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Ownership Report: The Mazda RX-8

Editor’s note: 2011 was the last production year Mazda RX-8 for the U.S.


A few years ago, I decided I would try to buy some cheap used cars, fix them up and re-sell them for a profit. It sounds like great fun, and it couldn’t be that hard, could it? Well, here’s where that argument falls apart: I’m impulsive. I buy with my heart, not my head. I struggle with saying "no," and I have a tendency to get attached to things. These are not positive traits in the world of wheeling and dealing.

The first car I tried this with was a 2007 Audi A4. Thankfully, the initial price was right on that one — and even after a transmission replacement, I basically broke even. I’m sure the second time would be better, right? Right?!?! Vermont’s famously long summer was just around the corner, so why not go for something more exciting, perhaps with rear wheel drive?! The possibilities are huge! Miata? Nah, too obvious. 370Z? Nah, not a huge fan of the looks or feel. How about a big ol’ V8 Mustang? Nah, don’t want to end up on YouTube. Wait, I know! Everyone always raves about the power and reliability of rotary engines! I’ll get an RX-8! Weirdly, even after reading through several forums about all the things you need to watch out for, I decided to go for it anyway. The car I purchased was a 2005 Mazda RX-8 Shinka Edition, which added a special color combination, a body kit, a specially tuned suspension and a limited slip differential.

2005 Mazda RX-8

What kinds of things should one watch for, you ask? Well, for starters, because the engine uses oil with regularity by design, it’s recommended to NOT use synthetic oil, so it burns about a quart every 1,000 miles and needs to be changed every 3,000 — which for me was nearly monthly. The spark plugs, of which there are four for this 2-rotor engine, are special — and they need to be replaced every 30,000 miles. The coil packs will need to be replaced regularly because they fail. If you overheat the engine, it will seize and need to be replaced. If you don’t drive it hard regularly, carbon buildup will cause a failure in the apex seals and the engine will need to be replaced. As they say, a redline a day keeps the doctor away! The engine is prone to flooding if the battery is not properly charged, or if you shut it off without letting it come up to normal operating temperature, or if it’s Tuesday. Regular flooding of the engine will ruin the catalytic converter quicker than you can say "I should’ve bought a Miata."

You know, little things.

Thankfully, during my 18 months and 18,000 miles of ownership, I only had to deal with some of those things. I was happy to oblige to revving the engine any appropriate chance I could find, so, I never had to replace it — and it only flooded once when I attempted to start it the first time after storing it for the winter. However, I did have to replace a coil pack (to keep it from happening again, I went with an aftermarket set from a company called Black Halo Racing) and the spark plugs, I changed the oil 7 times, and the catalytic converter was shot pretty much right from the beginning. On top of all that, I also had to put new pads and rotors all around (I went with some nice drilled discs), I bought six new Kuhmo tires (had to replace the rears twice, though that might be my own fault …), I got a new exhaust from the converter back (went with an aftermarket Racing Beat unit, which I was impressed with), I put in a new oxygen sensor and I had to reseal the oil pan to stop it from leaking oil on top of burning it. For those who are curious, all of that came to just a touch under $4,000, which, mercifully, was split over the course of my ownership and not all at once.

Now, I know that sounds like I was fed up with the RX-8. But while my ownership tenure had its moments, when the car was running well, it was absolutely lovely. With a 50/50 weight distribution, the handling was wonderfully precise and predictable, and the grip was impressive. There is essentially zero torque available at low RPM, so anytime you want to get going with haste, a downshift or several was needed before you could put your foot down.

But once you started to get above about 6,000 RPM, where most other cars start to peter out, this thing is just getting going. It’ll be another 3,000 RPM before you have to worry about shifting. But you’ll want to get there as soon as possible, because the shifter in this car is perfect. It’s weighted nicely and the throws are short, deliberate and begging you to go for that next gear. I can’t decide which shift mechanism is better between this car and the current Miata — so, let’s just say they’re equal. 

Mazda RX-8 shift lever

The suspension handles bumpy roads extremely well and keeps you poised and balanced in the twisties — and the seats were surprisingly comfortable. We took several all-day trips in the car, with zero complaints about being uncomfortable. It’s even reasonably practical. The trunk opening may have been a little small — but there was plenty of room in there, and the back seats were even almost usable, especially with the half-sized rear doors.

In the end, not including fuel — of which it required premium and sucked down at the rate of about 22 miles per gallon — it cost me $0.36 per mile to own the car for about a year and a half and 18,000 miles. There are faster cars out there and there are cars that won’t cost as much to operate — but when the stars align and your RX-8 is on its best behavior, all is forgiven … and the smiles per mile will eclipse everything else. Find a Mazda RX-8 for sale

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