Mazda, Road Test Reviews

2006 Mazda RX-8 GT – Road Test

2006 Mazda RX-8 -

I looked for it, but I couldn’t find it, Surely there has to be one! No Warning from the Surgeon General ??!!
OK. I’ll do it –

WARNING – If you suffer from high blood pressure stay away from this car!! If you’re susceptible to heart palpitations – stay away! If you are pregnant and don’t want you’re child to grow up to be a race car driver – stay away!! If you have a history of high cholesterol – don’t even think about asking for a test drive!

Now that we’ve got that out of the way.. How does it drive? It’s all right. Nothin’ special … if you drive fighter jets or racecars for a living! For the rest of us it’s the closest we’ll ever get to driving a race car on the street!You don’t so much “drive it”, as you “wear it”. It envelops you, takes all the logic you may have had and throws it out the window, telling you … no, forcing you … to drive like a Bat Out Of Hell! (© Jim Steinman) As the digital speedometer is climbs into the triple digits you’re thinking, “I can go faster! …. MUST GO FASTER!! There is no speed limit on this road!” You come up to corners and see signs that say: “Slow.” Slow? What is that? Your mind can no longer comprehend!

I’m sitting in front of my computer writing this and thinking about my drive in the RX-8, and my heart is racing just at the thought of driving it! I’ve had the car for 2 days – I don’t know if I’ll survive the next 5!!

First Impressions
Drip. Drip. Drip. Slurp. That’s me drooling all over my shirt! I think this car is absolutely gorgeous. I open the door and get in. At some point in my life – and I don’t know when – the Mazda designers made a mould of my body and then built this car just for me! It fits me perfectly like no other car ever has – like a perfectly tailored suit. My wife on the other hand didn’t stop complaining about it from start to finish.

The clutch is light but difficult to modulate and in combination with the notchy gearbox – you have to really concentrate whenever you change gears. I felt like I’d never driven a manual transmission before, I just couldn’t change the gears smoothly without my passenger turning in to a bobble-head. It may have just been because it was still relatively new – 1,750 miles [2,801 kms] on the odometer. By the time the week was up I’d put 896 miles [1,433 kms] on it, and it was getting better and smother, but it still wasn’t “Honda smooth.” So, perhaps a combination of more time with the car, and the gearbox/clutch loosening up, and it might get smoother still.

The seat is extremely comfortable and it’s easy to adjust the lumbar control to keep it in the sweet-spot as the miles click over. After hours of driving I wasn’t fatigued or uncomfortable – that’s the first time for me! The seat holds you in place with no sliding – not even in the tightest of bends – it makes you feel at one with the car.

The steering is tilt but not telescopic, which would have been nice, as I felt a little too close to the steering wheel. The pedals are nicely placed and there’s a nice big dead pedal on the left (My wife on the other hand felt that the pedals were slightly askew … that they were slightly left weighted due to the transmission in the passenger compartment. She complained that she couldn’t get comfortable because of the off-set). The steering wheel is just the perfect size and combined with the instant response to the slightest input, made it feel razor sharp and made the RX-8 feel like a go-kart! In fact, the whole car feels like it’s on a knife-edge, all the time ready to take off in a split second.

You can’t just drive this car … you DRIVE this car! You can’t just accelerate reasonably through the gearbox … NO … it’s the challenge to see if you can red-line it each and every time!! That being the case, you’re never driving the speed limit! It’s completely insane … but good insane! Goose the throttle and it’s off, stomp on the brakes and you stop dead. You see a spot in traffic – you’re in it. You’re always “on” when you’re driving it – you can’t just put your brain in neutral and drive around like everyone else. It’s like a Jack Russell Terrier of the car world! My wife highly suggests simply getting up to speed and throwing the cruise control on … it’s just safer that way … less risk of losing your license!! It’s truly a pity, but we’re simply not allowed to use all that power on the roads these days.

