Mazda RX-8 coupe (2003-2010)

Mazda RX-8 coupe (2003-2010)

reviewed by Carbuyer

  • Sharp driving dynamics
  • Surprisingly roomy
  • Makes a cheap used buy
  • High running costs
  • Small boot
  • Requires frequent servicing

"Four-seater coupe is surprisingly spacious and hugely entertaining to drive, but running costs will hit your wallet hard."

When Mazda launched the Mazda RX8 its combination of coupe looks, hi-tech rotary engine, and nimble handling meant it caused quite a storm back in 2003.

Its unusual 1.3-litre rotary engine allowed Mazda to extract far more power than you'd get out of a conventional petrol engine of a similar size. The engine's small size meant the RX8 feels light and easy to drive quickly when compared to contemporary rivals; even today the Mazda can still thrill more than other new sports cars. Buyers can choose from two versions with either 189bhp or 228bhp.

It may look like a coupe, but the RX8 features two suicide doors that make access to the back seats surprisingly easy, although the RX8's boot is smaller than you’ll get in a hatchback such as the Volkswagen Golf.

The Mazda is not without its problems and the rotary engine is known to suffer catastrophic failure, be heavy on fuel, and need a lot more oil than a normal car. 

The model went out of production in 2012, but there're plenty of new cars to pick up the RX8's mantle - in particular the Toyota GT 86, Subaru BRZ and Audi TT - read our guide to the best sports cars on sale today

MPG, running costs & CO2

1.5 / 5

High fuel and oil consumption will hit your wallet

By new car standards, the RX8 is expensive to run. Choose the less powerful 189bhp version and you’ll not see fuel economy better than 26.7mpg, while the 228bhp version drops that to 25.2mpg. In the real world, you can expect economy to dip below 20mpg frequently. 

CO2 emissions of 267g/km (189bhp) and 284g/km (228bhp) mean that road tax is very pricy at £500 annually for both models. More worrying is the RX8’s reputation for suffering massive engine failure that can cost thousands of pounds to repair and can occur without warning. Even if the engine suffers no problems, it is likely to need a litre of oil every 1000 miles.

Although most independent garages should be able to carry out basic servicing and repairs, anything more serious may require the support of your local Mazda dealer or a RX8 (or rotary engine) specialist. Main dealers will be more expensive, but you may have to travel a long way to find a specialist.

Engines, drive & performance

4 / 5

Few cars are as entertaining as the Mazda

The advantage of the RX8’s engine is that its compact size makes it lightweight and the car feels nimble as a result. It’s rear-wheel drive, so the chassis feels balanced, and the direct steering makes for quick cornering. All models also come with a limited-slip differential for added grip out of corners.

The 189bhp version can get from 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds, while the 228bhp version does it in 6.4 seconds. The way the rotary engine delivers the performance makes it feel quite different to anything else on the road. Accelerate hard, and the engine whirrs like a jet and never fails to raise a smile.

Interior & comfort

3.5 / 5

The Japanese coupe is a surprisingly comfortable long distance cruiser

The quality of interior plastics used in the Mazda RX8 can’t match those in the latest models, but we can’t deny the interior’s sporty style. The car features eye-catching circular dials and a stubby gearstick, while the sports seats offer plenty of support during hard cornering.

The Mazda’s suspension is certainly stiff, but it absorbs the worst bumps in the road so the RX8 isn’t as uncomfortable as you might think. Noise is also well insulated from the interior and the relatively quiet engine makes the RX8 a relaxed cruiser. 

Practicality & boot space

3.5 / 5

All occupants get decent head and legroom

The RX8 is a lot more practical than its sporty looks would have you imagine and access to the back is made easier thanks to rear-hinged doors that can only be released, when the front doors are opened. A large centre console that runs the length of the interior means the RX8 only has four seats, but there’s a decent amount of headroom in the back and front. The only downside is the boot, which measures 290-litres in size and has a narrow boot opening.

Reliability & safety

3.5 / 5

Rotary engine has a thirst for oil as well as petrol

If you own an RX8 then it is best to check its engine oil on a regular basis, because the Mazda rotary engine uses more oil than a regular engine. Neglecting this can lead to an extremely costly engine failure, but even keeping the oil topped up is no guarantee that the car won’t suffer problems. The RX8 was never crash tested by Euro NCAP, but it does come with traction control, stability control and numerous airbags.

Price, value for money & options

3 / 5

Few cars serve up as much performance and style for the price

Second hand Mazda RX8s can look extremely cheap, but the car’s known engine problems have a lot to do with this. If you do buy an RX8 get one with a full service history and a fastidious maintenance record, although even this is no guarantee against problems. All models come with a BOSE stereo, Bluetooth telephone connection and part-leather Recaro sports seats. 

What the others say

3.8 / 5
based on 4 reviews
4 / 5
When it was revealed in 2003, the RX-8 created quite a stir. Thanks to its novel ‘suicide’ rear doors the rakish coupe stole a practical march on more conventional rivals. The latest version retains this neat layout, while subtle tweaks to the shark-like nose freshen the car's distinctive looks. Entry-level versions get either a 189 or 228bhp version of the high-revving 1.3-litre Wankel rotary engine. The range-topping R3 adds sports suspension and bodykit. Read more: 
4 / 5
There's enough room for two in the back and a half decent boot, making the Mazda a useable coupe. It's great to drive with well weighted steering and minimal body roll, however while the rotary engine sounds good, it has to be worked hard to get meaningful performance and lacks pulling power. As a result fuel economy is poor.
4 / 5
Has long been one of our favourite coupés, because it looks great, drives brilliantly and has reasonable practicality. The R3 is expensive, but it's still worth it
3 / 5
Will not stand short runs from cold starts, rotary engine lacks torque and needs to be worked very hard most of the time, high CO2 emissions plus poor fuel economy.
Last updated 
28 Jun 2013
Own this car? Leave your review.