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The Mazda RX-8 is a sports car manufactured by Japanese automobile manufacturer Mazda between 2002 and 2012. It was first shown in 2001 at the North American International Auto Show. It is the successor to the RX-7 and, like its predecessors in the RX range, it is powered by a rotary Wankel engine. The RX-8 was available for sale in North America from the 2003 model year.
Mazda announced on August 23, 2011, that the RX-8 was to be discontinued citing 2012 model year to be the last year of its availability. The RX-8 was removed from the European market in 2010 after the car failed to meet emissions standards.
Due to falling sales from Europe coupled with rising Yen prices, Mazda could not justify the continued sale of the RX-8 in other markets.
Mazda introduced rotary-engined vehicles in the US in 1971, beginning with the R100 and eventually introduced the RX-2, RX-3, RX-4, RX-5, and three generations of the RX-7 sports car in the US and worldwide markets. However, due to the lack of conveniences and user-friendliness, coupled with the high price tag and declining interest in sports cars and coupés at the time, Mazda decided to withdraw the RX-7 from most major markets except Japan. After 1995, Mazda suffered from a relatively undistinguished and ordinary product line in the US except for the MX-5 Miata.
As popular interest in import tuning and performance cars resurged in the late-1990s due in part to various popular cultural influences, Japanese automakers waded back into the performance and sports car market in the US and in worldwide markets. In addition, Mazda endeavoured to rejuvenate itself around this time, partially with financial and management assistance from its new owner Ford, and successfully developed a new product line of high quality cars with desirable styling and superior driving dynamics compared to their competitors, beginning with the Mazda6 and followed by the Mazda3, paving the way for the arrival of Mazda's next-generation rotary powered sports car.
The RX-8 combined two previous products (the internationally sold RX-7, and the Cosmo which was exclusive to Japan), with the exterior dimensions of the RX-8 to be slightly smaller than those of the Cosmo. Mazda chose not to install the 2.0 L three-rotor 20B-REW, which was discontinued in 1996 when the Cosmo ceased production. In Japan, sales were affected by the fact that the RX-8 did not comply with Japanese Government's dimension regulations regulations, and Japanese buyers were liable for yearly taxes for driving a larger car. The rotary engine had financial advantages to Japanese consumers in that the engine displacement remained below 1.5 litres, a significant determination when paying the Japanese annual road tax which kept the obligation affordable to most buyers, while having more power than the traditional inline engines.
Development and design
The development of the RX-8 can be traced as far back as the 1995 RX-01 concept car, which featured an early iteration of the 13B-MSP engine. Naturally aspirated with side exhaust ports, this engine has a power output of 210 hp (157 kW). Because of Mazda's financial position at the time and the growing market interest in SUVs, the RX-01 did not see further development or production. However, a "skunkworks project" engineering team within Mazda kept the development of the 13B-MSP alive using an elongated MX-5 Miata chassis known internally as "gokiburi-ka", or "coachroach car" translated to English, eventually catching the attention of management, which was by then heavily influenced by Ford. Development of the 13B-MSP advanced and eventually led to the RENESIS name debuting along with the RX-EVOLV concept car which began to bear semblance to the production version of the RX-8 with the "freestyle" rear suicide doors. The styling was further refined, in Mazda tradition, by competition between its design studios in Japan, the US, and Europe. The lead designer was Ikuo Maeda, the son of Matasaburo Maeda (the lead designer of the original RX-7). The project obtained official approval from management under one condition, that the resulting car should have four doors, and eventually the RX-8 concept car (design/engineering model) was produced and shown in 2001, closer resembling the production version. A near-production "reference exhibit" RX-8 was shown shortly thereafter at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show, pending final approval for production. The production version of the RX-8 closely resembles this vehicle save for minor trim details, and "Job 1" began in February, 2003 at Mazda's Hiroshima plant in Japan.
