The 2011 Mazda RX-8 is one of those affordable sports cars you want to like love, even. However, disappointing performance and a fuel-guzzling, maintenance-plagued rotary engine are deal killers. Otherwise, the model has excellent handling and decent room for the class. Sadly, however, the two sides of this coin cancel each other out.
Standing back and looking, the design of the RX-8 is just luscious, but once the functionality is explored problems arise. The suicide-door form factor is sexy, but getting into the backseat is still a chore -- the front door has to be opened first. Try this maneuver in a tight parking space and the doors essentially trap the driver and passenger in place. (Once you do manage to get inside, however, the rear seat is surprisingly roomy.)
The RX-8 has a pleasingly long hood, and the fenders are equally attractive with a decided flare. The R3 package gives buyers a curvaceous front fascia with a good-looking back bumper, spoiler, and jazzy over-sized tailpipe. Technically all the elements blend together, they just don't happen to work together. If you never intend to put anyone in the backseat, however, you might not notice.
The basic problem with the engine is that it sucks down oil - to the point that Mazda suggests drivers check the level every time they fill up. Considering the poor mileage - 16/23 mpg - you'll be at the pump a lot. So what is there to recommend the RX-8? If you're on a budget and dying to own a sports car, you can probably swing this one with a base price of $26,795. For the money, you get 1.3-liter RENESIS two-rotor rotary engine which generates 212-232 hp. There are four trims: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, and R3.
Reviews of the interior are decidedly mixed. The center stack covered in a black finish comes off as modern, and overall the styling is nicely packaged, but that doesn't overcome the cramped feeling of the cabin. There's far too much plastic, and a huge cover on the hand brake. Some test drivers have said it's a better interior that those on the Nissan 350Z or Ford Mustang, but it's going to be purely a matter of taste from driver to driver. Also, you have to move into higher trims to pick up Bluetooth and the Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound System. As for cargo space? Drivers get a whopping 7.6 cubic feet, well under the Genesis Coupe with 10 cubic feet, and the 15.7 cubic feet on the Mitsubishi Eclipse coupe.
The safety features are solid, with front, side, and side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, and electronic brake force distribution. With a four-star rating from the federal government for the 2010, the RX-8 is as safe as any affordable sports car on the market. But is it a car that can be recommended in good conscience? Bottom line, buyers have to take the 2011 RX-8 for a test drive and decide for themselves. If the price is right and you're up for a rigorous maintenance schedule, the RX-8 may be for you, but it's certainly not for everyone.