All sports car lovers, the time has come to pause for a moment of silence in honour of the Mazda RX-8.
Mazda Motor ended production of its RX-8 rotary engine sports car in July. The 2011 model year is the end of the line for RX cars that go all the way back to the Cosmo of the late 1960s.
Of course, I’m betting there is an RX-9 or something like it in the works down the road, but for now weak sales and tough emissions standards have brought an end to the high-revving joys of the current RX-8.
The RX-8’s 1.3-litre, twin-rotor rotary engine produces 232 hp at 8,500 rpm and that power comes on smoothly all the way – like a turbine. Beautiful. But Mazda simply cannot sell the RX-8 profitably any longer and the car doesn’t meet emissions standards in Europe now and won’t meet them in North America going forward.
But we’ve seen this before. The last RX-7, the third-generation model, went away after the 1995 model year, only to return as the RX-8 in 2003. According to Automotive News, engineers in Hiroshima are working on the next generation, 1.6-litre rotary engine – code-named 16X – and it should meet emissions standards globally, get good fuel economy and deliver more power.
Mazda, of course, will take its time here. The company is busy with other things, the most important of which is the launch of the fuel-saving SKYACTIV technologies, starting this fall with the arrival of the 2012 Mazda3 with its new SKYACTIV engine.
As a former RX-7 owner, though, I anxiously await the return of the RX. My 1988 RX-7 was a gem, a tidy sports car with a hatchback at the rear and a silky, free-revving engine. I paid $18,000 for it brand new and parted with the car 18 months later for $18,500.
The outgoing RX-8 was much more car than mine ever was, however. Low-slung and responsive, the last RX-8 leaves us as a four-door sports car with rear-hinged back doors and two small back seats. I just drove one and even now the car hugs corners beautifully thanks to a rigid frame, aluminum suspension parts, and gas-filled shocks. The electric rack-and-pinion steering always remains tight and direct.
Mazda will surely do another RX. How could the so-called “Zoom-Zoom” company not carry on with a rotary sports car for the 21st century? I wonder what it will look like and how it will perform.
In the meantime, have a look at these stats for three rotary Mazda sports cars dating back to 1967. How things changed over the decades.
1967 Mazda Cosmo
Price (1967): $4,100 (U.S.)
Engine: 982 cc 2-rotor, inline rotary
Horsepower, Series I: 110
Horsepower, Series II: 130
Transmission: four-speed manual
Introduced: 1964 Tokyo Motor Show
Production run: 1967-72
Total built: 1,176
1993 Mazda RX-7
Base price (1993): $42,545
Engine: 1.3-litre 2-rotor inline rotary, twin turbo
Output (horsepower and torque): 255/217 lb-ft.
Transmission: five-speed automatic
Drive: rear-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.0 city/8.9 highway
2011 Mazda RX-8 GT
Engine: 1.3 2-rotor, inline rotary
Output (horsepower and torque): 232/159 lb-ft
Transmission: six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.8 city/9.2 hwy using premium fuel.