But our former motoring editor Simon Harris said last year that he thought Christmas had come early when he took the keys of the Mazda RX-8. Our headline for the new arrival, ‘Rotary dazzler gets our tester in a spin’, summed it up perfectly and the RX-8’s combination of racy looks and exciting performance has continued to wow everyone who has driven it since.
It’s a car for people who like driving rather than simply sitting behind the wheel. Another long-term tester, Tony Toma, who claimed to have become a hero worshipper of Ikuo Maeda as a result of his stunning design for the car, said: ‘You don’t relax at the wheel of an RX-8. It’s more serious than that – you live it.’
News editor Mike Roberts said time spent behind the wheel was a ‘grin-inducing experience’, with the car sticking to the road like a go-kart. He did wonder, however, if the RX-8’s sports car image might be seen by some companies as too flash for their employees and whether the frequent oil checks needed might prove irksome long-term, particularly in view of the fact that the inaccessibility of the dipstick and oil filler make the process a bit of a palaver.
And a month later, with the novelty obviously beginning to wear off somewhat, Roberts was complaining that the backward-opening rear doors were a bit of a pain when loading children in tight supermarket parking spaces.
The Mazda RX-8 is the only car on sale in the UK with a rotary engine and, with 10% of all RX-8s sold going to the fleet user-chooser market, we were anxious to test out the reliability of this technology.
The benefits over traditional piston engines, according to Mazda, are that rotary engines are lighter, smaller, have lower vibration, offer higher power in relation to their displacement (the RX-8 produces 231bhp from its 1.3 litres) and have better reliability as they have fewer moving parts.
Our Mazda has been absolutely trouble-free, its only downside being its notorious thirst for both fuel and oil. Mazda claims the RX-8 will return an average of 24.8mpg but we have all struggled to reach that.
I hit an all-time low of 12.5mpg on one 150-mile tankful. However, that was a week’s worth of short urban journeys and frugality heroine Adele Burton managed a Fleet News high of 28mpg on one longish trip.
There have been suggestions that filling up with 97-octane unleaded improves fuel consumption and it’s probably worth sticking to the expensive and hard-to-source mineral oil Mazda recommends.
During 12 months and 12,000 miles we managed an average of 21.5mpg, which is not that far short of Mazda’s claim and pretty impressive when you consider how this car needs to be driven to extract power from it.
Put simply, the RX-8’s rotary engine provides all its power very high up the rev range, meaning it needs to be driven keenly to make progress.
There’s no lazy mid-range dollop of torque here, which is something anyone used to driving a diesel-engined car will find alien.
Another thing which drivers will find alien at first is checking the RX-8’s oil level. Rotary engines like a drop of the black stuff, so weekly checks are paramount to avoid the engine going bang.
The car’s thirst for oil has been well documented, but over 12,000 miles (some of them very hard driven), the RX-8 consumed three litres of oil, costing a fraction over £30. For the performance and driving fun on offer, this doesn’t seem like too much of a price to pay.
The only other cost during its stay was a scheduled 12,000-mile service, which cost us £108.43.
And fleets still nervous about the new technology should note that a predicted residual value of 43% over three years/60,000 miles means used car experts are expecting the RX-8 to be a popular choice in the second-hand market. After our experience with it, the RX-8 will be a sound buy.
What the team thought of the Mazda RX-8
THE pain of regular fuel stops and checking the oil on a weekly basis is numbed by the exhilarating drive offered by the RX-8, which looks fantastic and turns heads wherever you go. The engine’s roar once it’s wound up to around 8,000rpm never fails to impress and winding country roads provide its perfect driving environment. So if it’s a relaxed cruiser you need for your job then give this car a miss.
The novelty of the RX-8’s quirky rear doors, which open the opposite way to a conventional car, soon wore off – but not enough to put me off recommending it to user-choosers looking for something that little bit special. Mike Roberts
Driving the Mazda RX-8 is a challenge. When the car first arrived with us back in November with 2,000 miles on the clock the clutch was very snappy, although it has mellowed a little since. But the rotary engine lacks inherent momentum which means it is a little lumpy on tickover, and there’s some ‘shunt’ through the driveshaft when you lift off the throttle, especially at slow speed. The throttle is akin to an on-off switch and this action makes the car lurch on part-throttle opening. Add in the lack of low-down torque combined with very high-end power and it is a car you have to learn to drive smoothly. Master it though, and the RX-8 is an absolute delight. Tony Toma
Model: Mazda RX-8 231
Price (OTR): £22,100 (£25,900 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 284
Company car tax bill (2005) 40% tax-payer: £256 a month
Insurance group: 16
Combined mpg: 24.8
Test mpg: 21.5
CAP Monitor residual value: £9,400/43%
HSBC contract hire rate: £405
Total expenditure: £108.43 (12,000-mile service) £31.53 (three litres of oil)