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Mazda RX-8: Buying guide and review (2003-2012)

Mazda RX-8: Buying guide and review (2003-2012) Classic and Performance Car
Mazda RX-8 Mazda RX-8 Mazda RX-8 Mazda RX-8
Trawl the classifieds for a noughties four-seat coupe, and it’s likely that the results will be packed with Mercedes CLKs and E46 BMW 3 Series Coupes. While many of those at the lower end of the market will be rusty, tatty or with huge mileages, squeezed among them will be a suspiciously cheap Japanese alternative. 
 
Values for the Mazda RX-8 are temptingly low, and ironically it’s largely due to arguably its most defining feature. The ‘Wankel’ twin rotor engine revs to 9000rpm and sounds brilliant doing so, but alleged horror stories about their diva-ish tendencies and high maintenance costs put many buyers off. Do your homework properly, however, and there’s little need for concern and you can bag yourself something of a bargain as a result.
 
The only current car manufacturer to still persist with rotary engines, Mazda created the 13-MSP engine for use in the RX-8. A development of the 13-B unit in the RX-7, side exhaust ports allowed for a higher compression ratio, resulting in improved power output and fuel efficiency. Being normally aspirated, it didn’t match the turbocharged RX-7’s figures, but still developed between 191 and 250bhp. 
 
Despite the improvements in efficiency, the fuel economy still remains in the low-twenties mpg, and high CO2 emissions result in an annual VED band of £505 for the most powerful versions. While Mazda recommended checking the oil level after every other fuel fill, it doesn’t burn through its 5W30 Dexelia as rapidly as some would have you believe.
 
On the road, the engine needs plenty of revs to perform at its best. Anyone familiar with a six-cylinder unit from BMW of the same era will find the RX-8 rather flat - maybe even gutless - at low engine speeds. However, extend it all the way to the redline and the 6.4-second 0-60 time seems entirely plausible. It’s backed up by a lovely gearshift - slightly heavier than the MX-5’s, but similarly slick. The lightweight, compact engine allows for a low centre of gravity and a centre of mass close to the driver, so the RX-8 handles with great agility, feeling much more darty than its German rivals. Buyers looking for a little extra speed or sharpness can turn to a widespread aftermarket scene, both from Mazdaspeed and other non-official firms.
 
The cabin is built well, and has decent space for four adults. It even puts forward a case as a sporty yet practical family car: ‘suicide’ rear doors make access into the back simple, and ISOFIX mounting points provide a secure method of fitting child seats.
 
Which one to buy?
 
UK versions of the RX-8 came in two states of tune: one producing 191bhp paired with a five-speed manual gearbox, the second offering 231bhp with a six-speeder. Though around 26,000 RX-8s were sold in the UK, imports have since been introduced from Japan. Four-speed automatic variants of the 191bhp unit (and from 2006 onwards, a six-speed auto with 212bhp) were not sold here, though may occasionally pop up in the classifieds.
 
The RX-8 line-up was revised in 2009. Mechanically, changes involved improved body rigidity and strengthened suspension mounting points, while a shorter final drive ratio increased acceleration. These later models can be distinguished by their redesigned front bumpers (with a larger air dam and deeper vents to each side) tweaked rear light clusters, and a rear bumper with a diffuser-esque look. Finally, new alloy wheel designs appeared and the tail pipes increased in diameter.
 
A number of special edition versions were offered in the UK, the first of which being 2006 Evolve. Available in either Copper Red Mica or Phantom Blue Mica, it featured gunmetal grey 18-inch alloy wheels, plus an interior finished in stone leather upholstery. In the same year, the PZ debuted. 800 of the Prodrive-tuned models were built, gaining uprated suspension (featuring Eibach springs, Bilstein dampers and new bump stops), OZ Racing alloy wheels, a slightly fruitier exhaust and Prodrive badging on a standard-fit rear spoiler.
 
The R3 special edition was based on the revised RX-8. Suspension tweaks consisted of Bilstein dampers and a strengthened front crossmember, and the car rode on 19-inch alloy wheels with more performance-oriented Bridgestone tyres. Beyond the wheels, the R3 can be differentiated from lesser models thanks to a deeper front splitter, chunkier sills and a subtle rear spoiler, while the interior gained a pair of Recaro seats up front.
 
