Mazda - RX8

By Matt Greenop

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Mazda is calling it Spirit - but the RX-8 is already a ghost.

The Japanese automotive giant and rotary power constant announced in October last year it would stop producing cars with the company's spinning engines in June - a victim of poor sales, high emission compliance costs and, not surprisingly, the fact that the rotary has always had a massive thirst.

It will persevere with hydrogen rotary research, but realistically it will be a long time before that technology ever finds its way onto the roads.

This doesn't mean that the much-maligned signature 'barp, barp, barp' of the monster bridgeported 13Bs will disappear from our roads - there are still companies supplying housings and rotors to satisfy that very committed market.

When we got our hands on the RX-8 Spirit R, the last of the rotary-powered Mazda special editions, and named after the final RX-7 model, it was with more than a hint of sadness.

The well-featured semi-four-door is a tribute to the years of development that has seen some legendary vehicles produced since the company signed a deal with NSU and Wankel in the early 1960s.

The RX-3 coupe is a favourite here, and now attracts serious money on the second-hand market.

While this final rotary tribute could have been a wild fire-breathing monster, it is a fairly tame upgrade on the current model. Essentially a tweaked version of the Japanese RX-8 RS, the car sits on sportier Bilstein suspension, atop a nice set of bronze 19-inch rims and 225/40/19 Potenzas, and only comes in three special colours - aluminium metallic, sparkling black mica and chrystal white pearl mica.

A new bodykit adds to the bulgy guards and staunch front end, but doesn't go overboard, and a Spirit R badge stuck to the C-pillar completes the exterior evolution.

Newly-designed high-backed Recaro seats in red and black provide the real point of difference on the inside, with parts of the clever sliding centre console also nicely finished in piano black. Brake calipers have been given a lick of red paint, although it would have been good to see a set of four-pot stoppers clamping cross-drilled and slotted rotors to make the special edition a bit more, well, special.

But like any RX-8, the $56,695 Spirit R is a real drivers car. The RENESIS (Rotary Engine Genesis) 13B is at its happiest climbing into the stratosphere of the rev range, screaming at 9000-plus as you work through the tight and tough six-speed gearbox. Handling has been further improved with the Bilstein addition - which, combined with the fifty-fifty weight balance, means corners are dispatched with absolute ease. Turn off the DSC and the back end gets a bit snappy, but unless you're on a track there's not much point.

It drinks fuel at an alarming rate - the outright efficiency of the rotary engine is its worst enemy at the pump - but is far more forgiving with the Renesis than in the last of the FD-generation RX-7s.

 

- Hamilton News

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