Mazda isn’t afraid to do things differently. Take the Mazda5 for instance, with its flowing, highly stylised lines sweeping across the flanks offering something different in the often subdued people carrier market.
However, this is nothing new for the Japanese car maker. In 2003 the Mazda RX-8 coupe was unveiled, complete with distinctive muscular wheel arches, rear-hinged ‘suicide’ doors and a unique rotary engine.
The likes of the Audi TT and Nissan 350Z are fierce contenders in the coupe market and in order to compete, Mazda has targeted performance matched with practicality in the RX-8.
Since its launch, it has emerged as one of the best sports coupes on the market, and with good reason.
First of all, it looks great. The low profile is bolstered by bulging headlamps and chunky wheel arches. It almost looks like a bulked up MX-5 from certain angles, and this is no bad thing.
Of course, the rear-hinged side doors are not just for show. They are designed to improve access to the rear two seats and here is another example of Mazda’s alternative approach reaping benefits.
The Mazda RX-8 is practical enough for four, with easy access and plenty of room in the back for passengers compared to rival coupes.
There’s even a fair sized boot, which is almost unheard of for a 2+2 coupe. At 290 litres, the boot is capable of storing a couple of pieces of luggage if needed.
For the driver, the seat electrically adjusts and the controls are simple and practical. You will find everything close to hand and the steering wheel is tilt adjustable to allow for a comfortable driving position.
Which brings us to driving the Mazda RX-8. Under the bonnet is a Renesis rotary engine, a completely different design to a traditional combustion engine.
The 1.3-litre rotary engine comes from a long line of Mazda models to make use of the technology designed by Felix Wankel. The engine uses spinning rotors instead of the more traditional cylinders and as a result can reach 9,000rpm.
When the 228bhp unit is being driven, the sound is pleasingly distinctive. An impressive 0-62mph time of 6.4 seconds and a top speed of 146mph is possible from the rotary engine.
It isn’t just the engine that impresses, however. The ride and handling is excellent around corners and at high speeds. The Mazda RX-8 is grippy and controlled around corners as well, making for an enjoyable ride in almost any conditions.
The only downside is the slightly higher cost of ownership compared to some more modern coupes such as the Peugeot RCZ and Audi TT – particularly in terms of fuel and oil used.
However, the Mazda RX-8 comes in at around £26,000 to buy and for that price, the level of equipment and performance represents excellent value for money.
All original models come with a BOSE sound system and nine speakers and climate control but the model we drove, the updated R3 version, comes with more equipment.
These include 19" alloy wheels, a sports styling pack, sports suspension, xenon headlamps and a multimedia system featuring a six-CD autochanger and MP3 connectivity.
It all goes together in a high quality package and one which has carved out its own niche in a highly competitive area.
The Mazda RX-8 is a sports coupe like no other; good to look at, practical, fun to drive and different enough to make an impression. Best of all however, is the excellent value this 2+2 seat coupe offers.
Production of the Mazda RX-8 ended in 2010, and the model will be sadly missed. It will remain a used car bargain for many years to come.