2003 Mazda RX-8 Hydrogen RE

The only coupe with a four-door configuration, the Mazda RX8 was built for driving enthusiasts. Featuring a high-revving 1.3-liter rotary engine that was called the Renesis, the engine was quite impressive. The exhaust ports were located on the side of each of the combustion chambers, instead of on the outer edge of the rotary housing. This engine allows for more power, lower emissions and higher fuel economy.

The engine was able to be mounted further back in the RX-8's chassis because of the engine's compact size, giving the vehicle the coveted 50/50 front/rear weight distribution. At a very svelte 3,000 lb curb weight, the RX8 featured balanced suspension tuning and sharp steering. The Mazda RX-8 was one of the best-handling vehicles on the market, and was among the best sports cars available for less than $30,000.

After nearly a decade of lack, introduced in 2004, the Mazda RX-8 brought back the rotary-powered sports vehicle to the U.S. Mazda also received an image with greater stature and performance than the Miata. Usually Mazda sells its sport coupe with either manual or automatic transmission, though most enthusiasts would agree that the six-speed manual version is the best way to experience the RX-8.

The manual-equipped Mazda RX-8 featured horsepower that crested at 238 at 8,500 rpm with redline hitting at an impressive 9,000. The RX-8 was timed at .6 seconds to 60 mph and 15.1 seconds through the quarter-mile, as tested by Inside Line testers. Automatic RX-8s redlined at 7,500 rpm.

Comfortable enough for a daily commuter, the Mazda RX-8 isn't the most economical choice as the fuel economy tends to hover in the high teens. The interior of the car was quite nice as well. The reverse-hinged rear doors allowed for the loading of cumbersome child seats, while the rear seats are roomy enough to accommodate adults on short trips.

Manual version came with a firmer suspension and 18-inch wheel, while these were optional on automatic models. Through the Shinka Special-Edition package, further suspension upgrades were available, along with luxuries such as leather upholstery and a navigation system.

A descendent of the two-door RX-7 sport coupe that was sold in three generations from 1979 through 1995, the Mazda RX-8 featured an extra set of doors. Unfortunately the RX-7 was taken off the U.S. market due to poor sales and difficulty in reaching emission standards. However, the RX-7 continued to be sold in Japan through 2002. At the time it was deleted, the third generation RX-7 was sold for $32,500 in 1995, a much more expensive vehicle than today's RX-8.

The 2004 RX-8 is almost a return to the original RX-7, while still being a completely different sort of sports car. With a newly redesigned rotary engine, the RX-8 featured reverse-opening doors and room for four adults, making it quite an impressive vehicle. The new RX-8 also featured the newly designed, naturally aspirated 'Renesis' version of the good, old 13B rotary. The rotary engine had no valvetrain, and the location of these parts is crucial to the engine's performance. In the earlier engine, these ports were located on the outer edge of the rotary housing, while in the Genesis they are on the side of the rotary chamber. This location allows engineers to completely close the exhaust port before the intake port opens, and vice versa, unlike the earlier design. Along with a variable intake system that optimizes air flow, the new Genesis also allows them to use 30-percent larger intake ports than before. The redline was now up at an amazing 9,000 rpm.

Even more impressive was that even with access to the rearward accommodations the four-seater still retained a sports car-s balance thanks to 50/50 weight distribution and a supple chassis with double-wishbones up front and a multilink independent system in the rear. The Renesis engine sat back in its chassis much like the 12A did in the original RX-7. Part of the package is the naturally, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and rack and pinion steering. The Mazda RX-8 weighs in at a very impressive 3,029 lbs in manual transmission form.

The RX-8's main source of competition lies in the new Nissan 350Z, basically because Mazda's own people were quoting curb weight comparisons.

Edmunds.com chose the RX-8 as the winner when pitted against the 350Z as it generated 238 horsepower from a measly 1.3 liters. The RX-8 yielded 6.6 seconds in the 0-60 mph track test. The RX-8 glides through bends and turns in a manner that's far less intimidating the Z, which hammers it ways through bends, according to Edmunds.com.

By Jessica Donaldson

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