Depreciation Station: 2004-'11 Mazda RX-8

Amazing handling? Check.

9000-rpm redline? Check.

Perfect ergonomics? Check.

And now with prices starting around $5000? Meet the Mazda RX-8.

The Mazda RX-8 signaled the return of the rotary. After nearly a decade away, Mazda brought the Wankel engine back to its fans, along with the promise of smooth power from a relatively small displacement– in this case, just 1.3 liters.

This was a new version of the tried-and-true rotary engine–or at least a pretty major update. Its basic architecture was carried over from the 13B found in all three generations of the RX-7, but the new Renesis engine featured redesigned exhaust ports and upgraded apex seals. The new, naturally aspirated engine produced 238 horsepower, nearly as much as the twin-turbo RX-7 that came before it.

The Renesis engine was nestled deep in the RX-8’s chassis, so much so that its maker referred to the layout as front-midship. In English, that means the engine rests behind the centerline of the front wheels. Add in the double A-arm suspension, 50/50 weight distribution and 3000- pound curb weight, and the RX-8 handles like a dream.

Then there’s the sexy bodywork. It looks like a coupe, but the design cleverly contains rear doors. Those rear seats can hold a full-sized adult, too.

The car hit the American market for the 2004 model year with an MSRP starting at $26,680. That price was for the six-speed manual; an automatic could be had for less money, but it also delivered less horsepower.

Today, though, the RX-8 is a deal, with cars starting at less than $5000. Revisions made for the post-2009 cars have many of those currently trading closer to $10,000.

Why so inexpensive? Well, the RX-8 isn’t a fuel miser. The Renesis may be thriftier than previous rotaries, but it still likes gasoline. The EPA rates the car’s fuel economy as 16 city/22 highway, and those numbers are tough to beat in real life. Figure 13-16 mpg in town is par for the course. The early cars also saw some engine issues, to the point that Mazda extended the warranties to eight years or 100,000 miles.

Do those issues doom the RX-8? Remember, we’re talking about one of the best-driving cars of late, one with a price that’s tough to beat. As with owning a Lotus 7 or high-strung exotic, sometimes the compromises are just part of the ride.

Care & Feeding

Trent Harvey, Tire Rack’s brand manager for brakes and suspension, campaigned a Mazda RX-8 at national-level autocrosses for several seasons.

Rotary engines are designed to inject a small amount of the oil into the combustion chamber under normal operation. The higher the engine load, the more oil is metered into the process. Keeping the oil level topped off with the recommended oil type is a must and a rite of passage for an RX-8 owner.

I put 65K miles on mine–purchased new–and always fed it the recommended octane and oil type. The compression still tested strong when I sold it. I’ve heard of many other owners who have gone over 100K with no issues, but that contrasts with many engines that were replaced early. Rotary engines are not tolerant to pre-detonation, so using low-octane fuel can be a death sentence.

As the engine compression reduces over time due to wear, the cars become harder to start when hot, a loss of power may become apparent, and the idle may become uneven. A Mazda dealer or specialist will have access to a compression tester designed for rotary engines, which will provide the most accurate results. However, some research online will lead you to home-brewed methods of testing with a standard compression tester, which can provide you with a basic idea of the engine’s health. I would consider this a must-do prior to purchasing any rotary-powered car.

All of the normal handling upgrades translate well to the RX-8. Koni really nailed the Sport damper application for this platform: Several SCCA Solo Stock class national championships have been won with these off-the-shelf parts.

Sources

Goodwin Racing
(858) 775-2810
good-win-racing.com

Racing Beat
(714) 779-8677
racingbeat.com

Tire Rack
(888) 353-5082
tirerack.com

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Comments
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maseratiguy
maseratiguy Reader
9/18/15 10:30 p.m.

Always liked the RX's. The fuel costs don't really deter me if I like driving the car. I always figure that is just part of the cost of the hobby.

SyntheticBlinkerFluid
SyntheticBlinkerFluid UltimaDork
9/19/15 3:50 p.m.

I really want an FD, but running unmolested ones are becoming unobtanium under $10k.

I liked the Rx-8 when it came out and still do, could be a future option if prices keep dropping.

CarLava
CarLava New Reader
9/22/15 2:48 a.m.

I would agree. RX-8 can be considered worth buying even if the price is depreciating.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
10/6/15 8:15 a.m.

I'm still seeing lots of RX-8s out there. A friend just bought an autocross-prepped RX-8 for like $8k or so. (And "autocross-prepped" just means prepped for C Street, so it's not really modified, although it has received a new engine.)

He's happy with it.

petegans
petegans New Reader
10/6/15 9:03 a.m.

I've always wanted one. I daydream about buying a cheap, non-running beater and swapping in a new engine and doing a restoration.

kanaric
kanaric Dork
10/6/15 10:16 a.m.
SyntheticBlinkerFluid wrote: I really want an FD, but running unmolested ones are becoming unobtanium under $10k. I liked the Rx-8 when it came out and still do, could be a future option if prices keep dropping.

Wait until JDM imports for FD become available. Not only will prices tank but there will be a wealth of hardly modded ones.

Thinkkker
Thinkkker UltraDork
10/6/15 10:41 a.m.

Friend runs CS in one. They installed 2 engines this year. Last one was a rebuilt to factory spec by a good shop for them supposedly. He hopes to keep it together for longer than a year now....

The0retical
The0retical Dork
10/6/15 5:19 p.m.