All of the stereo and cruise control buttons on the steering wheel are logically placed and light up at night. The turn signal stalk is perfectly placed and the wiper control is exactly where it should be – on a separate stalk and on the right! The stereo and heating/air conditioning controls are easy to use, and just the way they‘re supposed to be – round, legible buttons, logically laid out (My wife would have liked to see automatic climate control instead of the very basic controls that the RX8 includes. An upgrade as simple as that would have added to the overall luxurious value feel of the vehicle). There’s a thin bar along the top edge of the dash that gives you information such as the settings for the climate control etc. In some lighting situations, and especially with sunglasses on, it got washed out and very hard to read. All the dials light up red at night except the speedometer and tachometer, which has a combination of blue and white. The tachometer is the dominant dial in front of the driver with a digital readout of the speed within the dial. It looked a bit odd at first and I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but after a very short time I didn’t even think about it. With our trip to the Grand Prix of Cleveland it worked out perfectly when we arrived at the border – just push a button and the digital read out changed from kilometres per hour to miles per hour – magic! My wife wasn’t fond of the digital speedometer … for one reason … the lack of that red speedometer arm pushing farther and farther to the right as a warning to you, that you’re well past the legal speed limit driving at those speeds! So, yes, while she may have complained about various features of the car, she didn’t seem to have a problem enjoying the performance!

The sound system is fantastic, however it was possible to push it beyond the limits of the speakers. It’s a Bose AM/FM in-dash 6-disc CD unit that’s crystal-clear and gives out plenty of bass through the 9 speakers. The test vehicle had a Sirius satellite radio unit that was hooked up, but I couldn’t find a way to get the sound to come through the stereo system. I even went to the Sirius website and downloaded the manual – which told me nothing. The Mazda car manual was just as informative – pity … I would have liked very much to try it out!

The back seat area is very interesting. It looks very tight back there, and it’s a little bit of a squeeze getting in and out on the driver’s side, because the driver’s seatback doesn’t move forward to aid in ingress and egress. However, once you’ve climbed in, it’s surprisingly comfortable back there! The seat backs are at a very comfortable angle and there’s lots of legroom … as long as the driver is short-ish. If the driver is 6-foot plus, then you’d have to take your legs off once you’ve squeezed yourself in because you’d have nowhere to put them! On the passenger side it’s much easier getting in and out because the seat backflips forward giving you more space to maneuver. The “suicide” rear doors are a great feature and we put them to use quite often for putting things in the back seat. I don’t know why more manufacturers don’t use this concept for their coupes! While the rear seats don’t fold flat for additional storage, there is a pass-through opening that you can use, or even remove if it gets in the way. Trunk space is excellent for a car of this size and held all our bags and camera equipment and laptop with ease! The wife was very impressed!

We received plenty of looks as we drove around Cleveland – apparently there aren’t many (or maybe any) RX-8’s there, because people looked at it as though they’d never seen one before! They‘d actually stop and stare at it. Young people would look at it, smile and give an approving nod as we drove past. I didn’t see another RX-8 the entire time we were in the U.S. driving through New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio – odd considering I see them all the time in Ontario.

Everyone that commented on it loved it! Non-car people asked what it was, and just drooled over it. The only exception of note was a conversation we overheard where a three-hundred pound woman in Pennsylvania commented that it “wasn’t her type of car” – I have to agree … the RX8 really isn‘t for everyone. This is a lithe, lean machine – not a boulevard cruiser!! This is a man’s car, and the passenger seat is for the women folk! Oooo … I know the wife won’t like that comment!

Even though the rotary engine is only 1.3 litres, this car offers a lot of power, thanks to it’s unique design. Peak horsepower is 232 at a high 8,500 rpm, with peak torque of 159 @ 5,500 rpm. Redline is 9,000 for the engine, and you get pretty close to it on a regular basis. These numbers on paper don’t translate how impressive this car actually is. The engine loves to spool up, and it encourages you to do so. Cruising along at virtually any speed, it sits in the 3,000 – 4,000 rpm range no matter what gear you’re in. The six-speed manual’s gate is very close and many times I thought I was in 4th gear when in fact I was in 6th – because the engine revs so high, you think you’re in the wrong gear. Combined with the stiff shifting and the difficulty of modulating it with the clutch, this is quite likely the only car for which I would ever recommend an automatic transmission – and dare I say it – flappy-paddle gear shifting on the steering wheel!

