Saturday, October 22, 2011

RX8 - Something Completely Different for $15K

As the old Monte Python show used to say, "...and now for something completely different..."

If you're a gear-head shopping for a used car in the $15,000 range, it's hard to ignore the Mazda RX8.  This is especially true if you are a dad who wants a sports coupe, but need a back seat for two kids.  Granted it's not as pretty as an Audi TT or as iconic as a Porsche 911, but unlike those cars, you can actually inhabit the backseat without removing your legs.

And like the TT and 911, the RX8 is a legitimate track monster.  Weighing about 3,000 lbs, it has nearly perfect weight distribution.  It carves apexes like a Ginsu knife and its handling is sharper than Ricky Gervais' tongue.  Normally that kind of handling would rattle your fillings over the tar strips and pot holes that pervade a normal commute in the rust belt, but the Mazda's suspense is also compliant and forgiving to a fault.

Practical commuter and track star, it's the perfect blend... almost.

There is one flaw with the RX8, and like Ricky Gervais' whit, you either love it or hate it.  Unlike all other cars on the planet, which are powered by a piston engine, the Mazda's powerplant is a Wankel rotary.  This engine has its advantages.  It's small and lightweight, displacing only 1.3 liters.  It's silky smooth, with only two moving parts that rotate around a crankshaft instead of bouncing up and down.  But it's also thirsty, going through a gallon of gas in an average of 19 miles and burning a quart of oil every 1,000.  No wonder "Car & Driver" summed it up as the perfect coupe in search of an engine. 

I like the RX8, just as I liked the RX7.  I like the idea of the Wankel rotary engine and am pleased to see Mazda attempting to keep it alive.  But I like them at arms length.  To me, the RX8 has a lot in common with Ricky Gervais--it would be a lot of fun hanging out with him for a couple of hours, but I don't think I could share an office.   

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