In April 2001 the first reports about Mazda’s rotary engine coupe-saloon RX-8 appeared. Production started in 2002. What happened then?
Behind the idea of the four-door coupe was that people wanted something more practical than a two-door coupe but liked the image and appearance of the classic hardtop sports car. The use of a compact rotary engine and a complex door concept allowed more space inside the cabin and the means to get at it without gymnastics.
At this time, sales of the BMW 3-series attracted competition, eager to get a slice of the burgeoning market. Some competitors went at this by offering similar sorts of vehicles, namely Lexus with the IS200 and Jaguar with the well-regarded X-Type. Coming at the market from another angle, the Mazda majored on the coupe versions of the Three.
The car also served the purpose of changing Mazda’s image which up to then took its lead from practical but mundane offerings such as the 626 then 6; the 323 and Premacy. The brand badly needed to get away from making also-rans in the main sectors and the RX-8 would be an image builder and a successful car in its own right.
Car and Driver asked if the four door coupe was an oxymoron, but as years went by the genre expanded, minus the complex closure mechanism of the RX-8 and its rotary engine.
The RX-8 lived up to its billing as an involving sports car but the engine, like all rotaries, proved thirsty and sensitive to careful use: cold starts and short runs did not go down well with its fine tolerances. The car stayed in production until 2012, with a mid-life re-engineering to improve body rigidity and to make minor cosmetic changes.
What it didn’t do was really set the world on fire, one of many enthusiast’s cars that get lots of coverage and then sink into the mire of new product and those mainstays they are meant to dislodge. It had it all: technical interest and driving involvement wedded to rather handsome styling. One of the holy grails of sportscar is a low-polar moment of inertia and thanks to the car’s fifty-fifty weight distribution with the main masses inside the wheelbases it ticked all the boxes. Yet it has been a quiet failure rather than an enduring icon.
You can get one with 90,000 km here for €1400.