He has produced an absolute stunner in the RX-8 – especially in the red of our long-term test car – and it’s so lithe with it. Will that be one for the hairdressers then?
Certainly not – just like its front-driven rival, the iconic Audi TT, clean design and intelligent use of detailing keeps the RX-8 refreshingly pure – especially in profile. None of the RX-8’s rivals can boast its seriously cool rear-hinged ‘freestyle’ rear doors – let alone ordinary rear doors. But that’s not to say they’ve gone unnoticed – Jaguar, Mazda’s cousin within the Ford empire, has produced the stunning R-D6 concept coupe, with those same doors.
Without the clutter of central door pillars, access to the snug but comfortable rear seats is pretty good.
But is the RX-8 a genuine four-seater? Short stints in the rear are fine, but a four-up family trip to Edinburgh is still on hold. I’m 1.84m in height and knee room for my immediate rear seat passenger is tight. The good news, though, is a generous boot that will take soft luggage for four.
The RX-8 is a seminal car for me – I was a ‘rotary virgin’ – but it feels strangely familiar. The Renesis twin-rotor engine could pass as a pukka racing unit. Engine torque is a pitiful 156lb/ft but thankfully it thrives on revs and needs more than a light tickle of throttle at traffic lights if you don’t want to suffer the ignominy of stalling or bogging down the engine.
If you’re a biker or racer, these traits are all too familiar.
What’s unfamiliar is the soundtrack. Fire up the RX-8 and for a split second it’s not unlike a creamy V8 – that’s before it settles down to mimic a Zanussi on fast spin. You’d think 231bhp would sound a bit more butch.
It does, but not until the rev counter needle has nudged 4,000rpm. Then it’s a strange combination of old ‘A-series’ Mini whine and Banshee-like wail as the engine spins up with turbine smoothness to its 9,000rpm redline.
Driving the RX-8 is both an uncompromising and liberating experience. It’s the antidote to the hordes of faceless and sterile cars out there. There’s the race car-precise and controllable handling, immensely strong acceleration and an unforgiving ride.
On demanding roads, the steering wheel really does writhe and wriggle as the tyres slavishly follow every contour of the Tarmac under them.
You don’t relax at the wheel of an RX-8. It’s more serious than that – you live it. Gripes are few. The hard, shiny, black plastic central dash area and door inserts look cheap and show fingermarks too easily. And our car’s optional electric sunroof eats into precious headroom, forcing me to either adopt a slight head- cocked-to-one-side stance or get my mop of unruly hair cut short (I opted for the latter).
The RX-8’s green credentials are at best a very pale green. And a CO2 figure of 284g/km gives the game away – over my initial 850 miles, fuel consumption has averaged 20.8mpg, with oil consumption over that same period amounting to 1.5 litres.
Model: Mazda RX-8 231
Price (OTR): £22,100 (£25,900 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 284
Company car tax bill (2005/6):22% tax-payer £256 per month
Insurance group: 16
Combined mpg: 24.8
Test mpg: 20.8
CAP Monitor residual value: £9,775/45%
HSBC contract hire rate: £502
Expenditure to date: Nil
Figures based on three years/60,000 miles