Other notable special editions not sold in the UK include the Sports Prestige Limited and the SPIRIT-R. Released in 2005, the Prestige was a luxurious trim level, finished in “Black Cherry” paint and trimmed inside with parchment-coloured leather. The SPIRIT-R, meanwhile, was the most powerful version of the RX-8 produced. Built as a run-out model in 2012, 2000 Japan-only models were produced, each producing 250bhp. Other changes include uprated suspension, BBS alloy wheels measuring 19 inches and painted bronze, red brake calipers and SPIRIT-R leather Recaro seats.
 
Performance and spec
 
Engine 1308cc, twin-rotor wankel
Power 227bhp @ 8200rpm
Torque 156lb ft @ 5500rpm
Top speed 146mph
0-60mph 6.4secs
Fuel consumption 24.8mpg
Gearbox Six-speed manual
 
Dimensions and weight
 
Wheelbase 2703mm
Length 4424mm
Width 1770mm
Height 1340mm
Weight 1379kg
 
Common problems
 
● The rotary engine can be perfectly reliable if treated properly. Make sure it’s regularly serviced and at correct intervals. Coil packs must be replaced every 30,000 miles or so, and check oil levels regularly. A compression test is advisable before buying, particularly for older models

● Ask the former owner if they are aware of the gearshift ‘beep’ towards the top of the rev range. At over 7500rpm, an additional exhaust port opens to allow for the necessary evacuation of gases from the combustion chamber. Ports on any car which haven’t revved beyond this point will likely be clogged up with carbon deposits, resulting in a potentially terminal failure the next time the engine extended

● Like many Mazdas of this age, corrosion to the alloy wheels is common, especially on pre-facelift models. While not exactly expensive, it’s worth factoring in the cost of a refurb if you want to keep it looking its best

● Inadequate seals on the tail lights can result in water ingress, leading eventually to a goldfish bowl effect. Fortunately, a full replacement unit isn’t necessarily required - replacement gaskets are available for around £25

● The suspension is fairly sound, with the only point of contention the front anti roll bar drop links. These can wear, signified by clunking from the front end over bumps
 
Model History
 
2003: RX-8 production starts at Mazda’s Hiroshima plant
2005: Prestige special edition released. Finished in unique dark red exterior/parchment leather interior combination
2006: Evolve special edition released. Distinguished by 18” dark silver alloy wheels, and finished in one of two exterior paint colours
2006: Prodrive-tuned PZ edition gains trick suspension, OZ alloy wheels and subtle styling revisions
2009: RX-8 facelift introduced. Gains exterior styling tweaks and suspension improvements
Apr 2012: SPIRIT-R Japan-only special edition gains 19bhp, bronze BBS alloy wheels and tuned suspension 
2012: RX-8 production ends
 
Key clubs and websites
 
● www.mazdarotaryclub.com - a club and online forum for all rotary-engined Mazda owners
● www.rx8ownersclub.co.uk - a UK based owners club which includes a forum and arranges local gatherings
● rotaryrevs.com - A Mazda rotary-engined specialist, based near Batley, West Yorkshire
● www.mazdarotaryparts.com - A RX-8 parts supplier based in Northfleet, Kent
 
Summary and prices
 
Do your research properly, and there’s every chance you can bag a completely sound RX-8 for very little. An early model with 70-80,000 miles and a full service history can be found for barely more than £1,000, and around three times that will buy a very clean example with even fewer miles. 
 
The most recent UK special edition, the R3, can still be found for comfortably less than £8000, even for cars with fewer than 30,000 miles on the clock. The most expensive, the Spirit R, fetches between £12-£20,000 in Japan, depending on mileage.
 
Words: Alex Ingram
Mazda RX-8 Mazda RX-8 Mazda RX-8 Mazda RX-8
Last updated: 14th Dec 2015
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Mazda RX-8 cars for sale

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Mazda RX-8
549 6995 GBP
  • MAZDA RX8 R3 38000 miles FMSH Half Leather Recaro Seats 19 Alloys AC Rare Car 2009

    £6,995 £6,995

    Finished in Metallic Crystal White with Only 38,000 miles with Full Mazda Main Dealer Service History with Services at Pdi 27 miles, 14178 miles, 17886 miles, 20039 miles, 25040 miles, 29405 miles and 34373 miles which included Spark Plugs and Gearbox oil change, Half Black Sports Recaro Seats, Air Conditioning, 19" Alloys, Electric Windows, Remote Alarm and Central Locking, 6 Speed, Electric Mirrors, CD + Bose. Absolutely Fantastic Original Condition, Rare R3 Model in Crystal White. UK Supplied with Full Book Pack and Spare Key.

