JDM - General

Why is the RX-8 Hated? | Is the RX-8 Hate Justified?

As much as we’d like to say the opposite, the truth is that the Mazda RX-8 has gotten a lot of slack from the car community. But how did it get to that? The RX-8 older brother, the RX-7 is perhaps praised as one of the most iconic and popular JDM cars to have ever existed, so what did Mazda do so wrong to completely turn the tide on the RX-8? Let’s get to the bottom of this, and see if the Mazda RX-8’s grudge with the car community is justified.

The Mazda RX-8

In reality, the RX-8 should have been great. When manufacturers engineer new products, they usually use the old ones as a template and then improve upon certain aspects. So, one would think that Mazda would have done the same and used the RX-7 as a foundation, but they kind of didn’t.

The only real thing that was kept the same was the Wankel engine, but that was barely an improvement as the RX-8 engine was naturally aspirated it had a lot less horsepower than the engine in the RX-7.

In the following section, we’ll discuss the design, engine, reliability, and functionality of the RX-8 which will inevitably help us come to a conclusion on whether the RX-8 hate is justified.

Mazda RX-8 Design – Mazda Tried Something Bold, and Failed

The design change from the RX-7 to the RX-8 came as a shocker for most. The RX-7 is often considered elegant, aesthetic, and unique. Its design was part of what made it so likable, you could tell that this was a sports car.

The RX-8 however is often considered a BIG step in the wrong direction. Sure, the automobile world entered a new millennium, brands follow trends, and so did Mazda with the RX-8 as they tried a more “modern” look. But sadly, they did not hit the park with this one. It barely looks like a sports car, and the unique and elegant looks are gone. The only resemblance it has to its predecessor is that it kind of looks like an RX-7 that was stung by a bee.

The RX-8 was what is considered a 4-door “quad coupé”. The RX-8 looked like and was the size of a regular coupé, but it had two tiny rear passenger doors. The rear doors turned outwards like the door on a Rolls Royce as it was hinged from the back. But unlike the Rolls Royce, the rear seat of the RX-8 was no place for an adult as it was extremely cramped.

This ultimately asks the question of why they engineered un-usable rear seats instead of removing them altogether and saving some weight.

Overall, the design is questionable, even the sun visors had holes in them which could let through sunlight, isn’t the sun visor’s purpose to keep the sun out?

The design is summed up in one sentence by car journalist Doug DeMuro: “I don’t like how this car looks, more specifically, I hate how this car looks”.

Mazda RX-8 Engine and Transmission – The Wankel Engine, a Dying Breed

The Wankel Engine had been around for a long time and was first used in the 1967 Mazda Cosmo 110S. Since then, ongoing improvements and development have been made to it.

There are a few clear characteristics of a rotor engine.

Wankel Engines are Unreliable

Firstly, it does not have any cylinders and instead uses a triangular rotor to achieve combustion. This was a complex setup that required extremely detailed engineering. The result of the complex engineering was that it was not very reliable, in fact, the Wankel engine is very unreliable. We’re not talking “BMW-level” unreliable, this takes it to the next level. There is a reason why most RX-8 are cheap to buy, they are very expensive to own and maintain.

Small Displacement Engine High Horsepower

A quirky feature with Rotary engines is the high horsepower output they managed to get from a relatively small displacement engine. The 13B-REW engine in the RX-7 produces an incredible 280hp from a 1.3L engine – and this was in the 1990s!

The RX-8 received a new Wankel engine, the 1.3L “RENESIS” rotary engine. Unlike its predecessor, the RENESIS engine was naturally aspirated. This resulted in lower power compared to the RX-7. The first models had 190hp and the later models got power bumped up to around 240hp. This was a letdown for most since the newest model should be better than the model it replaces, but in this case, it was the other way around. The good thing is that it still kept a high rev-limiter at 9,000 RPM!

Miles per Gallon, Who?

Although the rotary engines had really small displacements, rarely being larger than 1300cc, they still got surprisingly bad mileage. Even in today’s day and age, a 1.3L engine would often be considered an eco-box, but the Wankel engine is far from that. An RX-8 will average between 15-18 miles per gallon (mpg) combined. Even a C5 Corvette with a 5.7L V8 gets 19 mpg combined, and that engine is more than four times as large as the Wankel engine. This is also a reason why the rotary engines are no longer used in commuter cars as they cannot compete with regular petrol or diesel engines in terms of mileage.

Wankel Engines Produces a Fantastic Sound

However, there is one large benefit (at least for us gearheads) with the Wankel engine, and that is the sound it produces. Wankel engines tend to have a very high rev line and make a sound that no other car produces. The sound is almost a reminiscence of a high-revving motorcycle. One thing to take notice of is how the 13B-REW Wankel engine in the RX-7 sounds A LOT better than the RENESIS engine in the RX-8. I’ll just provide you with a short sound compilation so you can hear it for yourself.

RX-7 Sound Compilation
RX-8 Sound Compilation

Some difference, huh?

Verdict – Does the RX-8 Deserve the Hate?

It is tough to say whether a car “deserves” to be hated, but it is clear to many – the RX-8 is not a great car. It is pretty boring looking, extremely expensive to own, and the drive itself is not really that special either. We’re not saying it can’t be a great driver’s car, it surely can. But the idea of putting time and money into something more “rewarding” just seems to be a better choice.

The RX-8 had the potential to be a success, as the RX-7 was. But the RX-8 took what was good with the previous generation and dulled it out, or completely erased it.

Some of the critiques the RX-8 has gotten over the years are justified, there is no doubt about it. But people need to be aware that Mazda made a bold move with the RX-8. They completely changed the direction of what they’ve done in the past. And unfortunately, it seems to have been the wrong move. Although the RX series didn’t end with a boom, we should still be thankful for what they’ve given us.

E. Lindgren

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