In reply to kanaric:

I'm waiting so hard for that.

I day dream about RX-8s from time to time when I run across one with a trashed motor for $1.5k, which is pretty common where I'm at. The problem is that I didn't enjoy it too much when I drove one at Zoom-Zoom Live a number of years ago and I'm still not sure if my opinion would be colored by that or not.

clutchsmoke
clutchsmoke SuperDork
10/6/15 6:05 p.m.
The0retical wrote: In reply to kanaric: I'm waiting so hard for that. I day dream about RX-8s from time to time when I run across one with a trashed motor for $1.5k, which is pretty common where I'm at. The problem is that I didn't enjoy it too much when I drove one at Zoom-Zoom Live a number of years ago and I'm still not sure if my opinion would be colored by that or not.

I flogged one there too and Mazda set them up to understeer a lot to keep people from spinning on course. I've driven a couple others and they are not understeery. Nice and neutral/balanced.

92dxman
92dxman Dork
10/7/15 3:38 p.m.

One of the best driving cars I have ever been behind the wheel of hands down. I've never had so much of an S eating grin as when I drove an RX-8

scardeal
scardeal Dork
10/7/15 3:40 p.m.

Then why am I not in love with mine?

The0retical
The0retical Dork
10/7/15 6:18 p.m.
clutchsmoke wrote:
The0retical wrote: In reply to kanaric: I'm waiting so hard for that. I day dream about RX-8s from time to time when I run across one with a trashed motor for $1.5k, which is pretty common where I'm at. The problem is that I didn't enjoy it too much when I drove one at Zoom-Zoom Live a number of years ago and I'm still not sure if my opinion would be colored by that or not.

I flogged one there too and Mazda set them up to understeer a lot to keep people from spinning on course. I've driven a couple others and they are not understeery. Nice and neutral/balanced.

If that's the case maybe I should give one a go. There's a lot of 4 to 5k decent condition runners around me. Swap in BHR coils and a reinforced clutch pedal then if I hate it sell it for what I got it for. I doubt they'll depreciate too much more than the '04 '05 models have already.

And crap there's no less than a dozen within 50 miles at that price. I might have to scratch that rotary itch after all.

clutchsmoke
clutchsmoke SuperDork
10/7/15 7:13 p.m.

In reply to The0retical:

It's worth a try. They are seriously fun to drive and very rewarding. Don't even have to go with BHR. Just grab the '08 and newer OEM coils. If you're 5'10 or taller avoid the sunroof equipped cars.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
10/7/15 8:45 p.m.

I still remember the first time I drove an RX-8: I was in love less than 100 feet into the drive.

TR8owner
TR8owner HalfDork
10/22/15 3:39 p.m.

It may be a great bargain and I know beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, but the RX-8 to me is one of the ugliest cars cars to ever come out of Japan, and IMHO that says something because Japan is not a country known for making great looking cars. I think the last really attractive looking Japanese car was the Datsun 240Z. The RX7 was a much prettier car than the RX-8.

Bob_S
Bob_S New Reader
10/22/15 6:53 p.m.

I could never get over the styling of the RX8. It wasn't as good looking as the 260Z small bumper I had or the first year RX7 I bought new. The A/C isn't very good on the first 2 yrs of the RX8.

Bob

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/10/15 9:34 a.m.

To me, the RX-8 is a little color-dependent in that it looks better in some more than others. Good wheels also help tremendously, too.

FastMazda
FastMazda New Reader
11/11/15 12:05 a.m.
David S. Wallens wrote: To me, the RX-8 is a little color-dependent in that it looks better in some more than others. Good wheels also help tremendously, too. Completely agree , and the later versions had better lines visually IMO . I have driven a few ,various years , and am absolutely amazed at the handling in stock form . I can't imagine what suspension and tire upgrades could do . As far as the 13B rotary , let's remember their first ones (in 1974)only pushed like 115 hp ? I am shopping now ....
Rufledt
Rufledt UltraDork
11/11/15 12:48 a.m.

Ive never been sold on the cars looks either. I got it because I liked the way it drove. I autox it in CS but it isnt prepared in any way besides a good set of tires. Ive had good luck with it except the one time I had competition with fully prepared cars and far more experience under their belt . Despite that, to say it handles well is the understatement of the week.

I could see how people want more power, but outside of autox I kinda wish mine had less grip. Since I put non-garbage tires on mine Ive found the thing much less exciting at anywhere near legal speeds..

TR8owner
TR8owner HalfDork
11/15/15 6:19 p.m.

I saw one just today and thought of this thread. What again went through my head was that they're great cars, but man, they are fugly.

Rufledt
Rufledt UltraDork
11/17/15 4:26 p.m.

In reply to TR8owner:

I think the best looking one by far is the R3 in blue (or white, but couldn't get that in USA). However i might be biased as that's the one i have... then again the list of cars i think look better than the R3 is quite long.

Rupert
Rupert Dork
11/21/15 10:47 a.m.

In reply to Rufledt: Do what I did with my 240Z. Two sets of tires, one garbage to slide sideways in, the other sticky for the track time.

92dxman
92dxman Dork
11/24/15 3:24 p.m.

If there is one with a crapped out rotary, I think a Duratec 4 cyl motor would be an interesting swap in.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/24/15 10:54 p.m.

One of our press cars was a dark grey 40th anniversary of the rotary edition. I thought that the car looked particularly good in that color.

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