Mazda sports car icon, the inimitable RX-8, now has a 141 kW / five-speed derivative! Based on the six-speed RX-8, which has won accolades the world over. The five-speed derivative offers a grand driving experience... with plenty attitude. As with the six-speed RX-8, the 5-speed features a futuristic frame, cool-look interior and is built on a radical chassis around a truly revolutionary engine. It's been developed from the ground up to provide functional elegance and exceptional enjoyment - every time you drive it. However, while it retains the exclusivity of the six-speed derivative, the latest model also has a more realistic price tag of R299,950 for the Std-power 5 speed, while the Hi-power 6 speed RX8 sells for R339,950.

As is the case with the six-speed model, the five-speed features the award-winning RENESS rotary engine which is extremely compact. One of the many secrets of its success is the fact that this powerplant is mounted low and to the rear of the vehicle, in what Mazda calls an “advanced front midship layout”. This twin rotor engine employs side intake and exhaust ports, and features approximately 30 percent more intake area than previous rotary engines, realising greatly reduced intake-flow resistance.

The 141 kW at 7000 r/min is slightly reduced from the six-speed’s 170 kW at 8200 rpm - but it is certainly no less impressive. In fact, the 141 kW motor actually boasts better torque than the 170 kW unit – the former offers 220 Nm at just 5000 rpm (versus 211 Nm at 5500 rpm in the six-speed RX-8 model).

Thanks to its centrally located fuel tank, this new RX-8 boasts near faultless weight distribution, which gives precise and controlled handling. Naturally, this translates into significantly better cornering capabilities for all those drivers who crave performance. Combined with the wide tread, long wheelbase and short overhand, this car is an exhilarating drive with unmatched stability, whether on S-bends roads or long, straight highways.

The five-speed gearbox’s carefully chosen gear ratios offer a good balance between performance and fuel economy. It has a fast short throw for crisp sporty shifting, made all the smoother and lighter by linked triple cone synchronisers for first, second and third gears.

The safety measures of the RX-8 (the world’s first four-door, four-seater sports car) impress on both the active and passive fronts. The active safety measures include advanced braking in line with the requirements of genuine sports cars.

The RX-8 comes equipped with four-wheel Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD). Large diameter ventilated disk brakes in the front, and a single 10-inch booster assures a high servo limit. Combined they give the RX-8 class-leading braking distance with minimal fade (you gonna need the excellent brakes, as there's no engine braking from the Rotary '2-stroke' motor). Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) combines the functions of four-wheel ABS and traction control, exercising command over engine power output as well and offering optimal brake control on all four wheels.

The system maintains a stable vehicle attitude when cornering on slippery surfaces or during emergency avoidance manoeuvres. DSC can be completely disabled, giving the driver full control when undertaking advanced driving techniques such as drift manoeuvres on a racing circuit, as I experienced with this test. We did the test at Wesbank Raceway in Germiston, under the watchful eye of Grant McCleery and company (Yokohama Driving Dynamics).

One of the most outstanding features of the RX-8 is its pillarless centre body, designed to realise a wide door-opening area. Nevertheless, the car achieves supreme standards of safety through the incorporation of Mazda’s tough body structure. The rigid body maintains world standards in frontal and rear-end collisions, as well as achieving the side-impact resistance of a regular four door sedan. The high-rigidity body utilises crushable zones to absorb crash energy from frontal collisions. The Triple-H cabin construction – an innovative Mazda body feature that fiercely resists deformation during a crash – features three H-shaped beams that reinforce the floor, sides and roof. And, to prevent the wheels from impacting the cabin during a crash, wheel stopper reinforcements have been installed to prevent cabin deformation from rearward movement of the wheels. To suppress cabin deformation during a side-on collision Mazda has installed high-strength, vertical steel pipe reinforcements in the rear doors. These insure that the entire body of the vehicle can evenly absorb crash energy, which would normally impact the centre pillar. A door latch mechanism secures these reinforcements into the body (at the top and bottom ends) and, when locked in position, the pipes act as built-in pillars -exhibiting even greater strength than even the conventional centre pillars would provide. The fuel tank area is protected from intrusion during a rear-end collision by a high-mount backbone frame, cross members and rear side members.

Passive safety measures include the incorporation of airbags and seatbelts. Both the passenger and rear seats have curtain airbags to help minimise the risk of head injuries. The driver’s side airbag system deploys in two stages. A sensor judges the severity of the collision and chooses which of the two airbag inflation stages to use, to ensure that the airbag offers the best possible protection to the driver.