The RX-8 was designed as a front mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, four-door, four-seater quad coupé. The car has a near 50:50 front-rear weight distribution and a low polar moment of inertia, achieved by mounting the engine behind the front axle and by placing the fuel tank ahead of the rear axle. The front suspension uses double wishbones and the rear suspension is multi-link. Weight is trimmed through the use of materials such as aluminium and plastic for several body panels. The rest of the body is made of steel, except for the plastic front and rear bumpers. The manual gearbox model uses a carbon fibre composite driveshaft to reduce the rotational mass (momentum of inertia) connected to the engine. Power is sent to the rear wheels through a torque-sensing conical limited-slip differential for improved handling. While underpowered in comparison to the final variant of the RX-7, the RX-8 is considered its successor as Mazda's rotary engine sports sedan. Its layout and clever engineering, along with the typical Mazda suspension tuning have endowed it with excellent driving dynamics which have garnered much praise and numerous awards. It has also proved popular in Japan among car enthusiasts as well as aftermarket equipment manufacturers and professional tuners.
A prominent feature of the RX-8 is its rear-hinged "freestyle" doors (similar to suicide doors) that provide easier access to the rear seats. The RX-8 has no B-pillars between the front and rear doors, but the leading edge of the rear door acts as a "virtual pillar" to maintain structural rigidity. Because of the overlapping design, the rear doors can be opened only when the front doors are open. The RX-8's cabin was designed to allow enough room to house four adults, making it a genuine 4-seater rather than a 2+2. In designing the RX-8, Mazda's engineers were able to achieve a chassis stiffness rating of 30,000 Nm/deg.
First generation (SE3P, 2002–2008)
The earlier models of the RX-8, having chassis codes SE3P, and JM1FE, were produced from the 2003 model year, though the car's U.S. debut was for the 2004 model year. It is powered by the RENESIS 13B-MSP (2-rotor, multi-side-port) Wankel engine displacing 1.3 L (1,308 cc). At launch, the RENESIS was available in standard and high power versions. The 4-port standard RENESIS was rated at 191 hp (194 PS; 142 kW) and was coupled with either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. The 6-port high power RENESIS was only available with a six-speed manual transmission and was rated at 238 hp (241 PS; 177 kW). For the North American market, Mazda revised the reported output rating of the standard and high power RENESIS soon after launch to 189 hp (141 kW) and 237 hp (177 kW), respectively. With exhaust ports now located in the side housing, the RENESIS boasted improved fuel efficiency and emissions rating over the 13B-REW employed by the preceding RX-7, thereby making it possible to be sold in North America.
At launch, the RX-8 was available in various models in different markets around the world. The variations according to different markets are as follows:
Automatic versions all had lower output/lower rpm engines due to the lack of availability of a transmission that would be able to reliably cope with the engine's high rpm limits.
In 2003 Mazda announced a factory Mazdaspeed Version of the RX-8 exclusively in Japan. Based on the Type S and tuned by Mazda's in-house division Mazdaspeed, the car included both mechanical, suspension, and aerodynamic improvements over the standard RX-8's. Mazdaspeed RX-8's were considered the highest performance model of the pre-facelift RX-8. Mechanical and suspension improvements included a new performance exhaust system, upgraded spark plugs, grounding kit, lightweight flywheel, re-balanced eccentric shaft, performance brake pads, stiffer anti roll bars, four point front strut tower brace, rear strut tower brace, as well as a set of height and damping force adjustable coilovers. Mazdaspeed also redesigned the aerodynamics of the car, giving it a new front bumper, with enlarged venting and oil cooler ducting, as well as side skirts, rear under spoiler, and a rear wing. The Mazdaspeed RX-8 was offered in either Strato Blue Mica, or Sunlight Silver Metallic as exclusive colors. A total of 480 factory Mazdaspeed Version RX-8's were built, and had a suggested retail price of JP¥3,650,000.00. Mazda also sold Mazdaspeed accessories worldwide through their dealerships. These accessories included both parts that weren't equipped on factory Mazdaspeed RX-8's as well as nearly all the parts equipped on the factory Mazdaspeed Version. This allowed standard RX-8's to be upgraded to Mazdaspeed standards through dealerships around the world.
