Mazda, Road Test Reviews

2010 Mazda RX-8 R3 – Road Test

A number of years ago I drove the Mazda RX-8 and fell in love with it! It was my favourite car for well over a year before another came along and knocked it from the top spot on my list. From that point on I seemed to have a new “favourite” car on a very regular basis. So, what made the RX-8 so great that it held the top spot for so long, yet no other car has been my favourite for any more than a couple of months? If I drove it again today would I be just as enamoured with it, or was it really just a passing fancy? We’re about to find out…..

First Impressions
This past summer we’ve been in a quandary as to what our new vehicle is going to be, but in the meantime, I couldn’t resist the urge to book an entire summer of sports cars and convertibles. My wife called it my “Mid-Life Crisis Summer”. I’ve had sports car after sports car in the driveway all summer, with huge surprises from some and equal disappointments from others. I’ve been looking forward to my week with the RX-8 for weeks and finally the day arrived!

My time behind the wheel of the RX-8 was delayed by an hour or two because we had to drop off the Dodge Challenger that my wife loathed and refused to drive again, so she drove the RX-8 to Chrysler so I could drop off the Challenger. Once we’d dropped it off, I let her drive RX-8 home because we both knew this would probably be the last opportunity she’d have to drive … ’cause she’d never get the key out of my hand for the next week! It also gave me an opportunity to test the car from the passenger seat….what other journalist gives you the details that I do?

Iain Shankland,, 2010 Mazda RX-8 R3

The Recaro seats are hard and bolstered everywhere for keeping you planted during spirited driving – and believe me that’s what you do behind the wheel of this car. The lightweight Recaro seats are unique to the R3 version of the RX-8, which only comes in two flavours – GT or R3. The R3 is a little cheaper and more of a driving enthusiasts’ car as opposed to the GT that allows you to choose luxuries such as SatNav ($2,595) and a no-charge optional automatic transmission with paddle shifters. The R3 has no options available and the GT has only the two previously mentioned … so in other words, the RX-8 is stuffed with everything Mazda has to offer.  The R3 Recaro seats are half leather, half cloth and only adjust forward and back, whereas the GT seats are all leather and have niceties such as adjustable lumbar, memory and the all-important heated option for those of us in the Snow Belt. I loved the “fits-like-a-glove” feel of the seats, but anyone a little overweight, i.e. 90% of America, just won’t be comfortable in these seats – if they even fit in them! Some people may find them a little hard on the backside, but I had no complaints all week, other than a tiny bit more lumbar support would have been great for my bad back.

Iain Shankland,, 2010 Mazda RX-8 R3Behind the wheel, the RX-8 hasn’t changed one bit from the last time I drove one back in 2006. There’s still the familiar round console that houses the audio controls, and there are little hints of triangles (references to the rotary engine) throughout the car. The driver sits lower in the car than does the passenger – it’s a little odd looking up at the wife (it’s a familiar position for her ’cause she’s always looking down her nose at me..just kidding!), and you also look up at about every other vehicle on the road … you really sit low to the ground in the RX-8. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, so you can get into a very comfortable position regardless of height. The seat bolsters grab your shoulders, thighs and kidney area – you ain’t going nowhere as you take 90 degree turns flat out!

Starting the car requires tuning a permanently embedded key that you can’t remove. I liked it much better than the annoying push-button starts that virtually every car is now using. (With the key-style starter you know when you’ve turned the car off and when you have it set for the auxiliary mode – with the push button, a lot of the time you don’t really know what you’ve done to the car after you’ve pushed the button to switch it off.) Once the engine fires up, there’s a raspy sound coming out of the rear exhaust – a bit like those exhausts the kids put on the lowered Honda’s and Toyota’s – only a lot less annoying.

Iain Shankland,, 2010 Mazda RX-8 R3

One of my pet peeves with the RX-8 back in ‘06 was the clutch and shifter – they were a terrible combination. Not so with the ’10 version – it’s exactly as you’d expect of a Japanese car – silky smooth and a nice light clutch. The 6-speed gearbox is slick and has very short throws. The steering is perfectly weighted and is as sharp as a tack. Combined with a very stiff suspension, the RX-8 feels like a go-kart and never lets you forget it!  If you want a softly sprung ride, you’ll have to look elsewhere – this is a driver’s car! The base – GT model comes with a Sport-tuned suspension and a limited-slip rear differential, but the R3 version adds Bilstein dampers on the front suspension along with front suspension cross members filled with urethane foam, and on the rear the multi-link suspension gets Bilstein dampers. With a weight distribution of 48/52 (front/rear), the RX-8 is finely balanced and very agile.

Entering the motorway I floor the throttle and let it rev right up – almost to the 9,000 rpm redline – sweet! I’m blasting along ready to merge and there’s a Toyota Corolla beside me – what the… I should have left him for dust -what gives? I look at the digital speedometer – I’m doing 120 km/h. One-twenty?! It feels like I’m doing at least 160! Over the course of the week find that the RX-8 has this very unusual trait of making you feel like you’re travelling way faster than you actually are. Now normally I’d say that’s a bad thing, but it’s actually good because you’re having so much fun and you THINK you’re speeding – but you’re not!! This is one of the few cars where you don’t really have to worry about losing your license – it’s absolute genius!

The audio system is provided by Bose® and is labelled as a “premium audio system” with 9-speakers and a 6 disc in-dash CD/MP3 player with an auxiliary audio input. I’m familiar with Bose products – my home theatre speakers are Bose, but this system is very disappointing. With the bass cranked all the way up it offers very little in the way of low or deep bass sound – it was more tinny than quality to both my wife’s and my ears. I’d bin it and get an after-market one, except… how would you replace the head unit? Have a look at the picture – it’s impossible. There’s an auxiliary jack inside the centre console armrest, but a USB jack is sorely missing. Tisk tisk – that means no iPod either.

