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Mazda RX-8 R3

Click to view picture gallery“It’s blatantly designed to rumble but
  you don
t have to be an oil-in-your-
  veins petrolhead to lust after a Mazda
  RX-8. Because hidden behind the
  sports coupe
s track-ready looks,
  bulging wheel arches and those
  intriguing rear
suicidedoors, theres
  a practical coupe with four inviting
  individual seats waiting to be filled...”

STYLING IS UNASHAMEDLY 'FAST' with 19-inch alloy wheels packing out sharply defined wheel arches, big front air intakes and a wide, muscular stance, angled headlights, meaningful boot spoiler and twin round rear LED lights with an understated hint of Ferrari about them plus big bore exhaust tailpipes. The RX-8 is one of those rare cars that really does look arresting from almost every angle — finished in Crystal White Pearlescent, as was our test car, it's a real head-turner.

Low-slung and a coupe it undeniably is, but it's also a very cleverly packaged sports car. Open a door and the RX-8 is as practical as it is good looking. The high centre tunnel creates a strong 'individual' feel to each seat, especially in the front. Fit and finish is spot on and the overall design well themed with a well-judged dash of audacity. The first surprise is the four bucket-style 'chairs'. The next surprise is the low-slung driver's seat: drop into that and you'll enjoy a commandingly 'upright' driving position and decent headroom.

Consequently, visibility forward and to the sides is not the issue it might appear from outside. The shapely two-tone Recaros (part-leather with metallic-effect silver-grey fabric inserts) really are good and provide plenty of support and comfort. There's no height adjustment for the seats which for most drivers means the window line at their shoulder level but this only adds to the track day racer feel. As, too, does the short gear lever — not much more than the gear knob itself protrudes from the transmission tunnel. It's a very close gate and the change action is ever so slightly notchy; but precise. It needs, and rewards, a firm and deliberate hand.

From the driving seat, the focus of your attention is the sporty instrument pack: pride of place goes to the large rev-counter, a genuinely worthwhile feature of which is the large digital mph readout inset in the rev-counter — in a world drowning in too much information, it's the perfect solution. The rev-counter is flanked on the left by a smaller gauge for engine coolant temperature and, on the right, by the fuel gauge. Graphic are easy-to-read bright white. The sporty, leather-wrapped, red-stitched three-spoke wheel only adjusts for height and incorporates multi-function buttons and the same high-gloss black finish as the centre stack. Even the horn push is nicely detailed, with a chromed Mazda motif — press and the note is strident.

The most sought-after
seats are always going to
be behind the wheel
and next to the pilot...
When it comes to 'kit', the RX-8 is generously loaded — standard equipment includes Recaro half-leather bucket seats with integrated head restraints, half-leather rear seats, integrated Bluetooth system, premium BOSE MP3-compatible audio system with 9 speakers and Centerpoint and AudioPilot technologies, 8-channel digital amplifier, integrated 6-CD autochanger, auxiliary jack, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control (with steering wheel-mounted controls), speed-sensitive electric power steering and a leather steering wheel, gear knob and handbrake all with red stitching…

And there's more! Electric front windows with one-touch auto down, manual flip-opening rear windows, automatic climate control air-conditioning, alloy pedals and driver footrest, rain-sensing wipers, auto lights, Xenon headlamps with automatic levelling and washer jets, tinted glass, electric heated door mirrors with puddle lights, front fogs and 19-inch dark titanium alloy wheels with 225/40 tyres.

Also fitted as standard are driver and passenger front airbags, front side airbags and full-length curtain airbags along with Isofix child seat anchorages. Primary safety kit includes Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and Traction Control System (TCS), all-disc braking system (ventilated front and rear) with ABS and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and a Limited Slip Differential (LSD).

The so-called 'suicide' back doors (because they're hinged at the trailing edge) are shorter but, opened together with the front doors, allow access to the grippy rear seats. In fact, the smaller doors — hardly noticeable unless you know they're there (the lack of an external rear door handle aids the illusion) — provide practical access. The front seat belts, incidentally, slide neatly out of the way on a rail.

So while you won't get your feet snagged in the belt, you do need to watch your head: while entry and exit to and from the rear cabin is straightforward enough, the downward curve of the low roofline can catch out the unwary or over-eager. That's not to say that adults can't travel comfortably in the back; they can, just so long as they're under six-feet tall. In which case there's good foot room, okay knee room and just about enough headroom. Rear passengers share a padded centre armrest and there are good built-in outer armrests and, despite the smallish flip-open windows, it's not at all claustrophobic travelling in the back. Not that it matters too much because the RX-8 is first and foremost a compact sports car so the most sought-after seats are always going to be behind the wheel and next to the pilot!