Mazda introduced the NR-A kit for the RX-8 Type S in January 2004 approved by the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF). The NR-A kit, sold through Mazda Anfini and other dealers throughout Japan, brings the RX-8 up to specification in terms of eligibility for participation in the one-make Party Race sanctioned by JAF. The kit includes a roll bar, sports radiator, oil-cooler kit, tow hooks, and racing brake pads.
At the 2004 North American International Auto Show, Mazda unveiled the RX-8 Hydrogen RE concept car, designed to run on either hydrogen or gasoline. In February, 2006, Mazda announced that it would start leasing a dual fuel RX-8 to commercial customers in Japan, and in March, 2006 announced its first two customers, claiming the first fleet deliveries of a dual hydrogen/gasoline production car. In 2008, 30 RX-8 HRE were delivered to HyNor.
In 2005 and 2006, Mazda introduced the first special edition of the RX-8 called "Sports Prestige Limited" in Japan and "Shinka" in North America. The Shinka takes its name from the Japanese word meaning "transformation" or "evolution". Marketed as a more luxurious grand touring model, it came with Black Cherry and pearl white Mica exterior colour and Parchment leather and suede interior along with subtly chromed 18-inch wheels. Out of the total production of 2,150 vehicles, 1,357 were produced for the North American market. The most significant mechanical change were slightly revised Bilstein shocks and suspension cross member injected with urethane foam to improve ride quality.
Launched in 2006, the ‘Evolve’ was the first special edition for the UK. The new model was named after the original Mazda concept car seen in Detroit in 2000 and was limited to a production run of just 500 cars.
Based on the 228 hp (231 PS; 170 kW) high-power version, it had several unique exterior features. These include a choice of two exclusive exterior colours (Copper Red Mica 400 and Phantom Blue Mica 100), unique dark silver 18 × 8J alloy wheels, a polished aluminium Rotary crest on the front air dam, dark silver bezel headlamps, sports door mirrors, polished aluminium side air outlet fins, Rotary branded B-pillar trims, chrome exhaust surrounds.
Inside, the Evolve features unique stone leather and alcantara sporty seat trim, plus black leather-wrapped steering wheel, gear knob and hand-brake lever.
In May, 2006, the Mazda released the RX-8 PZ for the UK market. This car was jointly developed with motorsports company Prodrive. Only available with a six-speed manual, it featured custom 10-spoke alloy wheels supplied by Italian F1 team supplier OZ Racing in "Dark Silver" finish, mirrors developed to reduce drag, front and rear black mesh grilles, and a rear spoiler to provide more stability at higher speeds. Both the wheels and rear wing are badged in carbon fibre with "Prodrive". Significant revisions were also made to the suspension to improve the handling: dampers from Bilstein and coil springs from Eibach are used in addition to reducing the ride height by 15 mm (0.6 in) and an increase in spring rate of 60%. Finally, the car was supplied with a unique upgraded twin exhaust system, with exhaust tailpipes branded as "Prodrive". Only 800 cars were made at an MSRP of £25,995. It was available in two colours, Galaxy Grey (380) and Brilliant Black (420).
The Revelation was an Australian special edition of the RX-8 with a limited production run of 100 cars. The model incorporated the top specification features of the standard RX-8 with the 9 speaker Bose sound system, leather seats in a sand beige color, more piano black accents on the interior, and came with the same 13B Renesis rotary engine. Like regular RX-8 variants, the Revelation features 18-inch alloy wheels and tyres, traction control, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), six airbags, cruise control, power windows/mirrors, limited-slip differential, six-CD in-dash audio system and climate control air-conditioning. The revelation though, added stiffer anti-roll bars, foam-filled cross members and special edition grey spoke alloys. The Revelation also offered a new colour, Copper Red, and also came in Brilliant Black. It also came with xenon headlights with chrome bezels, while being the first Mazda sold in Australia with keyless entry and start.