In the U.S., the RX-8 comes in two choices – Sport AT and 6-speed manual. Both cost the same; the only difference is whether you want an automatic, or a manual. Go with the automatic and you get a 212 hp engine instead of the 232 hp version tested here. Add the Grand Touring Package at $4,510, the 6-disc CD changer ($500) and the Sirius radio ($400) and you have a very close match to the test vehicle.

In Canada, the RX-8 comes in four variations – GS (with automatic or manual transmissions) and GT (with automatic or manual transmissions). There are only two options – a Moonroof and a Navigation System. Standard features include: heated front seats, tilt steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, a Bose AM/FM in-dash 6-disc CD with 9 speakers, four-wheel vented disc brakes with ABS and Traction Control, 18” Alloy wheels, keyless entry, Air, anti theft system and headlight cleaners.

The GT adds: Dynamic Stability Control with TCS, Xenon headlights, leather trimmed seats, a terrific intelligent key-less entry system – you don’t even need to take the credit card-sized fob out of your pocket to lock/unlock and start the car (there are buttons on the door handles you press to lock and unlock the vehicle, and as long as you’ve got the fob in your pocket, you’re good to go!). Included in the test vehicle was the power moonroof with one-touch open/close.

The RX-8 comes with dual-stage air bags, ABS with EBFD, all-speed Traction Control, Dynamic Stability Control with TCS, Xenon headlights, side curtain air bags and an engine immobilizer and anti-theft alarm.

Pricing for the 2006 2006 Mazda RX-8 GT
As tested: $31,845 (approximately) – $40,295 Cdn

Fuel Consumption: [Super – 91 Octane]
The Manual transmission is rated at 18 mpg City [12.8 L/100 kms] and 25 mpg Highway [9.2 L/100 kms].
I averaged 20.2 mpg [12.0 L/100km] during highway driving at an average of 78 mph. In combined driving I averaged 19.5 mpg [12.5 L/100km], which was much better than I expected it to be in the city/highway combination considering the way you tend to drive this car!

A great race-car driver’s car – the suspension/steering is like a go-kart
Excellent fit and finish
Very comfortable seats
Ferrari? – who needs a Ferrari!!

You can’t just drive this car – you have to DRIVE!!! this car at top speed everywhere. I hate to say this, but the automatic might be the one to buy…

Would I Spend My Money On It?:
Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear … in the woods? Uh yeah!

Back Seat Driver Test: 8 out of 10
“Surprisingly comfortable – I can‘t believe how comfortable it is back here.” “The seat back angle is perfect and very comfortable – love the cubby-holes.” “Getting in isn’t so bad, getting out’s a bit awkward” (drivers side). “It feels very claustrophobic”

Immediate Competition:
The RX-8 straddles a group of sports cars that fit above and below it in price/performance.
Acura RSX, Chrysler Crossfire, Ford Mustang GT, Mitsubishi Eclipse GT, Toyota Solara and Honda Accord Coupe sit below it, while cars such as the Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6, Porsche Boxster, Nissan 350Z, Audi TT, BMW Z4/325ci, Chevy Corvette, Honda S2000, Infiniti G35 sit above it.

By The Numbers…
Horsepower: 232 @ 8,500 rpm (manual) / 212 @ 7,200 (automatic)
Torque: 159 @ 5,500 (manual) / 159 @ 5,000 (automatic)
Acceleration: 0 to 60mph: 6 sec (manual)

10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
9 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
9 – Special Features (Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)

9 – Ease of Entry/Exit
9 – Front Roominess
7 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls

10 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish

9 – Engine
8 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
10 – Bang for the $$
8 – Fuel Economy

138 Total / 150

Copyright © 2006 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland / Gail Shankland


Also Published at: PaddockTalk