Fleet News

New arrival Mazda RX-8

Mazda

Review

SANTA came early for me this Christmas. Four weeks early to be precise, because on November 25, 2004, I took delivery of a shiny new Mazda RX-8.

I had waited nearly six months after ordering it and, two weeks before the car arrived, had marked the delivery date very clearly in my diary.

You might think on reading this that I’m being rather self-indulgent, but there is a serious side to this exercise.

The RX-8 is unique in the UK in that it is the only car on sale to be powered by a rotary engine – a design which is more compact than a more conventional engine – 231bhp from 1,308cc are the headline figures – allowing designers more freedom in how the car is packaged.

It has enabled Mazda to produce a four-seat coupe with nearly as much luggage space as a typical lower-medium car. There are far fewer compromises in practicality than you would find in a coupe around the £20,000 mark.

In fact, Mazda claims the RX-8 is a distinctive alternative to a premium upper-medium coupe, like the BMW 3-series.

However, when the rotary engine was introduced in the 1960s it quickly gained a reputation for being thirsty and unreliable, which hadn’t changed with the RX-7 in the 1990s. Mazda has persevered with the technology and insists things have come a long way in the last 40 years.

Over the next 12 months we will decide whether the RX-8 is a true alternative to the mainstream for the user-chooser, still able to do the job of being a company car during the week and part-time family car at weekends.

Driving an RX-8 as a company car – or indeed as a retail purchase – requires the kind of discipline that might have fallen by the wayside over the last few decades.

Rotary engines consume oil at a higher rate than conventional engines because the rotor tips need it to form a seal in the combustion chamber.

Therefore, when new, it is recommended that the oil level in the RX-8 is checked on every second refuelling stop – roughly 450 miles – to prevent the level from dropping too low.

It meant that for the first few weeks before every long journey the bonnet was popped open and the dipstick checked meticulously.

I’m told that between 1,500 miles and 2,000 miles, the rotor tips ‘bed in’ and that oil consumption reduces.

It might seem a bind to check oil levels before setting off in the morning and I wonder how many company car drivers would be sold on the idea of running an RX-8 but would get bored with the hassle of frequent oil level checks.

However, the payoff is a well-equipped and attractive coupe that is surprisingly practical.

Delicate detailing makes the RX-8 a joy to look at and to travel in. The styling of the wheel arches, the repetition of the three-pointed rotor motif on the bonnet, in the rear fog light, on the gear knob and in the front seats, the pencil-thin metallic interior door handles, how the instrument panel switches from being back-lit to front lit when you switch the lights on all help enhance the driving experience. Like the Mazda6, the RX-8’s steering is deliciously direct and communicative, and like the MX-5, the front wheels are uncorrupted by torque forces. This is a rear-wheel drive car.

So far, fuel consumption hasn’t been great. The official combined figure is 24.8mpg, and it has never been that high. However, recently we have seen the fuel consumption improve towards 23mpg from threatening to dip into the teens. I wonder if it has anything to do with a few tanks of 97-octane unleaded it had recently. Simon Harris

What we expect

The RX-8 is expected to be in demand during its time on Fleet News, although not from those who like travelling 400 miles or more between visiting the petrol station. No other car on sale in the UK has a rotary engine, and a few fleets might have concerns about the technology. With a number of recent endurance records set by the RX-8, we expect it to complete 12 months here with a clean bill of health for the rotary engine, although it will be one of the thirstiest cars we have on test.

The manufacturer’s view

David McGonigle, Mazda fleet and remarketing director, said: ‘Around 10% of all Mazda RX-8s sold have been to the fleet user-chooser market. The Mazda RX-8 gives the user- chooser the unique opportunity to drive an exciting sports car while retaining the versatility of a genuine four-door, four-seater vehicle.

‘Interestingly, the RX-8 has proven appealing to the user-chooser working in software or hi-tech related industries, perhaps due to their eye for innovative products.’

Specification

  • In-dash six-CD autochanger
  • 18-inch alloy wheels
  • Oil level warning
  • Trip computer
  • Bose premium audio system
  • Steering wheel-mounted audio controls
  • Xenon headlamps with auto levelling
  • Electric windows
  • Heated door mirrors
  • Headlamp wash
  • Integrated radio aerial in rear windscreen
  • Automatic climate control
  • Ski-hatch from boot
  • Aluminium peals/footrest
  • Six airbags
  • Dynamic stability control and traction control

    Options

  • Metallic paint (£300)
  • Electric sunroof (£500)
  • Leather red/black trim plus electric driver’s seat and DVD sat-nav (£3,000)

    Fact file:
    Model: Mazda RX-8 (231)
    Price (OTR): £22,100 (£25,900 as tested)
    Mileage: 2,951
    Max power (bhp/rpm): 231/8,200
    Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 155/5,200
    Max speed (mph): 146
    0-60mph (seconds): 6.4
    CO2 emissions (g/km): 284
    Company car tax bill (2005/6) 40% tax-payer: £256 per month
    Insurance group: 16
    Combined mpg: 24.8
    Test mpg: 22.8
    CAP Monitor residual value: £9,450/43%
    HSBC contract hire rate: £430
    Expenditure to date: £8.99 – 1 litre 5w-30 oil

  • Figures based on three years/60,000 miles
  • CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

    Mazda MX-30 long-term test | making us think differently about journeys

    Journeys of more than 100 miles in the Mazda MX-30 are likely to require a charging stop.

    Peugeot 308 CC 2.0 HDi SE

    Not too long ago, convertible cars were a no-no on choice lists because of safety and security concerns.

    Search Car Reviews