Mazda kept the rotary engine concept when other manufacturers had abandoned it. However, Dr Felix Wankel’s mechanical innovation does work to full effect. A rotary engine has triangular rotors which spin within epi-trochoidal housings, instead of conventional pistons, and it tends to get smoother and more powerful the faster it rotates. It also has the benefit of being compact and lightweight – and Mazda is able to squeeze 231bhp out of a twin-rotor unit of just 1308cc capacity.
The downside of the rotary has always been high fuel consumption, but Mazda has at least contained this to a degree, matching the RX-8’s performance. Another famous feature of RX-8 is its extra pair of small doors, rear-hinged behind the main front doors and opening wide to give easy access to the really quite usable back seats. As sports coupes go, it’s remarkably practical, with even a decent-sized boot.
Updates for this ‘R3’-series model (on sale late August 2008) include a new front bumper, grille, oil-cooling air vents, redesigned headlamps and LED tail-lamps, wider exhaust tailpipes and new 19″ wheels, plus modifications to engine, transmission, suspension and body shell.