The new car, due to reach customers in October, is expected to grab the attention of user-choosers currently driving top-end upper-medium saloons, premium upper- medium saloons and high performance coupes.
Some of Mazda's biggest corporate customers drove the car for the first time during a launch in north Wales, and despite combined fuel consumption of about 25mpg and a benefit-in-kind tax band of 35%, the manufacturer believes drivers will be won over by the combination of sportscar styling and performance with four-seat practicality.
The RX-8 will be available in two versions – 189bhp and 228bhp – both using the same 1,308cc rotary engine, with prices for the entry-level 190 starting at £20,000 on-the-road, with the higher power 230 priced at £22,000.
Good news for fleets is that residual values are expected to be strong: CAP Monitor predicts the 190 will retain 43% of its price new and the 230 42% after three years/ 60,000 miles.
Jeremy Thomson, Mazda marketing manager, said: 'The halo effect is very important. This will drive the Mazda brand. In the past year we have shown that we build more than one car. The RX-8 leads that charge to the next step. As a fleet buyer how can you not put this on your choice list?'
At the launch, Lee Whiteing, purchasing manager for HSBC Vehicle Finance, said: 'I think company car drivers interested in the RX-8 will currently be driving BMW 3-series coupes or Audi TTs. The car seems comfortable and refined, despite its sporting heritage and would be easy to live with on a day-to-day basis.
'Although drivers are becoming more conscious of fuel consumption these days, I think the RX-8 is such a good car that this aspect of it will be overlooked.'
Mick Hurst, company director of Chevron Site Services runs a fleet of 550 vehicles, 420 of which are cars. He said: 'The RX-8 is practical considering it's a coupe. It was also surprising how many passers-by turned to look at it. It really is a stunning car.'
Andrew Moss, chairman of U2Drive, said: 'It's a driver's car. It has amazing handling. People will choose the RX-8 because they want something different from the mainstream, and petrolheads will like it because of the rotary engine.'
Praise also came from Elaine Healy, fleet operations manager for Alliance & Leicester Commercial Finance. She said: 'It's a sportscar you can get four people into. It is almost a multi-purpose car – people will be able to use it for work, home and leisure.'
There is already confirmed demand for the RX-8. Steve Binch, chairman of Drive Assist, has ordered six RX-8s. He said: 'We have run Mazdas since 1995 and they have always been good, reliable cars. Mazda has stuck with rotary engine technology and has proved it can work.'
He was backed by Paul Whittle, fleet co-ordination manager for Siemens, who said: 'It drives really well in town as well as on the open road and the engine pulls well from low speeds in sixth gear.'
Patricia Millard, group fleet director of the vehicle services division of newspaper publisher Northcliffe, which runs a fleet of 1,850 vehicles, said: 'Our staff who are currently in cars like the BMW 3-series and MG ZTs will be interested in the RX-8. I don't think the fuel consumption will be an issue where companies pay the fuel bill nor will fuel consumption be a priority for people choosing this type of car.'
Behind the wheel
The RX8 is not a beautiful car. It does not have languid, swishy lines or composed curves. What it does have is presence and an edgy, Japanese personality, as though it has been penned by a Manga cartoonist.
To see what I mean, look at the rear lights. Inside the lenses there are big red globes encased in spidery, metallic legs, and they look vicious. The slitted headlights, gaping grille and slashed wheelarches are all unusual and distinctive.
The rounded triangular shape of the rotor forms a motif that appears all around the car, including the rear foglamp, gear knob and the front head restraints.
Despite its lean figure, there really is room for four inside. While the rear-hinged back doors don't make getting in and out as graceful as a conventional four-door, its rather more elegant (and easier) than two-door cars where you have to fold the front seat forward and slide behind it.
While Mazda has tried to achieve the optimum front/rear weight distribution for handling purposes, it means the compact rotary engine is mounted behind the front axle. This does encroach into the foot wells to a certain extent and means the pedals are offset to the right. It might not matter to most drivers, but it could take its toll on long-haul comfort with the odd twinge in the hip or back.
The engine seems to run on varying scales of two very distant noises. One is the hard-edged note of a sports exhaust, while the other is the whine of the Renesis rotary engine, which makes a noise like a jet engine decelerating prior to landing, which is not surprising considering the similarity of mechanical movement between the two.
It is an intoxicating noise, although it seems cut short in its prime in the lower power version, which gives up at 7,000rpm, while the higher power unit continues its mental whirling all the way to 9,500rpm. Low speed noise, however, is minimal.
Driving verdict FOR the enthusiast, the RX-8 offers neat handling and, uniquely, a coupe body with genuine four-seat practicality plus luggage space. Its fleet appeal lies in low entry price and expected strong residual values.
|RX-8 fact file|
|Model:||RX-8 190||RX-8 230|
|Engine (cc):||1,308 rotary||1,308 rotary||Max power (bhp/rpm):||189/7,000||228/8,500|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||162/5,000||156/5,500|
|Max speed (mph):||139||146|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||26.2||24.8|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||267||284|
|Transmission:||5-sp man||6-sp man|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||61/13.4|