    • Mileage: 38000 mi
    • Engine size: 2.616
    For sale
    Performance Car Company
    02392 478800 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
  • MAZDA RX8 231PS 2004

    £1,000 £1,000

    3 KEYS SERVICE HISTORY FREE 5 DAY DRIVEAWAY INSURANCE IN VERY GOOD CONDITION INSIDE OUT FOR THE AGE OF THE VEHICLE,12 months MOT, Service history, Good bodywork, Interior - Clean Condition, Tyre condition Good, Climate Control, Air conditioning, Alloy Wheels (18in), Alarm, In Car Entertainment (Radio/CD Autochanger), Electric Windows (Front), Immobiliser, Remote central locking, Power steering, Cruise control, Anti-Lock Brakes, Airbags, Air Bag Passenger, Adjustable Steering Column/Wheel, Air Bag Driver, Leather seats, Front Fog Lights. 4 seats, Blue, Nationwide Warranty Available up to 3 years on this vehicle, FOR MORE INFORMATION CALL ON 07903656868 or 0121 647 4849 VIEWING ONLY BY APPOINTMENT, ANS UK MOTORS 68 ELWELL STREET WEST BROMWICH B70 0DN, Our services include:- Used vehicle sales, Part exchange, Warranty, Valeting, Nationwide delivery, We accept card payment, finance options available visit our website www.ansukmotors.co.uk, p/x considered

    • Mileage: 67227 mi
    • Engine size: 2.616
    For sale
  • Mazda Rx8 2004

    £1,000 £1,000

    Unfortunately I'm having to sell my RX-8, I am a student and bought it after working last summer, and now I'm having to sell it due to going travelling this summer and not being able to store it or keep it from ruining whilst not being used for 6 months. It's a great car in good condition, it's 13 years old so of course there are some cosmetic issues, stone chips, alloy curbing etc, but nothing too dramatic.I've got quite a bit of service history with the car and that's from Mazda and other garages. The MOT came back with 1 advisory which was for the wind screen when I bought it as well. It's the 192bhp version, and also it being a '54 plate the Tax is only £295 as opposed to £495 the newer models have to pay. Tyres are all in good condition, there are no rips or wear marks on the seats and everything works as it should.It has the 6 CD changer with the BOSE speaker system.I've always been vigilant with starting the car and letting it warm up before going for a drive, as well as making sure it has always had a good amount of oil in it.Not had any issues with the engine, as I'm sure you'll have heard the horror stories, but this car has always served me well. I am based in CANTERBURY(Kent) or BEXHILL (East Sussex) depending which is easiest for you to come to. Please feel free to give me a call with any questions 074823184...(click to reveal full phone number) or if you would like to have a look.Thanks,Lewis

    • Mileage: 50000 mi
    • Engine size: 2616
    For sale
  • MAZDA RX8 192PS 2007

    £3,495 £3,495

    FULL LEATHER INTERIOR WITH HEATED FRONT SEATS, BOSE SPEAKER UPGRADE, 18" ALLOY WHEELS. CAR WILL ALSO COME WITH A 12mth MOT ;;All cars come with a new mot and warranty as standard. ;Open 7 days a week, just 10 minutes from Swindon.;Debit and credit cards welcome call us on 01249 760444 for more details or if you need help looking for your next car.

    • Mileage: 63879 mi
    • Engine size: 2.616
    For sale
  • Mazda Rx8 2006 Repair or spares

    £549 £549

    Mazda Rx8 for sale,flooded but will start with a tow then runs ,has no tax or MOT but has only done around 10 miles since last Mot This car is worth more then i am selling it for,but i have neither the time or money to put it back on the road. The interior looks brand new and the bodywork is in good condition for its year. This car will be sold as seen,and is the new owners responsibility to start or remove the car.

    • Mileage: 58140 mi
    • Engine size: 2616
    For sale
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