The 'Nemesis' model is the third special edition model launched as a UK exclusive. It was launched in 2006, although some cars were registered in 2007 due to stock runoff. The ‘Nemesis’ features unique paint colors and interior trim, plus an exclusive accessory package, at a cost that was at the time £330 less than the model on which it is based – when similarly specified. Based on the standard 189 hp (192 PS; 141 kW) version of the Mazda RX-8, it included a unique stone leather seat trim interior and came with a five-speed manual transmission. The Nemesis has several other unique exterior and interior features. Two exclusive colours were available, Copper Red Mica and Stormy Blue Mica, each Nemesis also comes with a polished aluminum Rotary crest on the front air dam, polished aluminum side air-outlet trims behind the front wheel arches, special B-pillar trims with a Rotary crest and ‘Nemesis’ badging. Inside, these special edition models also featured Nemesis branded luxury carpet mats and Mazda RX-8 branded aluminum door scuff plates. Like other standard 245 hp (183 kW; 248 PS) RX-8s, the Nemesis has front fog lights, heated front seats, electrically operated driver’s seat, climate control air-conditioning, nine-speaker BOSE premium audio system with 6-CD auto-changer, plus a black leather-wrapped steering wheel, gear knob and hand-brake lever. The Nemesis has a top speed of 139 mph (224 km/h) and accelerates from 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.2 seconds. Each Nemesis buyer also qualified for a complimentary Prodrive experience day. Just 350 examples were built, 200 in Copper Red and 150 in Stormy Blue.
Mazdaspeed M'z Tune
In December 2006, a new Mazdaspeed RX-8 became available exclusively in Japan. The Mazdaspeed M'z Tune was focused on performance without the expense of comfort, and was equipped with a performance exhaust system, lightweight flywheel, improved radiator, Bilstein shock absorbers, and sport springs. The car came with a new exclusive aerodynamic kit, featuring a new front lip, side skirts, and rear lower bumper.
In 2007 Mazda released a Japan-North America limited edition known as the Kuro (Japanese for black). Production run was limited to 500 cars. All cars were finished in Sparkling Black paint, with 18-inch Monoblock wheels. The Kuro version used a more evolved RENESIS engine and 6 Speed manual transmission with a claimed output of 227 hp (230 PS; 169 kW) and 156 lb·ft (212 N·m). Inside, it featured black colored leather interior, Bose premium audio system with 6-CD auto-changer, heated seats, electrically operated driver's seat, and climate control air-conditioning, cruise control, traction control, dynamic stability control and eight airbags. This edition has racing-type fully adjustable front & rear Tein suspension, bigger exhaust tips, fog lights, stiffer anti roll bars, better engine cooling system, limited slip differential and a rear spoiler to provide more stability at higher speeds. After the Kuro version, Mazda announced that this is the absolute Mazda RX-8 version with a suggested retail price of USD$60,000/JP¥6,653,550.00.
40th Anniversary Limited Edition
2007 saw the introduction of a limited edition to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Mazda's rotary engine. It had 10-spoke, 18-inch diameter alloy wheels of a new design that were later incorporated in the 2009 facelift. Also added were blue-light front fog lamps, a 40th Anniversary badge on each front wing and an aerodynamic rear spoiler. Exclusive sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein dampers were added along with an enhanced urethane foam injected front cross member intended to improve steering feel. The 40th anniversary limited editions were slightly different in the various international markets. The Japanese version came in Marble White as a homage to the Mazda Cosmo Sport, which was initially only available in white. The North American (USA and Canada) version came in Metropolitan Grey Mica exterior colour with the interior clad in special Cosmo Red leather. In North America, this special edition was available only in 2008. For Canada - production was limited to 100 cars. The interior had black leather with copper red accented door inserts. For the Australian market, only 200 examples of the 40th Anniversary Edition were produced in 2008 exclusively. It was available in Metropolitan Grey, Dark Blue, or Brilliant Black exterior paint. The interior came with exclusive white Alcantara and black leather seats with contrasting white stitching. In the United Kingdom, this edition was limited to 400 cars which came in two exclusive exterior colours – Metropolitan Grey Mica or Crystal White Pearlescent. Seats were trimmed in black leather with stone Alcantara mid sections.