The front seatbelts offer a pretensioner mechanism, which automatically absorbs the slack, holding the occupant firmly in place in the event of a collision. There is also a load limit mechanism to help minimise damage to the occupant’s chest and thorax. Should the wearer exceed the predetermined seat belt limit, the load limiter releases the seatbelt in a controlled manner. The front seat headrest is designed to reduce whiplash.

Mazda RX-8’s taut exterior gives perfect expression to the three major design objectives of dynamism, stability and tension. These create a sense of motion even when the car is stationary. The only notable exterior differences between the two models are the wheels – 16-inch, in the case of the five-speed, versus the six-speed model's 18-inch wheels.

One of the neat features of the RX-8 is its freestyle door system, with front-hinged front doors and rear-hinged rear doors, which allows for easy access to both the front and back seats, thanks to the absence of a centre pillar. The rear door release handle can only be activated when the front door is open, preventing accidental opening while the car is in motion.

The compact exterior belies the actual cabin size. In a truly innovative move for a sports car, four adults can travel in complete comfort thanks to the ingenious design. Ample headroom is on offer and, by minimising the thickness of the front seats, without compromising on comfort or hold, while back seat passengers (drivers) have enough legroom.  The result is four individual seats that are comfortable and perfectly adapted to high performance driving.

The instrument panel’s robust central section has wing-shaped dashboard sections on either side. The three large round meters combine functionality with the right style for the sports-minded driver. Information is displayed on the top of the central stack to minimise the change in the driver’s line of vision.  The adjustment knobs are situated low down, within easy reach, while audio and climate control are of the highest standards.

Unlike the case with most other sports cars, the RX-8’s boot was designed for practical living, accommodating two suitcases or two golf bags. To allow greater depth, the spare tyre has been removed and replaced with an emergency puncture repair kit. Boot volume is about 290 litres. There is also a centre panel that can fold down into the back seat to allow for boot-through storage of longer items.

In a nutshell, this feisty performer sports the best of everything. With its award-winning twin rotor engine, the five-speed Mazda RX-8 is an absolute pleasure to drive, boasting state-of-the-art interior comforts and the safety to really enjoy the ride. Its sporty and spirited physique adds the finishing touch to a unique driving experience.

The Mazda RX-8 has a 3year / 100,000 km's warranty period, 10,000 km's or 12 months service intervals, 5 year / 100,000 km's maintenance plan and a 24 hour / 7 days a week roadside assistance programme as standard - which includes features such as hotel accommodation or free car hire as may be required.

Thanks to Mazda South Africa, Grant McCleery and all the guys at Driving Dynamics for allowing me the opportunity to drive their RX-8 around the track and on the skidpan at Wesbank Raceway. When I win the Lotto, a yellow or blue Mazda RX-8 will be at the top of my shopping list as far as cars are concerned. 

Before you log-off write this number down - 011 873 6266, that's Driving Dynamic's phone number. Go on one of their Specialised Driving Skills courses, it's not only a great experience, it's essential for survival on our roads today.

Kenn Slater.

 Photos by Kenn

Grant McCleery showing Dylan how to power-slide the rear-wheel-drive RX-8 around the skidpan.


Specifications 5 speed 6 speed
Engine type RENESIS Rotary Engine RENESIS Rotary Engine
Max output 141Kw @ 7000rpm 170kW @ 8200rpm
Max torque 220Nm @ 5000rpm 211Nm @ 5200rpm
0-100km 7.2secs 6.4secs
Wheelbase 2700mm 2700mm
Steering Direct drive electric power steering Direct drive electric power steering
Bucket seats Front Front
Fixed seats Rear Rear
Front seat power lift and tile Driver only Driver only
Fuel tank capacity 61 litre 61 litre
Steering mount audio control Yes yes
Cruise control Yes Yes
Electric windows Yes Yes
Suspension Standard Sports
Front suspension Double wishbone Double wishbone
Rear suspension Multi-link Multi-link
Tyre size 225/55/R16 225/45/R18
Wheel size 16X7.5JJ 18 x 8JJ
Seating capacity 4 4
Braking ABS with EBD ABS with EBD
Airbags Driver / passenger / side / curtain Driver / passenger / side / curtain
ATC Standard Standard
ICE 6 disc in-dash CD shuttle 6 disc in-dash CD shuttle
Electric sliding sunroof Yes Yes
Leather seats Yes Yes
ISO Fix Childseat points Yes Yes
Headlamps Halogen High Intensity Discharge