By KBB.com Editors
The 2009 Mazda RX-8 is one of those cars that can generate strong emotions. Owners love its neutral handling, unique four-door coupe design and lightweight rotary engine. Those same owners, however, often complain about the car's sometimes disappointing fuel economy and noticeable shortage of low-end torque. If you can overlook those eccentricities, and the fact that, when equipped with the automatic transmission, the engine loses 20 horsepower, the RX-8 makes a fine sports car, one that lets you take along three other adults and a bit of luggage. The RX-8's sub-$30,000 price tag, stunning interior detail and long list of standard and available features are just icing on the cake.
If you love the nimble, responsive handling of the Miata, but want something faster and with room for four adults, the 2009 Mazda RX-8 may win you over.
If you're looking for a low-involvement sports car (which is, to a certain extent, an unreasonable expectation), the 2009 Mazda RX-8's rotary engine, with its occasional fuel consumption issues and short-at-the-bottom torque curve, may not be to your liking. The compact rotary engine delivers its torque high in the rpm band, meaning you have to run the revs high when passing or accelerating.
The RX-8 receives a slight freshening, with new wheels, a new nose and taillights, and improvements to the car's suspension and body rigidity. An enthusiast-oriented R3 model is also added to the lineup.
Driving Impressions At idle, a slight, distinctive vibration is the telltale sign a rotary engine lurks beneath the hood; it's not annoying in any way and actually makes the car feel almost...alive. Slip it into first gear and you'll feel the pull of the 232-horsepower RENESIS engine, slowly at first, but then increasingly faster once the tach climbs past 2000 rpm. With a 9000-rpm redline, all you have to do is keep the engine between 4000 and 6000 rpm and you'll always find more than enough power on tap for quick bursts of acceleration. The six-speed shifter requires only the slightest movement to change gears, and the clutch engages so smoothly it's easy to execute neat, clean shifts. The steering is neutral and extremely precise in both its execution and feedback.
Six-Speed Short-Throw Shifter
The RX-8's marvelous six-speed short-throw shifter can make other six-speeds feel imprecise by comparison.
A rear-seat console keeps siblings separate and provides storage for a navigation unit.
Slip inside the 2009 Mazda RX-8 and immediately the quality of the materials and the depth of detail will impress you. A combination of suede-like fabric and ribbed cloth inserts covers the excellent sport bucket seats, and the driver's seat features a height-adjustable cushion. Although you can opt for full leather seating, it won't have the same Velcro-like grip on your clothing of the standard seats, which is a nice attribute when hurrying around tight curves. The instrument cluster is housed in a dash-mounted binnacle that includes a center-mounted tachometer with an inset digital speedometer. Why Mazda chose this design is a bit of a mystery, as a nice analog speedometer could easily have been placed on either side of the tachometer.Exterior
The 2009 Mazda RX-8's styling will probably not appeal to everyone. Its bulging wheel arches, unusual half-doors and low profile give it a look that either draws you in or leaves you cold. The RX-8 forgoes a hatchback design in favor of a usable trunk, a nice feature if this is your only car, and it also tends to look different depending upon the paint color, with brighter colors seeming to accentuate the car's crisp lines.
The RX-8's standard equipment includes a 232-horsepower rotary engine (212 horsepower with the automatic), six-speed manual transmission, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes (ABS), rear defroster, four cup holders, rear console, keyless entry, dual power mirrors, AM/FM stereo with CD, side-impact and side-curtain airbags, rear-seat pass-through, cruise control, sport suspension, tire pressure monitor, power windows, power locks and a tilt-wheel with touch controls.
The RX-8 is offered in four trim levels: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and R3. Each level features a number of pre-bundled options that can include heated leather seats, eight-way power driver's seat, power moonroof, Bose audio, MP3 player, in-dash six-disc CD changer, xenon headlamps, sport suspension, DVD navigation, spare tire kit, torque-sensing limited-slip rear axle, traction control and stability control. The R3 adds Bilstein shocks, 19-inch wheels with performance tires and a 300-watt Bose audio, keyless entry and start and xenon headlamps.
The RENESIS rotary engine displaces a mere 1.3 liters by rotary measurement formulas, yet produces an impressive 232 horsepower (212 with the automatic). A maximum torque rating of 159 pound-feet is not much to brag about, but with a 9000-rpm redline (7000-rpm with the automatic transmission), you can milk every ounce of the engine's power before upshifting. What makes the rotary engine unique is its simple architecture. Instead of pistons, valves, camshafts, connecting rods and a crankshaft, the rotary requires only an output shaft surrounded by triangular-shaped rotors housed in chambers that are shaped somewhat like ovals with pinched middles. The rotary is therefore mechanically very simple, has minimal moving parts and is quite small.
