Despite its not inconsiderable advantages, the Wankel engine never really caught on — except in the hearts and minds of Mazda’s management. Mazda took the rotary concept and developed it brilliantly, ironing out snags and creating an innovative engine.
The company started selling rotary-engined cars in the early 1970s and the company’s RX series culminated in the RX-7, a high-performance sports coupe that went through several generations between 1978 and the mid-1990s, after which modest sales caused Mazda to pull the car from export markets.
But salvation was nigh in the form of resurgent interest in performance cars, and Mazda developed the RX-01 concept car from 1995 into the resurgent RX-8, launched in 2003. To address earlier concerns, Mazda’s new twin-turbocharged 13-B MSP (Multi Side Port) Renesis engine overcame problems like poor fuel consumption and high emissions and re-opened the door to the lucrative US market. At just 1.3 litres, this ultra-smooth power plant punches way above its modest size, delivering 192 or 231 bhp according to tune, giving a top speed approaching 150 mph (241 km/h).
The RX-8 has a modest but attractive aerodynamic body shape with distinctive flared front wings. There’s plenty of room for four in the cabin, accessed for passenger convenience by rear-hinged doors of the kind referred to during the Great Depression as ‘suicide doors’. The RX-8 drives brilliantly, helped by perfect 50-50 weight distribution, responsive steering, sure-footed cornering and stickability in the wet.
After a succession of special editions were produced, the 2008 Detroit Motor Show saw the introduction of an evolutionary RX-8 that had been given a significant facelift for model year 2009 with a stronger chassis, improved suspension and front-end styling changes. At the same time an R3 performance package was announced, offering more aggressive styling, tuned sporting suspension and a smoother ride.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1,308 cc Twin-chamber Turbo Rotary
Top speed of 146 mph (235 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.4 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: Although the latest Mazda rotary engine delivers greatly improved fuel economy, that doesn’t mean much as it started from such a low reference point. Anyone who drives the Mazda hard (and who could resist?) will end up visiting the pumps rather frequently.