- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

Climbing behind the steering wheel of the Mazda RX-8 brings about an overabundance of emotions. The exterior is a mixture of cool and questionable design. The interior is secure-feeling and the response to the driver’s desires is immediate, as long as you have the RX-8’s rotary engine revved up in the RPM scale.

The engine is set rearward and low in the engine compartment, which explains how designers achieved the very sleek and low profile of the front fenders and hood. This strategy gives this Mazda a hip and aggressive stance.

The body bloats a bit as we move rearward, but for good reason. Perhaps taking a page from a competitor, Mazda has added quarter rear doors.

These openings offer excellent access to the rear seat, but we would keep this area strictly for stowing cargo and other miscellaneous gear.

The short overhang of the rear bumper gives the RX-8 a taut appearance.

If you are of the old school, you remember the phenomenal performance of the previous RX-7. That version of rotary sports car was a bit of a handful, having more power than most drivers needed. The present RX-8 is a bit more controlled, but not in any way can it be called tame.

With two versions of the rotary engine available, you can pick how much performance you feel you need, or want. The 197-horsepower engine is mated to a four-speed automatic that is also equipped with Sport Shift manual mode. The steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters are much like those found on modern race cars.

The high-performance version comes with 238 horsepower and is equipped with a six-speed manual transmission. The RX-8 in either form is fun to drive and can be quite practical because of the increased accessibility the rear doors provide.

Back to the interior, I found the interior space to be exceedingly cozy. While some may find this confining or even claustrophobic, I found the space to be more secure, much like an open-wheeled race car. The dash, center stack and console present all the controls, buttons and gauges in an easy-to-use fashion. The center stack is modern in its design, exhibiting a home stereo look. All models have power windows, mirrors and door locks, along with cruise control. For all but the tallest of drivers, there is good head room in front, not so in the rear seat.

Superior handling is the result of using an aluminum double wishbone suspension up front and a multilink suspension at the rear. As is the case with many sports-orientated vehicles of the day, Mazda uses an electric-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system. Engineers say it adds better response and less drag on the engine, robbing power. I agree with the latter not with the former. But then I would approve of a straight unassisted shaft connected to the steering wheel for better feedback from the road. If that were the case people would no longer be happy in their new cars. Power steering is a good thing.

The RX-8 is a wonderfully fun car for a drive out to the country. And even though the suspension could best be described as firm, it isn’t so much so that you will be overly fatigued once you arrive at your destination. This Mazda is one that will fulfill the needs of weekday chores, while at the same time injecting some passion and adventure for those weekend excursions.

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