Future classics

Future Classic: 2003–12 Mazda RX-8

by Andrew Frankel
13 September 2023 3 min read
Future Classic: 2003–12 Mazda RX-8

There aren’t many cars I can claim to know better than the Mazda RX-8, because when they were new, I used to race them. But not just any old races: 24-hour races, requiring hour after hour at the wheel. We never won, because we were hopelessly outpowered by those around us, but there was still huge fun to be had. You could see them coming in the mirror, bazillion-horsepower Porsches with entire climbing frames of wings sprouting from their swollen bodies. They’d blast past on the straight, but when they braked for the next corner, you simply didn’t. You sailed right on by again, stole their apex, watched them shrink in the mirrors as the corner unfolded, then gave them a cheery wave as they hammered past once more on next straight.

That’s why I loved the RX-8: These were very mildly modified road cars with little more than stiffer suspension and slick tyres to warm them up, but into and through a corner they were giant killers. It’s not hard to see why: Thanks to its tiny 1.3-litre rotary engine, the RX-8 is not only light, but with that engine pushed way back in the bay, it’s properly balanced, too. And with double-wishbone front suspension and a multi-link rear end complete with a limited-slip differential, it had all the assets it needed to be a very fine driving car indeed. And it made the most of them.

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2007 Mazda RX-8

But the RX-8 was more even than that. It’s all subjective, of course, but I love the way they look, too. And it’s not just attractive design—it’s clever design. Look at it and you’d naturally think of it as you would an Audi TT: a 2+2 coupe whose rear seats are more adapted to the carrying of supermarket bags than real live human beings. But that isn’t the case at all. Not only is the rear of the RX-8 unexpectedly capacious, it has its own doors, cleverly concealed within the design of the car. So the car is great to look at, great to drive, and surprisingly practical to live with. Why on earth are they not revered among the greats and still so very affordable?

The answer is that engine. The normally aspirated rotary power plant has some clear advantages: Here is a tiny, light motor that still gives 228bhp (also available with 189bhp), with a great sound and an eerie smoothness right up to its fabulous 8300rpm rev-limit. But goodness me you need to know what you’re buying. Because if the engine has not been looked after properly and, in particular, the oil level not scrupulously monitored and maintained, the engine simply wears out. It will lose power and need rebuilding. Faulty ignition coil packs can hasten this process as well.

As a daily driver, covering a five-figure mileage every year, an RX-8 had massive limitations. But as a more occasional toy doing a small fraction of that distance, it makes vastly more sense. Oil consumption is not a problem per se unless you’re a staunch environmentalist – it’s designed to burn around 0.25-litres of the stuff every 1000 miles, and if you’re not using it all the time, the fairly terrible fuel consumption will be less of a bother, too.

2007 Mazda RX-8

But you have to buy the right car. Where RX-8s are concerned, there are two kinds of ‘right car.’ The first is obvious—a low mileage example with a proven record of fastidious ownership. The second is the reverse—a car whose engine you know to be shot, a fact reflected in the price, which you can then have rebuilt and enjoy forever after. Anything in between is asking for trouble. There are things you can do, such as compression tests, to try and establish the health or otherwise of any given RX-8 motor, but unless you have access to the equipment and know how to read the results, you can be misled. Certainly if an owner is not prepared to have his engine compression tested, or they tell you it’s already done and show you a sheet that could have just been printed from the internet, don’t walk away. Run.

That said, there are still good cars out there, and to the canny buyer who goes in forewarned and forearmed, there are still cars at great value to be had. There is also a wealth of helpful advice available to anyone online, written by people who really know their stuff when it comes to such cars. Inform and educate yourself, spend your time finding what appears to be the right car, check its history from first to last (don’t even look at one without), go into the deal with your eyes wide open, and bag yourself a bargain. And then discover what a truly delightful and massively underrated car the RX-8 really is.

2007 Mazda RX-8

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  • Tom Wright says:

    I still have mine that I bought new in 2004! Hard to believe it will be 20 years old next year. It is a great car to drive. Over the 20 years of ownership I really haven’t had issues. I did follow the Racing beat lengthy breaking instructions though and understand a rotary is different than a standard piston engine.

    The back seats which were not needed when I bought it have come in handy over the years. One of my favorite moments of all that the RX8 delivered was doing a lapping day with my then 3-year-old daughter strapped down in the back seat. This is the only sport/ enthusiast car I have that whole family can get into and go for a drive . Now days I love it for that!

  • John Wyatt says:

    I have one on a 53 plate which I bought a few years back it had a hot start issue which I was aware of but bought for the right price I have mechanical background so I rebuilt my own engine I absolutely love the car.

  • JB says:

    Still have my 2005 and it’s still my daily driver. I learned to drive on a ‘79 RX-7 (still have that one too) so I was familiar with the rotary. I put a Sohn oil adapter in mine and I think that’s made a huge difference to longevity. Love this car and I look forward to driving it another 20!

  • Phil. says:

    208,000 KL. 2008 3rd owner and still kicking seasonal Canadian daily driver. Love it.

  • Luke Spence says:

    My 6speed Gt just might go up for grabs in the Cayman islands gotta love it

  • Dave says:

    I bought an ’08 40th Anniversary Edition with 82,000 miles 5 years ago at a crazy low price. I put 54,000 miles on it before I had the engine rebuilt late last year. Between the original purchase price and the rebuild, I’ve got $9,750 invested and now it should be good for a lot more miles if I maintain it well (which I always have and will). I hear what you’re saying about not not making a RX-8 a daily driver and you make a fair point. But, for the kind of money I have in this car, I see no point in leaving so much driving fun in the garage. Getting from point A to B is just to much pleasure to leave it parked.

  • Dave Darling says:

    Had an ’06 Limited edition (Evoke?) but it nealy killed me. Lost the back end at a wet junction and sideswiped a tree stump. Got more salvage for it than I paid – engine was untouched… Would I get another one? In a heartbeat. Would my family let me get one? Not in this lifetime.

  • Michael Shea says:

    Back in the day, a German car snob, I bought a slightly used ’05 GT as a grocery runner. Wasn’t at all impressed with the stock suspension so swapped for Mazdaspeed springs and exhaust, Koni’s, bigger sways and a short shifter for grins. Utterly transformed the car into one of my favorite all time rides. Drove it routinely to the red line and never a problem (until it drowned in a tropical storm). It was so enjoyable that I recently found its stock twin, a mint ’07 GT with only 14k miles, 3,000 miles away in California and had it shipped to me in CT. Can’t wait to make similar upgrades and may never sell it. Superb value and smiles per mile if you know how to drive it. Future classic, possibly.

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