By KBB.com Editors
Many car companies assign the word "unique" to their cars, but in the case of the 2011 Mazda RX-8, the term truly applies. What makes the RX-8 unique? The answer is a combination of attributes beginning with Mazda's RENESIS rotary engine, the only such engine offered in a production car. Then there are the RX-8's small reverse-facing rear doors, another feature you won't find on any other sports car in its class. Of course, the RX-8's lightweight and impressive handling have earned it praise from owners and enthusiasts alike, but there is a dark side to being unique. Despite improvements made last year, the rotary engine still consumes oil at a greater rate than a traditional piston engine, and the RX-8's fuel economy can be downright abysmal. Still, if you can live with these eccentricities, the RX-8's cool look, roomy rear seat and good size trunk make it a very easy sports car to live with.
If you love the idea of a lightweight sports car with neutral handling and a high-revving engine, the 2011 Mazda RX-8 makes a wonderful companion.
If you're looking for a sports car with strong low-end torque or a deep, rumbling growl, something like the Nissan 370Z or Chevrolet Camaro SS might be a better fit. Those who prefer an automatic transmission will find they must give up 20 horsepower compared to the RX-8 equipped with the six-speed manual.
There are no major changes for 2011.
Driving Impressions While resting at idle, the RX-8 exhibits the distinctive vibration that is the calling card of its rotary engine. The vibration is not intrusive in any way, and actually makes...the car feel as though it has a beating heart. Slipping into first gear, the 232-horsepower RENESIS engine is slow to pull away at first, but as the rpm rise, the 2011 Mazda RX-8 is swept up in a rush of power that propels it forward. Given the RX-8's 9000 rpm redline, keeping the engine between 4000 and 6000 rpm will ensure there is plenty of power (and torque) on hand when needed. Mazda's six-speed manual is one of our favorites, requiring only the slightest flicks to slip from gear to gear. The electrically controlled 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.
The 2011 Mazda RX-8's interior design is nearly ten years old, yet it still looks fresh and original. Beyond the high quality materials and intricate design elements (the triangular rotary piston shape is repeated throughout the cockpit), the RX-8 offers an excellent set of front and rear bucket-style seats covered in either ribbed sport cloth or leather, a rather roomy rear seat and, on the R3, Recaro front sport seats. The RX-8's instrument cluster is clearly influenced by the track, with a large tachometer front and center, flanked on either side by gauges for the temperature and fuel. The RX-8's speedometer is located inside the tachometer housing in the form of a small digital readout. One drawback of the RX-8's aging design is the lack of some more modern audio features, such as an iPod integration cable to permit iPod control via the stereo. Currently, the only way to listen to music from an iPod is through the auxiliary audio input jack located in the center console.Exterior
The 2011 Mazda RX-8's styling has aged well and still carries the same bulging front wheel arches, reverse-facing rear doors and low roofline as when it first debuted back in 2003. Whereas many fastback coupes employ a hatchback design, the RX-8 has a proper trunk, which allows valuables to remain secure. 18-inch, ten-spoke wheels are standard on the Sport and Grand Touring trims, with 19-inch wheels standard on the R3. All models show off LED tail lamps and large chrome exhaust tips.
The 2011 Mazda 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, six-speaker 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. Grand Touring models gain a power moonroof, heated leather front seats, rain sensing wipers, traction and stability control, auto on/off HID headlamps, automatic air conditioning, torque-sensing limited slip differential, heated side mirrors, power driver's seat and a 300-watt, nine-speaker Bose Centerpoint audio system with six-disc CD changer. The R3 adds to the Sport's standard equipment a sport tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks, side sills, fog lights, 19-inch wheels wrapped in performance rubber and Recaro sport seats.
The Grand Touring model can be equipped with a DVD navigation system, while Sport and R3 trims can have Sirius Satellite Radio and a six-disc CD changer installed.
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 (7500-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