uncomfortable, but you do notice it. The drive tunnel continues onto the rear seat effectively splitting the rear seat in two reducing seating and storage space.
Ergonomically, things are laid out well for the driver or passenger and all of the controls are clearly labeled and intuitive to use. I especially liked the cruise control button layout on the steering wheel making it easy to adjust my speed in 1-mph increments. The “Cruise” indicator in the dash changed from yellow to green when cruise control was engaged. I only had three complaints about ergonomics:
- Knob design: Although the knobs for the fan speed and temperature dials had raised graduations at regular intervals around their respective circumferences, grabbing them and turning them was not that easy. If they protruded a bit more from the dash, it would have been easier to grasp/turn them. The “Tune/Auto-M-ESN” and “TEXT/AUDIO CONT” buttons are way too small. I have relatively small hands, and found them difficult to grasp/turn; again, either make them bigger or have them stick out more. The Tune button is used for changing the satellite radio channels so I used it regularly.
- Locking system: Getting out of the car, you have to manually press the unlock button. I would like to see the door open (if the engine is stopped) by just pulling on the door handle. At night this was a big problem because you can barely see the unlock button requiring a bit of finger fumbling on the door arm rest; Mazda, please include better backlighting for the controls on the door.
- Trunk release: Why bury it next to the hood release? You have to reach under and find the button, or if I was standing outside, I had to kneel down to see the button location.
Clutch action was smooth and light, and take up was just as smooth. Shifting through all the gears were positive and direct (definitely not the “notchy” feeling in the MS3); 6th gear did pose a regular engagement issue and required a deliberate effort to engage. It goes without saying that the 160 ft-lbs of torque is inadequate making it necessary to rev the engine to 4000+ RPM to do anything productive. Once at the higher RPM range, the little Mazda darts and scoots like a squirrel being chased by a dog. For passing, I learned to shift down a gear to get the RPM’s in the 5-7k rpm range which then provided ample power. The rotary engine definitely loves to rev and it’s easy to pass the 9,000 RPM redline (the car will sound a warning beep when you do so). On one section of Highway 5, I got the car quickly to over 100 mph and it remained rock solid and relatively quiet inside.
Being the Anniversary Edition, the engineers chose to put special 18” wheels and sticky ultra performance summer tires (Bridgestone RE040 225/45R18) on the feet of the Mazda. Just press on the tire’s stiff rubber blocks and you can tell this is a performance tire. Picking this car up on a rainy day meant cautious driving was in order, but the Bridgestone’s performed amazingly well. Perhaps due to the deep circumferential grooves. With the poor weather during my test drive, I only had a small window to test its dry handling. The RX-8 remained extremely flat and controlled as I navigated some sharp turns at speed. As stated before, the steering wheel/system is quick and gives the driver good feedback.
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