146mph with 0-62mph
in 6.4 seconds.
And the RX-8 has
twice won
‘Engine of the Year’
At 290 litres the boot is pretty reasonable although it can't be expanded as the rear seat-backs don't fold but there is a fair-sized load-through hatch. The boot lid opens high and the opening is long and on the narrow side. And when you're flying solo the rear seats make a great catch-all area for most things, from your weekender case to a large holdall.

And with a dash of lateral thinking, the RX-8 offers a simple solution to another problem that has perplexed the keen driver-cum-family man ever since the first sports car turned a wheel: namely, that if you're a committed sports car driver and your 'two' suddenly becomes a 'three', you can keep the car and the family!

Lift the RX-8's bonnet and you'll find a compact powerplant like no other because nestling far back and low down in the engine bay is a rotary engine. For a start, the smooth-revving 'Renesis' rotary engine has only three moving parts! And with a cubic capacity measuring a mere 1,308cc, its 228bhp is more than impressive. That's a decent bit of power to play with but to make the most of it you have make full use of the engine's rev-happy character because max power is developed at 8,200rpm (redlined at 9,000rpm). And you'll need to keep your right foot planted and the gear lever snicking through the gate if you really want to get the best out of it. Maximum speed is 146mph; 0-62mph takes 6.4 seconds. For the record, the RX-8 has twice won 'Engine of the Year'.

Happily, the six-speed manual 'box has a precise shift action which combined with very short throws is fast enough to keep up and ensure the onward and upward stream of uninterrupted turbine-like power. Completing the performance 'trinity' is the RX-8's light, progressive clutch. It's the kind of engine that involves you, constantly inviting you to take advantage of the revs.

However, should you prefer to pop the gear lever in sixth and cruise then the RX-8 will diligently do its duty. Work it hard and the rotary engine emits a throaty wail but drive it lazily or cruise along in top gear and it's non-intrusive. Rotary engines tend to develop power and torque further up the rev range and while the RX-8's 228bhp unit only musters 155lb ft of torque, it's flexible enough for real-world driving — if you want a sudden burst of acceleration, you'll just need to use the 'box.

Driving an RX-8 is easy.
Buying one easier still
because there’s only
one model and only one
spec: fully loaded
The RX-8 puts its power down through its rear wheels and this goes a long way to explaining its sharp steering and the precise turn-in. There's a reliable stream of feedback through the leather-wrapped rim. Of course, the 50:50 front:rear weight distribution helps a lot, too. Snug and close to the road in the driver's seat, the RX-8 feels like a well-honed track day car: the brakes are strong and confidence inspiring; and however hard you need to brake, the RX-8 shaves off the speed without any fuss. And, enhanced by tight body control and Bilstein dampers, manoeuvrability is all you could wish for.

Track day capable doesn't prevent its chassis being compliant enough to serve up a surprisingly good ride with no jarring over our shoddy British road surfaces while at the same time providing a fluent driving experience. Road holding is of the 'seriously good' grade; it stays predictable and makes the RX-8 a hoot to boot over testing A and B roads. Also worth noting is that, despite the R3 running great-looking dark titanium 19-inch alloy wheels with ultra-low profile tyres, they don't spoil the ride. The standard-fit DSC is indulgent, cutting you a fair amount of slack without letting you get into trouble.

Where your enthusiasm will be severely tested is at the pumps. Officially, the RX-8 will return a mid-twenties figure but drive it as it begs to be driven and you'll find yourself on the wrong side of 20mpg. Officially, the RX-8 manages 18mpg in the city and as much as 31 touring, with an average mpg figure of 24.6. Our own week-long test average worked out to 22mpg. So fun, Yes; frugal, No.

Driving an RX-8 is easy. Buying one is easier still because there's only one RX-8 model — the R3 reviewed here. And there's only one spec: fully loaded. In fact, the only thing you need to do, apart from write the cheque, is to choose the colour. Currently your choices are Sparkling Black Mica, Diamond Grey Metallic, Velocity Red Mica, Crystal White Pearlescent, Aurora Blue Mica or Sunlight Silver Metallic. Don't worry: the R3 looks great in everything it wears! —

Mazda RX-8 R3
| £24,995
Maximum speed: 146mph | 0-62mph: 6.4 seconds | Overall test MPG: 22mpg
Power: 228bhp | Torque: 155lb ft | CO2 299g/km | Insurance group 16/31E