1.3-liter RENESIS 2-rotor rotary
232 horsepower @ 8500 rpm (manual)
212 horsepower @ 7500 rpm (automatic)
159 lb.-ft. of torque at 5500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/22 (manual), 16/23 (automatic)
By DP (WI) on Saturday, April 27, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 112,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "corners like on rails. An absolute blast to drive"
Cons: "Everybody wants to race you at the stop lights"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 5
"I bought this car used with 30,000 miles on it. I have had it for 7 years and have over 112,000 miles on it. It is the funniest car that I have ever driven. It turns heads and I frequently get asked about it. That being said, it guzzles gas and oil. It is not the car for the person who wants to just jump in and go and forget about the maintenance on a car. It should also NEVER be driven on snow or ice. I can't begin to explain how bad it is on ice, even with snow tires. I have had no problems with any of the other frequent complaints I have read here. The air conditioner is still cold, it idles great even with the air running."
By Brock (CO) on Wednesday, April 17, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 67,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "price, handling, interior styling,exterior styling"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Only con is reliability. But it's one of the most fun cars to drive. Very luxurious (GT model anyways) and perfect styling. I love this car and always will."
By Adam (MO) on Monday, April 01, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 95,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "great handling, fun to drive, quick"
Cons: "bad in snow, mpg"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"With the right tires (goodyear eagle gt's are what I have), this car is amazing with handling, speed, and despite other reviews, good in the rain. It probably won't beat anything else in a straight line, but take it down a mountain, and you'll beat the likes of the 350z and S2000. It even has back seats! It drives like it is on rails, and its so much fun."
By Kino (DE) on Thursday, March 21, 2013
I owned and sold this car
Reason: engine - My approximate mileage is 11,000
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 2
"Ok so i bought the car used with 7000 miles... garage kept and everything. Loved the car until the engine blew. I put 5000 miles on it and the engine blows. This car would be perfect if they put a speed 3 engine in it but the rotatory engine just isn't reliable. If you are thinking of buying this car please reconsider."
2 people out of 5 found this review helpful
By california surf (CA) on Thursday, March 07, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 30,500overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Interior & Exterior."
Cons: "A bit uncomfortable for 4"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"This unique car has fantastic handling. Feels like a coupe/sports car and its unique rotary engine gives it that lightweight feel. Never run into any mechanical or electronic issues with the car. Its exterior is stylish and interiors have classic leather power seats."
2 people out of 2 found this review helpful
By Texas Ranger (OH) on Tuesday, February 26, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 83,000overall rating 1 of 10rating details
Pros: "Drives like a dream"
Cons: "Motor will blow and will leave you stranded"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"For a sports car this is definitely top of the line. Drives and handles like a dream. Slow from a stop, but 40-100 mph in no time and hugs curves like younwouldnt imagine. Amazing and very comfortable interior, front seats that is. Good luck fitting a large or two medium size suitcases in the trunk. Sound quality fantastic. Loved just about everything about the car, until BLOWN MOTOR at 83,000 miles. Coming straight from the Mazda dealer themselves, all rx-8's have a 50% fail rate. This car has left me stranded multiple times, but only in the winter. Most definitely only a very once in a while drive me type of car, in warm weather above 60F; not great to run for hours on end, very temperamental. Do NOT do lots of city driving and never turn on and off car for short periods of time, so you can forget about running errands in this flashy car. It won't start back up unless it sits for 15 minutes, floods out real bad due to poor design. Oh and it'll cost at least $300 if it floods out on you, not counting tow cost. $28/spark plug, yeah OUTRAGEOUS(for cheap ones). Oh did I mention it takes premium gas 20-25 cents extra/gallon. Be very careful driving in bad weather like any rear wheel drive car. Single most important thing, OIL. This car is designed to burn oil and gas for combustion, check your oil every time you put gas in it and always carry at least a quart. Regular oil changes a must, but no synthetics. Every 1500 miles for mine, usually burned 1-2 quarts of oil. If you do purchase and notice it burning gas like crazy, like 20-30 miles for the first quarter tank and has slow starting problems, cranks for a while till it fires, or slight loss in horsepower SELL it. take it to a dealership and trade it in ASAP. Could be signs of low compression in one or both rotors which will eventually lead to engine failure. $6000 to fix unless you know how to rebuild a wankle engine or drop a new one in yourself. This is not a reliable car it will leave you stranded. Like I said I loved it, but I wouldn't buy one for my worst enemy. Endless money pit. If you want to drag race it, I'd most definitely buy it. the options for engine upgrades are endless, plus drag cars have a short life anyway."
2 people out of 2 found this review helpful