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Mazda RX-8 R3

Click to view picture gallery“Mazda has a new spin on
  accessories for the latest
  generation of its unique rotary-
  powered RX-8 four-door
  coupe — there are none!

THE NEW GENERATION RX-8 R3, unveiled earlier this year, will hit British showrooms in late August. However, unlike just about every other car on the road, there are no options offered on this one. It comes in at 24,995 and that includes a very comprehensive standard equipment list with over a dozen items of equipment not previously available on an RX-8.

In addition to the Sports Styling Pack, larger 19-inch diameter alloy wheels and Recaro front seats, every R3 comes with twelve new items such as cruise control, automatic light-sensing Xenon headlamps, automatic rain-sensing wipers, an integrated Bluetooth system and special R3-badged carpet mats.

Owners will also enjoy the new BOSE premium audio system with Centerpoint surround sound (and AudioPilot noise compensation technology) designed exclusively for the R3 with an eight-channel digital amplifier. A six-CD autochanger, nine speakers, and an AUX auxiliary jack for connecting an MP3 player, complete the audio system.

Externally, the new RX-8 has a standard-fit Sports Styling Pack comprising a sports front bumper, side skirts and rear wing all finished in body colour. The new model's front wings no longer feature the air-extractor vents behind the wheel arches and, instead, accommodate the indicator repeater lights.

The more aggressive appearance created by the revised styling is complemented by the larger diameter 19-inch alloy wheels shod with ultra-low profile 40-section tyres. These new, extra-light wheels have five 'rotor'-shaped spokes and are finished in dark titanium.

Under this stylish new skin sits a significantly improved and retuned 228bhp 1.3-litre engine with sharper responses and better lubrication to improve driving pleasure, a reworked chassis incorporating Bilstein shocks, front wishbones with rear multi-links and modified brakes and steering. The redesigned, stiffer chassis promotes better handling and greater comfort and the front-midship engine installation and rear-wheel drive configuration delivers an ideal 50:50 weight distribution.

One thing that hasn't changed is that the four-door coupe body, with its distinctive rear hinged 'suicide' back doors, is really a two-plus-two with a small boot. But what lies under the curvy coupe body is, in the right hands, just as impressive as the looks.

It may only displace 1.3-litres but the retuned engine — while it sounds busy — seems unburstable. There is a penalty, though, because the high-revving rotary engine produces one of the highest emission figures for any car — 299g/km — and you can expect to average under 25mpg. It will, however, get to 62mph in 6.4 seconds and on, where permissible, to a maximum speed of 146mph.

Deserving an honourable mention is the RX-8 R3's light and direct six-speed gear change (developed from that in the MX-5) and the beautifully balanced brakes and electrically-assisted steering.

The major controls impart remarkable feel and feedback over twisting roads, and the compliant sports suspension generally soaks up bumps without too many of them jarring the interior. The mid-ship front engine/rear-wheel drive set-up accounts for a lot of this fine balance, particularly over bumpy roads, and there's tremendous grip from the low-pro tyres.

Room in the front seats is very good even if the Recaros are a tight fit for some users, but the rear pair is of very limited practical use with virtually no legroom when the front seats are set for six-footers.

Excellent visibility allows the driver to easily place the nimble RX-8 R3 very precisely on the road. Better still, it feels extremely well sorted. One caution: due to the small back window and high tail, care is definitely needed when reversing into a parking space.

The RX-8 R3's engine note is generally smooth but it can become harsh at higher revs, and the big wheel/tyre combination also generates a modest amount of rumbles. But keen drivers will find it a pleasant addiction to hear that unique engine spinning away while the car eagerly responds to the gentlest of steering and braking inputs. All-in-all Mazda's latest RX-8 gives so much, so well and from so little that you can understand why it doesn't need anything else. — Robin Roberts

Mazda RX-8 R3
| 24,995
Maximum speed: 146mph | 0-62mph: 6.4 seconds
Overall MPG: 25mpg | Power: 228bhp | Torque: 155lb ft
CO2 299g/km | VED Band G 400 | Insurance group 16