Mid-cycle refresh (2008–2012)
In November, 2008, Mazda engineers improved the RX-8 body rigidity through the addition of structural reinforcements, by adding a trapezoidal shock tower brace and enhancing the local rigidity of the front suspension tower areas. The rear suspension geometry was revised for better handling, and the final-drive-gear ratio on manual transmission cars was shortened from 4.444 to 4.777 for improved off-the-line performance. While minimal, these changes gave the updated RX-8 increased acceleration and performance. Mazda engineers claimed that the 2nd generation RX-8 was (slightly) faster than the previous generation due to the lower gearing and improved suspension. The Renesis II engine iteration that was launched in the 2009 model year included a third oil injection port in each rotor housing to feed oil to the middle of the rotor facing, making this their first all-new EMOP (Electric Metering Oil Pump) with a total of 6 lubrication injectors, plus an all-new engine oil pump.
The updated RX-8 also received design enhancements that were meant to freshen the styling and give the RX-8 a new look, without impairing the basic design theme. Refinements for the 2009 model year included a more aggressive restyled front and rear bumper as well as a new front fascia. The updated RX-8 also came with sporty, high-quality finish front and rear headlamps as well as larger exhaust pipes (now measuring 90 mm (3.5 in) across). The 2009 RX-8 also offered a new five-spoke wheel design featuring a symbolic and sporty design reminiscent of the rotary engine, with different arrangements for each wheel size. A rear spoiler was also added dependent on the trim level selected. There were three trims available to consumers from 2009 to 2012: Sport, Grand Touring, and R3.
In 2008, Mazda unveiled a Mazdaspeed RX-8 equipped with racing seats, and a new aerodynamic package for the refreshed RX-8. Mazda however didn't end up selling any new generation Mazdaspeed editions or accessories to the public.
The R3 version was first introduced in 2005 in Japan. This version was very limited and had the 1.3 L RENESIS Wankel engine and a Bose sound system. The R3 model was again introduced in 2009. The 2009 R3 package added slightly improved suspension over the base model by adding Bilstein shock absorbers and a foam filled front crossmember to improve rigidity. It also came with 19-inch forged aluminum-alloy wheels and high performance tyres. On the exterior, the R3 had a different, lower front bumper sporting a splitter, lower side sills, and a standard rear spoiler. There is a pair of special Recaro seats up front, along with the same 300-watt Bose audio system, along with Bluetooth and the Mazda advanced keyless entry and start system. No electric sunroof was offered in the R3 model.
The Spirit R is a limited edition of the RX-8 built to celebrate the end of the RX-8's production. The name "Spirit R" was based on the final limited edition of the RX-7, the RX-7 Spirit R. It is the fastest and most expensive RX-8 ever made. The Spirit R was limited to only 1,000 cars and exclusively sold in Japan.
The car had two transmission choices: a 6-speed manual transmission and a 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Features exclusive to the RX-8 Spirit R were bi-xenon headlamps, 4 piston front and rear red brake calipers, high performance Bridgestone Potenza summer tires, a 7.1 channel 300 watt Bose premium audio system with AudioPilot noise cancellation technology, and piano-black transmission tunnel trim.
Mazda reworked a lot of the engine and related electronics in order to enable the engine to have the highest amount of peak power. A high-pressure fuel pump was added, as was a larger radiator with faster fans to help with cooling. The cold air intake system was upgraded, and the S-DIAS gained a second intake port, which would open at 5,500 rpm to allow more air into the engine. The oil-metering pump was upgraded to provide more oil to the rotors. A less restricted stainless steel exhaust was added with larger 3.5 inch tips. A Tochigi Fuji torque vectoring limited-slip differential was added. the engine ignition system was upgraded to the high output revision-C coils, for increased performance and engine response. A bespoke track-ready suspension with Bilstein dampers and a urethane-foam-injected front suspension cross member was added. Mazda also focused on reducing weight. The front hood, rear doors and boot lid were made from aluminum. A magnesium steering frame, together with a lightweight carbon fiber prop shaft, was also added. The manual transmission model came with exclusive lightweight red leather SPIRIT R bucket seats from Recaro, and lightweight, forged 19-inch BBS bronze aluminum alloy wheels. The automatic transmission model included 10-way adjustable power leather seats with lumbar support and 2-position memory in black with red stitching, and 18-inch lightweight BBS dark gunmetal alloy wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza summer tires. Some models came with red leather seats with white stitching. A tyre upgrade was also available, swapping the Bridgestone's for higher performance Falken extreme summer tyres. The automatic models could be specified with the manual transmission model's Recaro bucket seats and 19-inch wheels.
