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New Car Joy Ride - 2004 Mazda RX-8

2004 Mazda RX-8

Ricky Chu
May 1, 2003
Photographer: Courtesy of Mazda
0305_SSTP_04_z_RX8 Photo 1/1   |   New Car Joy Ride - 2004 Mazda RX-8

There's a good reason why I do what I do. As mutable as my personality seems, believe me when I say that I won't waste my time doing anything that isn't well planned out. The '04 Mazda RX-8 is a perfect example of my strategy. There are two main reasons that this article was the last on my list of things to do. It's not because I was recovering from driving at Laguna Seca, eating too much filet mignon, or getting lectured by my dad about staying at Pebble Beach with Mazda and not knowing how to golf. To start off, I wanted to devote all my attention to this car. That meant no distractions from any other features, four-hour lunches, and annoying losers who get keyboard courage. My second reason might not seem very logical to many, but it will very soon. I wanted to wait until the Chinese New Year to write this. What is the connection between the Chinese New Year and the new Mazda sports car? The number 8. In the Chinese culture, 8 is very significant in terms of becoming prosperous with money and business. That's why you'll see license plates, phone numbers, and addresses with as many 8s as possible in them. Hell, I paid an extra $50 to change my cell number to have more 8s in it, if that makes any sense. The Chinese New Year is a time to celebrate past and future prosperities. From what we've seen, Mazda has a lot to celebrate with the RX-8. The RX-7 was an awesome car, but it was missing something. Call it silly superstition, but I'm going to have to say that the missing ingredient was the number 8.

On The OutsideThe RX-8 bears minimal resemblance to its predecessor. You've probably heard this a hundred times by now, but the RX-8 looks very much like a Honda S2000 with a hard top and 1,000cc of steroids. If you haven't heard it, then expect to really soon. Despite the four-door design, every curve and line is as silky-smooth as a sports car should be. Flared fenders give the RX-8 a much more aggressive look to deter potential highway challengers. Mazda offers several colors, which makes it very difficult to decide on just one. If it were up to me, I'd be gunning for titanium-grey or blue-metallic coats.

Adding two more doors on the RX-8 made it hard to classify the car. Not only because sports cars usually don't have four doors, but also because sedans aren't this good looking. When closed, the rear doors remain very stealth. Space definitely isn't something you would expect from a car like this. And when all the doors are opened up, the car looks quite inviting.

Looking InIt's shocking that the rear seats of the RX-8 are actually functional and not mere ornaments to help qualify for cheaper insurance rates. Yup, you really can fit two adults in the back without getting major leg cramps. You'll see references to the Wankel rotor throughout the interior of the RX-8. Nestle yourself in the driver's seat and there will be no mistaking that this car was designed around the driver. A large tachometer and digital speedometer are pretty much the only two things your eyes will focus on. All controls on the center console appear perfectly symmetrical. And as always, the Bose audio system is simply mesmerizing. We're sure the navigation system on the center dash is great but we wouldn't know for sure. Since we were driving European models of the car, the nav system kept popping up addresses in Prague and Barcelona instead of Monterey, California.

Compartment-wise, there are more pockets and storage spaces in the RX-8 than any RX-7 owner could have dreamed of. Unfortunately, we couldn't shove all of our snowboards in the roomy trunk due to the lack of a fold-down rear seat as a result of two braces that aid in chassis stiffening and passenger safety. So it's not all that bad. There is, however, a small opening that goes from the trunk into the driver's compartment but it's still not enough for our gear, much less Jonny's abnormally large head.

Rotating Masses: Getting To Know The RENESISFor those of you who are unfamiliar with the rotary engine, we must tell you that it cannot be considered anything less than a masterpiece. In terms of combusting air and fuel, it shares the same responsibilities as a piston engine but achieves its task in a much different manner. For almost 50 years, the rotary engine has awed the world with its ability to make enormous power with minimal displacement. Unlike a piston engine, the rotary design is simple and consists of only a handful of components.

It wasn't impossible to extract 255 horses naturally aspirated if you had a serious port job, but such a setup lacked torque due to its tiny displacement. Fully built turbo versions have seen unheard of figures when compared to any 1.3L engine in general. It was a task and a half to get these rotaries to idle smoothly, much less idle at all. Welcome to the new realm of rotaries, the RENESIS. And before you ask, they came up with the name by combining the words "rotary" and "genesis." Although the previous 13B-REW motors were remarkable, they were never thought to be perfect in terms of tuning, efficiency, and producing power. With the RENESIS engine, Mazda has just taken a few steps closer to perfection. The most crucial change in this engine's design is the use of the side exhaust ports rather than the former peripheral ones. These new exhaust ports eliminate combustion overlap, which is when exhaust gases get mixed in with fresh intake and fuel only to be combusted again. That is caused by the intake port opening before the exhaust port gets a chance to close, and that is a definite no-no when it comes to efficiency. With overlap eliminated, you can achieve more power, less fuel consumption, lower emissions, and increased efficiency all around. On the high-performance model there is also an additional intake port that opens after 6,250rpm. The result of the newly designed RENESIS is a smooth idling 250hp @ 8,500rpm and 164lb-ft @ 5,000rpm.

The beauty of driving a rotary engine is found in its ability to maintain constant power from 2,000rpm and up past 8,000rpm. Being able to keep the car in Second and Third gear came in extremely handy when taking the tight turns at Laguna Seca. On the highway, we never even shifted into the newly acquired Sixth gear. But knowing it was there for use at our discretion did make us feel a little more at ease. Not too many cars are this fun to drive.

Is there a turbo version? Not that we know of. We asked several hundred times during the course of this launch, although the head engine designer told us that the RENESIS is completely capable of withstanding some forced induction. But before you go off and buy a turbo upgrade for a 13B-REW, we're obliged to warn you that it won't fit since the side exhaust ports require a completely redesigned exhaust manifold. In fact, the new model is limited in space, which makes it difficult to add a turbo. This is very sad news indeed. As smooth as this car drives, it just doesn't feel the same without boost, that tingling feeling in the bottom of your gut. Hopefully, Mazdaspeed has something up its sleeve because nobody else seems to.

That New Car SmellThe Ride '04 Mazda RX-8 (high performance model)The Sticker Starting at $26,680Under The Hood 1.3L two-rotor RENESIS rotary engineThe Power 250hp @ 8,500rpm, 164lb-ft. @ 5,000rpmScale Tipping 3,050lbsLayout Front-engine, rear-wheel driveGearbox Six-speed manualStiff Stuff Double wishbone (front), multi-link (rear), mono-tube dampers, front and rear tubular torsion barsRollers 18x8 alloy wheels, 225/45R18 high-performance tiresStoppers Ventilated disc brakes, 323mm front rotors, 302mm rear rotorsAt The Pump 19mpg city/28mpg highwayThe Pack Nissan 350Z, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII, Subaru WRX STiDeep Thoughts There aren't many negative comments we can make about the RX-8. Our main concern, along with many other journalists, is the lack of a turbo model. Maybe we'll see a Mazdaspeed version soon. Waddaya say, Todd? Kelvin? Bueller? Anyone?

By Ricky Chu
157 Articles

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