Iain Shankland,, 2010 Mazda RX-8 R3

For 2010, the RX-8’s standard equipment on both GT and R3 trim levels include: a RENESIS 1.3 Litre Rotary engine with a variable dynamic effect intake system; 232 hp & 159 lb-ft of torque @ 9,000 rpm; a 6-speed manual transmission; Torsen limited-slip differential; four-wheel disc brakes; anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBFD); Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with Traction Control System (TCS); direct-drive electronically assisted steering; Xenon (HID) headlights; front and side-impact airbags; dual front and rear side curtain airbags; power windows and door locks; Bose® premium audio system with 9-speakers and 6 disc in-dash CD/MP3 player; Bluetooth®; Intelligent Key System (keyless entry and start); auto-dimming rear-view mirror with HomeLink; rain-sensing wipers and automatic on/off front headlamps.

The GT trim includes: 18-inch wheels with high-performance tires; heated leather-trimmed front seats with push-button on seats for easier ingress/egress of rear seats, 8-way adjustable power driver’s seat with lumbar support, power memory seat; steering wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls, automatic climate control, Bluetooth capability; power-operated glass moonroof and useless SIRIUS satellite radio. Two options are available on the GT, a no-charge 6-speed automatic transmission with steering-mounted paddle shifters and a navigation system. The RX-8’s horsepower rating when equipped with the automatic transmission is 212 hp and the engine’s redline is 7500 RPM.

The R3 adds Unique design 19-inch lightweight forged aluminum-alloy wheels with 225/40 R19 Performance tires; raised rear spoiler; sport integrated front bumpers and side sills;  lightweight Recaro sport seats in the front with leather side bolsters, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob with red stitching, and the aforementioned suspension upgrades.

Iain Shankland,, 2010 Mazda RX-8 R3

The rear doors are what make the RX-8 stand out from all other sports cars. Apart from making it a lot easier to store and retrieve things, it makes it a lot easier for rear passengers to get in and out. As long as the front seats aren’t pushed all the way back, the rear is quite comfortable for adults – however, if the front occupants are tall then rear foot and leg space is eliminated entirely. It was perfect for us because we have a dog and no children – other people might not be so fortunate. Our dog enjoyed it back there because the front air vents could easily be pointed to the back seat, and there is the bonus of the rear side windows opening just enough to get some air in without worrying about your dog trying to jump out the window. The rear seats don’t fold for extra cargo space, but there is a pass-through for long, thin items.

Iain Shankland,, 2010 Mazda RX-8 R3

One issue we did come across was accessing the trunk. I couldn’t find the button to open it. I searched everywhere logically that it could be placed. There is no release from inside the car at all. So I looked through the owner’s manual and I found it – down by the license plate on the exterior – an odd place to put it, but once we knew it was there it wasn’t an issue … until I had to pull over to the side of the road to get something out of the trunk … then began the comedy of errors. My wife jumps out and goes to the trunk, pushes the button… nothing. I put the parking brake on…nothing. I press the key fob button…nothing. I had to switch the car off before the button would operate!!!! What moron in Japan thinks this is a good idea?! How many times have you jumped out of the car to quickly retrieve something in the trunk? I’ve done it literally hundreds of times…except this time – denied!

ABS with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBFD); Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with Traction Control System (TCS); Xenon (HID) headlights; front and side impact airbags; Engine immobilizer theft-deterrent system; Automatic headlight washers; Rain sensing wipers; Anti-theft alarm system; Front safety-belt pre-tensioners with force limiters; Dual front and rear side air curtains; Dual front side airbags; Dual front airbags.

The Conclusion
I still love the look and the utility of the RX-8 – those rear doors make the car so user-friendly I’m surprised no one else has copied the design. It’s a blast to drive, but as much fun as it is – I’d love to get it with a turbo for some extra Zoom-Zoom.

The low horsepower and torque numbers belie how much fun this car really is!
The rear doors make it practical and usable

Wonderful seats that need a lumbar adjustment and bum warmers to make them superb
Less than impressive stereo system
Can’t get into the cargo/trunk unless you switch off the car!

Immediate Competition:
Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Nissan 370Z

By The Numbers…
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Powertrain:              1.3 L twin-rotor RENESIS Rotary Engine; 6-speed manual; RWD
Horsepower:              232 @ 8,500 rpm
Torque lb-ft:            159 @ 5,500 rpm
0-100 kph:               6.1 seconds
Cargo Capacity:          290 L (10.2 cu.ft)
Curb Weight:             1,410 kg (3,108 lbs)
Towing capacity:         Never tow with it

Fuel Consumption:  (Premium Unleaded – 91 Octane)
City:  12.8 L/100 kms  //  Highway: 9.2  L/100 kms
I averaged 13.4 L/100 kms during city/town driving with a heavy right foot, and 11.6 L/100 kms on the motorway @ a steady 120- 130 km/h

Pricing for the 2010 Mazda RX-8 ($ Cdn)
R3 – Base Price / As Tested: $41,995
GT – Base Price / As Tested:  $43,795
Destination & Delivery: $1,595

The 2010 RX-8 is covered by a 3-year or 80,000 km vehicle warranty that covers every part of the vehicle except those subject to normal wear. Additional warranties cover Powertrain components for a period of 5 years or 100,000 km, Rotary Engine Core (Short Engine) for 8 years or 160,000 km. A 3-year roadside assistance program is also standard.

Iain Shankland,, 2010 Mazda RX-8 R3

Copyright © 2011 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland

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