With all the improvements combined, the Spirit R could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 5.7 seconds, as opposed to the base model's 6-second time. The car could also reach a top speed of more than 170 mph (270 km/h), making it the fastest factory RX-8 ever built.
The body colour choices for the Spirit R were limited to Aluminum Metallic, Sparkling Black Mica, and a special color, Crystal White Pearl Mica, exclusive to the Spirit R.
A small number of Spirit R RX-8s were sold in Indonesia, Malaysia, and New Zealand.
End of production
Sales of the RX-8 ended in 2010 in Europe after failing to meet the region's emission standards.
The production of the RX-8 ended in 2012 in Japan. Mazda has produced 192,094 units since 2003. Production of the rotary engine ended in June 21, 2012, followed by the end of RX-8 assembly on June 22, 2012 at Mazda's Ujina, Hiroshima plant.
Warranty extension program
Mazda North American Operations extended the engine warranty on all model year 2004–2008 RX-8s. The warranty extension covers only the engine core which consists of the rotor housing and internal parts as well as the seals and gaskets. It does not include clutch or drive train (transmission or differential). An extended engine warranty for emissions was not offered in any other RX-8 markets.
The RX-8 has been campaigned and used in various racing series by privateers. It has seen a considerable amount of success, the most prominent of which being the 2008 and 2010 24 Hours of Daytona GT-class wins campaigned by SpeedSource Race Engineering. This victory also marks the 23rd endurance race win at Daytona by a Mazda rotary-powered race car. While the cars are powered by the 20B rotary engines, the car is in fact built on a tube frame chassis and not on the production car.
Ryan Eversley won both races of the 2010 SCCA World Challenge Mid-Ohio Grand Prix in the touring car class.
Other racing series include the KONI Challenge Series in the Street Tuner class. In the UK, the RX-8 featured in the Mazda sponsored "Formula Women" series (2004), which involved all women drivers with slightly modified RX-8s, and the RX-8 was also campaigned successfully in the Britcar series endurance races (2005/2006). In Belgium, Mazda are currently sponsoring an RX-8 silhouette racer in the GT series. The car also won the IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge in 2005.
In 2014 the North Island Mazda Rotary Racing Association in New Zealand launched a RX8 category in its Pro7 racing series which is the oldest MotorSport NZ sanctioned series in NZ. The RX8's now dominate this racing series and is competed in the North and South Islands as well as a NZ championship. The category was renamed in 2019 to the Mazda Racing Series and now some of the largest grids in the country.
In 2019, the Classic Sports Car Club in the UK launched the RX-8 Trophy for road legal first generation Mazda RX-8's. Developed in two years, the class was designed to provide the cheapest way of going racing in a performance car. The class stipulates that the RX-8 entering the race must have a valid MOT and retain creature comforts such as air con, heater and stereo, therefore allowing the car to be used as a daily driver, as well as to and from the race track.
The RX-8 has been used occasionally for professional drifting, with drivers like Masao Suenaga from Japan, "Mad" Mike Whiddet from New Zealand, and Kyle Mohan from the USA choosing the develop the chassis each to suit their own goals.
As of October 2006 the RX-8 has won 37 international motoring awards including 2003 International Engine of the Year, the 2003 Japanese Car of the Year, Australia's Wheels magazine's Car of the Year for 2003, the 2004 Singapore Car of the Year, the 2004 U.S. Best Sports Car, and several UK Best Car Awards. It was named on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 2004, 2005, and 2006. It also took home 1st place on Car and Driver's "Four of a Kind" comparison test. 2010 RX-8 placed 3rd out of 7 on Car and Driver's The Best-Handling Car in America for Less Than $100,000. It was also awarded the Editors' Choice Award by Grassroots Motorsports in 2003.
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