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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Road and Track Article

Charles Darwin once summed up his theory regarding evolution in one simple phrase: Only the strong survive. If that's so, then the RX-8 is one tough automobile. The odds of this car being produced about a half decade ago were longer than the Chicago Bulls winning this year's NBA title.

It was 1995, and the Mazda RX-7 had just been discontinued in the U.S. market. Nevertheless, Mazda was feverishly working on a new sports car — one that could take the place of the RX-7 in the U.S. — equipped with a new type of engine dubbed the MSP-RE, a naturally-aspirated 2-rotor Wankel with side exhaust ports that resulted in cleaner emissions (see R&T, February 1996).

The car was called the RX-01 and the company was hoping to introduce the 220-bhp 2-seater for about half the price of its flagship sports car. But just as Mazda's management was going into the final decision-making phases regarding the future of the car, Ford took controlling interest of the Hiroshima-based company, and all plans regarding the RX-01 and its engine were put on hold. "Upscale sports cars and rotary engines don't make sense in today's marketplace," Ford's top brass reportedly told Mazda employees.

Many within the company thought that Mazda's days of the rotary engine were over. "We believed that the first thing Ford would do was stop us from making rotaries," a Mazda engineer said. "In financial terms, continuing with the rotary made little sense, but for us, well, it's what made us Mazda. The odds were against us, but we were set on making Ford understand that."

And they succeeded. The engineers passionately continued work on the development of the MSP-RE, many on their own time. Finally the new execs got the message and gave the green light to produce a rotary-powered sports-car concept. Called the RX-Evolv, the new Mazda showpiece looked nothing like any of its predecessors. For starters, it had four doors.

The rear doors were virtually hidden when closed and swung out in suicide fashion. And when both the front and rears were fully open, you were treated to an uncluttered view of the interior because the car had no B-pillars. I easily slipped into the back seat and found plenty of knee space and head room, while a 6-footer sat up front. This was no disguised 2+2; it was a genuine 4-seater. The RX-Evolv was the talk of the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show where everyone took notice of the car's unique door system — many criticized it, saying such a concept would never work. But Mazda did not flinch.

The following year, we had our first glimpse of the production version of the Evolv. It went by a new name, RX-8, and while the car's overall character remained intact, it wore a significantly prettier face. At about this time, I was invited to drive a mechanical prototype of the car, equipped with the new rotary engine, which also went by a new name, the Renesis (see cover story, March 2001 and Technology Update, June 2001).

The Renesis was impressive indeed. Without the aid of a supercharger or turbocharger, it pumped out about 250 bhp. In a brief test drive, I found that this powerplant, much like the Honda S2000's VTEC inline-4, produced most of its power in the upper rev range, which is fun and rewarding on a racetrack but quite cumbersome during real-world driving. I told Mazda's head of product planning, Phil Martens, that the Renesis needed more pop down low.

Apparently, he was working on much more than the engine. The finalized version of the RX-8 bowed at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show, where its styling, particularly at the front end, had undergone another significant transformation. At first glance the yellow sports car didn't look Japanese at all, but rather, Italian with its aggressive face, elegant contours and flowing lines. If it weren't for the big "M" on the hood, I would have mistaken it for a Ferrari or Maserati. In fact, I believe this RX-8 is the prettiest car to have come out of Japan, ever. Kudos to Mazda's design team for achieving such a shape in a 4-seat, 4-door package.

The car's exterior dimensions are roughly those of an Acura NSX, only taller, measuring 174.2 in. from bumper to bumper, with an overall width and height of 69.7 and 52.8 in., respectively. But its wheelbase is longer than anything in its class at 106.3 in. (longer than the company's midsize sedan, the 626, by more than an inch). This means there's plenty of leg room inside for both front and rear passengers, as well as space for two golf bags in the trunk.

"The car looks great," I told Martens at the motor show. "When can I drive it?"

A couple of months later, I was in Hiroshima, Japan, sliding into the driver's seat of a close-to-final prototype of the RX-8.

