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Mazda RX-8, 2008: The Weekly Driver Car Review

Sports cars are rarely known for comfort or convenience. But Mazda does a good job of overcoming the stigma with the RX-8. It’s a coupe with four doors (sort of) and it’s about as comfortable as sports cars get.

Mazda further differentiates itself in the sports car class via its signature rotary engine. It’s the system that replaces pistons pumping in cylinders with triangular rotors spinning in oval chambers.

My weekly driver was the 2008 Grand Touring model, the most expensive of the three options, including the Sport and Touring. Each has a 1.3-liter, 232-horsepower engine with a six-speed manual transmission or a 1.3-liter, 212-horsepower engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. (The automatic allows manual shifting via floor lever or steering-wheel paddles.)

My test vehicle featured the six-speed manual and its tight, short-throw gear configuration is one of the smoothest I’ve driven. The RX-8 isn’t the fastest (or slowest) car on the road. But a driver gets a good sense of the vehicle’s designation as a sporty performance car while “ripping” through the gears.

The top of the gear shifter has a triangular insignia, an acknowledgment of the triangular-shaped engine rotors. The theme is carried throughout the vehicle — a slightly raised triangle hood pattern to the rotor-shaped portals on the tops of the two front seats.

Further distinguishing the RX-8 is the convenience of back-seat access via the independent rear doors. Similar to the “suicide” doors, the two rear doors open from the center outward, but not unless the front doors are opened first.

The unique feature is attractive for any rear-seat reason — back-seat passengers to awkward grocery bags.

Sports car owners aren’t often too concerned with rough rides. In fact, it’s part of the sports car appeal — the challenge of driving low-to-the-ground and shifting through gears.

The RX-8 scoots around town and maneuvers adeptly on the freeway, but forget the rocky ride. With its 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, sport independent front and rear multi-link rear sport suspension, the Mazda drives like a not-too-distant relative to Volvo. In short, the RX-8 offers a tight, in-control ride at any speed.

Grand Touring standard exterior features include: Xenon headlamps, fog lamps, power moonroof (with sun shade, dual power heated mirrors and rear window defogger

Interior standard features include: AM/FM radio with six-CD changer and Bose speakers, power windows and door locks, heated driver and front passenger seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, keyless entry.

Despite its sedan tendencies, the RX-8 is still a sports car, and by definition that prompts the vehicle’s only dilemma. Its low platform and lowing seating  structure isn’t conducive to easy entry or exit.

Which, of course, shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone in the sports car market.

Safety Features — Driver and passenger front, side and side curtain airbags.

Warranty — Bumper to Bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/60,miles; Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited miles; Free Roadside Assistance, 3 years/36,000 miles.

Mileage Estimates — 16 mpg (city); 22 mpg (highway).

Base Price — $31,070.

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