No matter how many times that little kid might have whispered, “Zoom Zoom” on T.V., there has been an upper-end performance vacuum at Mazda since the plug was pulled on the RX-7. Regardless of what Mazda might say about its performance, when the first 2009 RX-8s arrive at dealers, the most important upgrade customers will find is not in its horsepower, but in its warranty.
For years Rotary engines have lived and died by the stories that have circulated about its durability. A retired Mazda mechanic once told me that in the early 90’s he was able to “coax” back into operation (with a crowbar) a Rotary engine that had seized from a faulty oil pump. He called it a “bullet proof” engine. However, the fact that very few used RX-7’s are still on the road with their original engine doesn’t seem to give much credence to that story. Now, in an effort to demonstrate the engine’s reliability, Mazda is retroactively covering the unique engine in all 2004 and newer RX-8’s for eight years and 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. The rest of the powertrain warranty remains at five years/60,000 miles.
Unchanged for 2009 is the 232-hp, 1.3-liter Rotary engine that gets a rather paltry 22 mpg on the highway and 16 mpg in the city. Mazda is, however, beefing up the RX-8’s driving dynamics with the addition of a new R3 sport package which adds a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers and front suspension crossmembers filled with urethane foam. Filling the crossmembers with this material makes for a smoother ride and greater suspension control. Also, the rear suspension geometry has been reconfigured for better handling performance and driveshaft rigidity, improving performance. To see the RX-8 on the track check out the BBC’s s Top Gear, which gives it a surprisingly favorable review.
On the visual side of the package, a rear spoiler, side sills, fog lights and aggressively-styled front bumper are added to give the RX-8 a more menacing appearance, along with 19-inch forged aluminum-alloy wheels with high performance tires. Inside, the R3 adds a 300-watt BOSE® audio system, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, front Recaro sport seats with leather side bolsters, leather-wrapped parking brake handle and Mazda advanced keyless entry and start system. The two plus two suicide doors layout will also be preserved for the second generation RX-8 as well. Additionally, a variable red-zone was added to the tachometer that rises as the engine comes to operating temperature. The RX-8 is priced between $26,435 and $31, 930.