The Drive

Turn the ignition key, and the 2-rotor Wankel comes to life with a familiar, melodious zing. Depress the accelerator pedal and you'll find that the 2970-lb. sports car leaves the line in appropriate sports-car fashion, chirping its rear 225/45ZR-18 tires before leaping forward. (Standard models will come with 16-in. wheels.) It was immediately evident that this latest version of the Renesis had significantly more low-end punch than before, but its sweet spot remained in the middle of the rpm spectrum.

With 90 percent of peak torque available at 3250 rpm, the RX-8 seems to find its true stride when the tachometer needle sweeps past the 3000-rpm mark, surging forward with alacrity. And the acceleration keeps building all the way to its 9000-rpm redline. Sixty miles per hour comes and goes in roughly 6 seconds; the quarter-mile mark in about 14.5.

The Renesis engine has been tuned to produce 250 bhp at 8500 rpm and 162 lb.-ft. of torque at 7500, the highest output ever from a naturally-aspirated 2-rotor Wankel. While the rotor housings are similar to those of the 13B RX-7 engine's, a new 3-stage, 6-port induction system gives the Renesis improved breathing, eliminating the need for turbochargers. Also, it's more economical than the RX-7's 13B, getting up to 30 percent better fuel economy in certain driving situations.

The 1.3-liter engine comes mated to a new 6-speed manual transmission that features short flick-of-the-wrist throws and well-defined gates, very similar in feel to the one in the Mazda Miata — understandable when you consider both are manufactured by the same company, Aisin.


The RX-8's straight-line performance was impressive indeed, but my biggest concern was how the car would perform through corners. Having four doors without B-pillars to provide structural support introduces numerous problems in a car, most notably chassis flex. How stiff would the RX-8's body feel through turns?


Amazingly, around Mazda proving ground's tricky assortment of corners, the RX-8 chassis exhibited rock-solid rigidity, with no sign of flex whatsoever. And the harder I drove, the more solid the car felt. "I'll let you in on something," one of the engineers told me after my drive. "We made the body of this thing stiffer than that of the RX-7."

Their secret, I was later told, was in the numerous structural reinforcements that branch out from the RX-8's backbone chassis. With so much of its support located on or near the floor, one can only assume a convertible version is on the way. There's even talk that the next Miata will be built on this platform.


Combine this rigid chassis with the RX-8's 50/50 front/rear weight distribution and compliant suspension, and you have an automobile that has the cornering manners of a pure-blooded sports car. Although turn-in response through tight hairpins was a bit on the soft side (Mazda engineers say they are still in the midst of fine-tuning the suspension), the steering felt precise and the car behaved predictably through all types of corners with minimal body roll. The RX-8's front suspension system — upper and lower A-arms — is basically the same as that in the RX-7, but the rear 5-link setup is completely new. Six separate mounting points provide the foundation for a maze of bars and links, a la Porsche 911, to ensure an optimal balance of performance and ride quality.

And the RX-8's open-road manners are exceptional, exhibiting a smooth ride while appropriately absorbing potholes and other road irregularities. Also the Mazda's cabin remains quiet, with wind noise creeping in at about 70 mph.

So far so good, but there was one more subject that needed addressing: safety, particularly regarding side impact. So how well does a B-pillarless RX-8 handle a side collision? According to Mazda, it rates better than most of today's midsize sedans. The key here is a metal beam that runs down the forward edge of the rear door (top to bottom) that actually doubles as a pillar. When the door is closed, this beam latches at two points to the body, the roof and floor. In a computer simulation of a side impact at 38.5 mph, the door beam effectively absorbed the impact of the blow and redirected the force throughout the rest of the frame. Side airbags and safety curtains will be offered as optional equipment.

