Often derided, the Mazda RX-8 has led a troubled life since its inception some 15 years ago. Its worst shortcoming was undeniably the lack of power provided by the 1.3-liter Renesis engine, though the divisive looks got their fair share of criticism. However, underneath the quirky styling sat the kind of stellar chassis we associate with the RX lineup.
Gone were the turbochargers used with the 13B-REW, and gone was the single-minded dedication shown with the FD3S. However, the cushier interior, semi-usable back seats, and improved ergonomics made the RX-8 a decent long-distance driver. Perhaps its compromised nature limited its appeal somewhat. So, when a few modifications are made to the footwork, how does this unloved rotary fare on the circuit?
The exuberant driving seen on The Slip Angle should only help show how manageable, friendly, and fun the underpowered, unloved RX-8 is. With an agreeable weight distribution and benign breakaway characteristics, the car is clearly one which rewards a talented hand — especially one that likes to dial-in countersteer.
Tein Flex-Z coilovers help control the lightweight body, and lightweight Enkei wheels improve its supple ride and bump absorption. Critically, Quinn dotted all four corners with a set of 255-section Achilles ATR Sport 2 tires, which don’t provide so much grip to rob him of any chance of going sideways with the power available. Smart man — with a sense of humor.
That friendly, exploitable character is part of the appeal, but so is the decent levels of power. True, it’s far from a pavement rippler, but the 232 horsepower provided by the Renesis with an intake, a header, and an exhaust is enough grunt to get the rears spinning in a way that never surprises the driver.
Once it does let go, the RX-8 quickly shows its innate balance. Getting the rear to trace a slightly tighter line, long slides and shallow angles are feasible. Even dramatic full-lock moments are feasible with quick hands. “You can just fly over bumps and drive spiritedly without the chassis getting upset or doing anything dumb,” Quinn notes.
The light front and renowned steering only contributes to driver confidence. Clearly, there’s something about the ease with which the car gathers speed and maintains it, regardless of the surface texture. When it does break away, it’s as progressive as possible. That rotation never seems to hamper Quinn’s progress around Lime Rock’s mega-technical autocross track — a course that resembles the sort of corners and surface textures seen on mountain roads. For real-world performance, friendliness at and beyond the limit of grip, an exotic engine note, and looks that will make half of your friends wince, the Mazda RX-8 is a great buy — and an underrated champ.