The Mazda RX-8 R3 is the kimchi of automobiles. Foodies love Korea’s favorite side dish, but the uninformed eschew Kimchi (rotting fermented cabbage) because it sounds awful and it literally stinks. The RX-8 R3 isn’t stinky nor has a funky smell (used ones on the market might, but that’s a different story) you have to drive and taste the RX-8 R3 to understand its complexities and to comprehend how deep the car will take you into automotive nirvana. I had a chance to drive one recently, and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. If it wasn’t for the gearbox being slightly, well, wrecked, it might be in my driveway.
Like kimchi, this car is just so misunderstood. If you look at its performance data—which is never a great factor in selecting your chariot—it’s lackluster at best. 232 horsepower and 159 lb-ft of torque, zero to sixty in 6.5 seconds. The biggest contributor to the public wariness of the RX-8 was its very unique engine, a 1.3-liter rotary. The heartbeat of the RX-8 is small in stature, but certainly doesn’t lack in character. Mazda has a history and pedigree in developing excellent rotary engines. Mazda won a 24hrs of LeMans championship with a rotary engine and the twin-turbo rotary powered FD Mazda RX-7 is skyrocketing in price because of its cult car status. Thanks Han (Fast and the Furious reference). The problem is that no one understands what the hell it is, or how it works.
Rotary engines are not easy to explain—I have an engineering background and hardly can grasp the full concept—but I can say that it’s similar to the “otto cycle,” which has induction, compression, power and exhaust. You are better off Googling “mazda wankel engine,” or take a look at the image below—I’ll wait while you do—and we are back. The engine of the RX-8 is only a little bit bigger then the bottle of soda you had for lunch. With such demure size, one would think it would get great fuel economy, right? No. The RX-8 consumes fuel like Korean’s consume kimchi, that is to say it is at a highly rapid rate, 16/22 mpg city and highway. To make things a little worse the rotary engine has some quirks, it consumes oil, the engine floods easily if it isn’t warmed up, if you don’t properly maintain it, the seals start to go bad. This means that it could be more high maintenance then your high strung 14-year-old, and who needs more of that in their life? You have to completely understand and fully digest this car before you decide to own one.
Despite all of its flaws, the RX-8 R3, has received high praise. Car and Driver ranked it third place in “Best Cars for under $100,000.” It was $70,000 below the $100,000 mark and beat it the BMW M3, Nissan GT-R and Chevrolet Corvette Z06, only losing to a Lotus and a Porsche. In 2008, Motor Trend’s Jonny Lieberman went on the record saying, “I’m not saying that the RX-8 R3 handles well for a $32k car. I’m saying it handles better than a $320k car. Or, more importantly, whatever you’re driving.” Even with such high accolades it never really found its place in the market. Due to low sales volume, the RX-8 was discontinued in late 2011.
The story of the RX-8 and its daft engine doesn’t allow for you to completely understand the car. Once you slip inside and you’ll instantly feel like a race car driver– it has a low slung hood and great seating position, everything falls into place as it should. Start the car and you’ll instantly be memorized by the sound of the 1.3-liter rotary engine, which has such a unique sound that you must take it for a spin. Slot the shifter into gear and you’ll feel like you’ve done this before—light, crisp and full of feedback. Press the gas pedal and smile all the way to the sport bike territory 9,000 rpm redline. Turn the steering wheel and you’ll recognize the superb handling, think four door(ish)/hardtop Mazda Miata.
If you do a quick search for RX-8 R3s on the used car market, you’ll recognize that they are bargain. Please go check, I won’t wait this time, you can do it after you read this. You can find them from $10,000-$20,000 and most have low mileage. Buy one now because prices are starting to level out and we might even see an increase if Mazda decides to release the rotary again.
Speaking of that, Mazda just released a sneak peak photo of its newest sports car concept. You can only see the shadow of the car but people are speculating it might be another RX-8 or rotary powered sports cars. Could this set up the RX-8 to be the greatest comeback of all-time? With everything good that Mazda is producing these days, I expect this new Mazda will be as simply complex, and as beloved, as Kimchi.