Although prices have not yet been announced, it's no secret that Mazda is aiming at the 20- or 30-something customer who needs the flexibility of 4-passenger seating, but isn't necessarily ready to sacrifice his soul to a sport-utility or minivan. Therefore, Mazda admits it will keep the price of the RX-8 as "competitive as possible." I played a sneaky game of process of elimination with different members of the Mazda team and came up with this figure: $26,000. A fully-equipped, top-of-the-line model, with a 4- or 5-speed automatic could come below or at the $30,000 mark. If my guess is right, Mazda's new sports-car species will not only survive our fickle automobile environment, but may soon become a dominant entity in the below-$30,000 market.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
The German magazine AutoBild.de had a German review of the car up. I pasted it into Babelfish and here is a translation, that while not fully understandable, helps get some of the good points of the car across.

We live in a moved time. Anyhow on the car referred. Large, small, broad, narrow, high, flat or also completely briefly pushed together mobile make themselves over our roads ago.

Is nevertheless prima, say, there become it not boringly. Is correct, even if sometimes totally self-willed creatures are the result. A Van Coupé really does not need anybody, and whether a jeep with speed 250 must over the course boarded - I do not know it. Is in addition, clear: These multicolored sheet metal blooms bring color into our autolife. And now a completely freshness is added.

Rx-8 stands drauf, and at first sight to it nothing really unusual is actually to be discovered. Well 4.40 meters long, in front with flat lip and in the back stub tail. Could come also from Alfa Romeo (Alfa 156). Or of BMW, because those are admit for sporty Coupés.

Which distinguishes this Mazda however, are two things, which he conceals to us first, make singular: the door concept and the wankel engine. We look at ourselves first the knuffige cab. There two large doors are on the right of and left - as had. But now kommt's: In order to arrive at the rear places, we do not have laboriously between front seat-back and central post durchschlaengeln, we slide ourselves simply inside. Without setting, because the Rx-8 receives us by additional stub doors as with open arms.

The Clou thereby: The auxiliary hatches are in the back fastened, which is missing middle roof posts (b-column). That is so simple. Or nevertheless not? Probably hardly, because otherwise this principle of the light entrance would be long common. Mazda is thereby the first manufacturer, that brings this unusual Viertuerer to Europe.

The problem thereby is security. Because with the Seitencrash the sturdy b-column normally protects us. The Japanese solved the problem ingeniously. The rear doors carry a sturdy perpendicular steel tube, which is embodied above and down with reasoning. Altogether the Rx-8 is all important Crash standards (euro NCAP of four stars) to fulfill - and with the seitenaufprall (with 55 km/h the door of only 150 millimeters) even an optimum is imprinted mark.

We believe it to them, because with first test runs on the Mazda Testgelaende in Japan the body convinced by high rigidity and stability. But the technicians in addition, some let themselves be broken in. Thus a strong frame profile beside the cardan shaft from carbon fiber, which connects the engine gear unit as central backbone with the rear Differenzial, sits.

Result is a very precise road-hugging property, which Rx-8 absorbs curves greedily and as pulled on the cord its course pulls. Even malicious bumps in close turns do not bring unrest in the vehicle. The chassis is on the newest conditions. In front double wishbones, in the back a complex multi-steering wheel axle. In addition a direct power steering, which obtain a very good feeling for the road.

So far, so well. Until this way Mazda settled its homework outstanding. But it becomes now seriously. Because under its hood the Rx-8 carries not any engine, but a Wankel. We know that naturally from the last Rx-7 - finally Mazda maintains the rotary piston engine since 1961. But last the Rx-7 did not create no more with us the exhaust hurdle and since then in Japan is only sold.

Now is it thus again there. Without turbo-loading and 240 HP strongly. It is to create euro 4 and consume 20 per cent less than in the last Rx-7. How much will be exact that, the technicians did not want us yet betrayed (approx. 11.6 l/100 km). But to the steering wheel they left to us - and that was an experience. Did you feel already times a Wankel? That is somewhat completely special. A mixture from twelve-cylinder and turbine. Starts beginningless, winds up easy, has no vibrations - and sounded in the past unfortunately also usually like a vacuum cleaner.

Now thus the wiedergeburt in the Rx-8. and they shrank the small Motoerchen still times. 30 per cent more compactly and more easily than in the Rx-7 - that is a feat. And in addition strongly and with high engine speed like never. To fullly 9000 routes the Wankel is jubilant, without it must particularly exert. It sounds finally so hoarse and arises, as we always wished it.

