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 Toad on Thursday, July 10, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 64,000overall rating 7 of 10rating details
Pros: "good handling with no modifications"
Cons: "have to learn to drive again, i.e. rotary motor"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 5
"I purchased my car to run autocross in a stock class. With a set of really good tires it handles well. With the same set of tires my 2000 Crown Victoria handles about the same. My Crown Vic is lowered with high end aftermarket springs and has expensive shocks, etc., but at the same time cost me half as much with the modifications. The condition of the vehicles is similar so performance per dollar i'm getting more from the boat. I suggest that weigh your options and consider what you want to do with the car before buying. If you just want to go fast on the street get something else."
4 people out of 6 found this review helpful
By Nero on Friday, May 30, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 68,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "handles well fun to drive reliable"
Cons: "maintenance costs poor mileage"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"Very fun car to drive and own but it does have a few unique quarks. It does have the Rotary engine which is small and packs a lot of punch but you have to take care of it. It can not be driven as a granny car or you will ruin it. It needs to have the carbon burned out with aggressive driving on occasion and needs at least yearly plug changes. Since it used a small amount of oil for the engine to work correctly you have to watch your oil levels and can not use some types. Other than that a great reliable car and fun to own and great to drive."
18 people out of 27 found this review helpful
By Pete in Kansas on Monday, May 19, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 28,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "great fun to drive hard"
Cons: "No longer made"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"We bought this wonderful car from our local Mazda dealership nearly four years ago and have never regretted that decision. Car was originally owned by the firm that provides vehicles for car shows in the northeast. Beautiful in Aurora Blue, with R3 body work, BBS wheels, Recaro front seats, and Bilstein shock absorbers. Has been a three-season daily driver,and a wonderful car for quick out and bck on some fine sports car roads in NE Kansas (not all of Kansas is flat!) This is our second Wankel engine sports car -- bought new a 1979 RX-7,sold at 130K miles in 1992. Had a few maintenance issues with that model, usually problems with the suspension. This 2010 R3 has been maintenance perfect since purchased."
By PuppyBreath on Monday, May 19, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 35,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great date car. Great to drive."
Cons: "readout on dash scrambles when temps rise over 100"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"It was love at first sight. From the sleek exterior body to the nicely designed and user friendly interior, I was mesmerized immediately. Smooth ride, excellent response and off the hook handling. Take it out somewhere you can open it up. Like maybe a racetrack. This will show you just what this baby's got! I'm sure it can take those hairpin turns in the canyon a lot faster than i let it. I love it."
By Jeano on Wednesday, May 14, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 40,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Very sleek design."
Cons: "Not good in snow."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"Bought car as a second vehicle and has lived up to what I wanted. Sporty car with good fuel mileage and excellent handling."
2 people out of 4 found this review helpful
By Home on the range on Thursday, May 01, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 35,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "holds the road like a fine Italian sports car"
Cons: "low gas mileage"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"This is a car that handles and corners and holds the road at high speeds as well as any car I have ever driven. I owned a 350 Z and this car actually does all the 350 does but with luxury and road holding characteristics that are unmatched. Very nice car."
2 people out of 2 found this review helpful