Yes, that is the music, which fits the knackigen handling. Because that is the Rx-8 without doubt: a sports car. Arise thus however no doubts: A Porsche is not it. And also no puristic Rx-7. for it it offers not only too much place and comfort. Above all it is one: a good-natured car. Also in the frontier easily to restrain is. Thus it occurs that the neutrally balanced Rx-8 (weight distribution 50:50 in front/in the back) wants to hang the tail with changes of load in fast curves already times outward. Power however nothing, because the ESP (of Bosch; here DSC is called) immediately intervenes and each Schwaenzeln in the germ suffocated.

Result which remains to cling after the first Schnupper rounds? There are lighter, stronger and also faster sports cars. But none like these. With which Mazda has a second car in the program, fascinating in completely different kind, after the Mx-5. The only one, which connects both, is the favourable price. Because with 30.000 euro for 192 HP (the strong 240-PS-Wankel is to cost 35,000 euro) the Rx-8 marks a completely new class. And in addition courage really belongs.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I found an article from AutoExpress (UK Mag), in a PDF format. Since I was bored, I typed it out so you can enjoy it!

The sports car revolution starts here! It's Mazda's most eagerly anticipated model since the MX-5, and we got behind the wheel for an exclusive first drive.

Set to go on sale early next year, the innovated rotary-engined RX-8 supercoupe is expected to cost only $25,995 -- and offer an astonishing 250bhp. We got to grips with the BMW 3 Series Coupe, and Auti TT rival in the first test of an early prototype. Despite our car's rough-and-ready appearance, there's no doubt the RX-8 is one of the finest looking Japanese machines ever.

With its innovative swing doors, swooping bonnet and short overhangs, the car looks every inch a performance machine. Yet the newcomer is also a practical four-seater. Tug the body coloured handle and the front door swings open easily, leaving the back-hinged metal rear door firmly locked in place. To get into the rear, you merely reach down for a second handle hidden just inside. As a result, access to the figure hugging front seats, mounted low in the cockpit, is easy. Fire the engine and you are in for the next treat as the potent unit fizzes into life. With a capacity of only 1.3 litres, the compact and lightweight engine responds with incredible speed. Those familiar with the RX-7's rotary engine will immediately recognize its wailing note, but this latest gneration will suprise even the most demanding of drivers.

Maximum power is at a heady 8500RPMs, just shy of the 9000RPM redline, while a torque figure of 216Nm is developed at 7500RPMs. It's easy to imagine that the RX-8 is slow to respond at low revs, but it obviously loves being pushed -- some 90 percent of the torque is available from only 3250 RPMs, so the engine feels strong in the mid-range. The six speed gearbox allows the powerband to be exploited almost perfectly, with very short throws and a well defined gate.

Though we had no test equipment available, it's hard to imagine that the 0-60mph dash took any longer than 6 seconds, and top speed should touch 150mph. Through challenging corners the RX-8 feels solid and company engineers confirmed that the body is a great deal stiffer than even the RX-7's. Mazda uses a backbone chassis, similar to the Lotus Esprit's, combined with double wishbone suspension at the front and a multi-link rear axle which is as sophisticated as that of a Porsche 911.

Suspension settings are yet to be finalized, but our drive showed that the handling is on course to match the RX-8's performance. It is helped by its near perfect weight distribution.

Turn in is not as sharp as we had expected, but Mazda promises production versions will not behave in such a way.

Already, the system offers a great deal of precision, and gives a certain amount of feedback. Body roll is minimised by stiff anti-roll bars, yet the ride remains smooth and consistent with little cabin noise. The RX-8 will cause a big stir when it goes on sale in the Uk in just under a year. Not only are the engine and body design unique in the new car market, but the extraordinary Mazda exuded a level of refinement which we believe will match the current favorites from BMW and Audi. Take the Japanese car's price into account and it's clear that this latest sports coupe is going to cause a revolution.
 
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