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Mazda RX8


He looked at the photograph of the Mazda RX8 on the cover of last week's Auto Trader magazine. "No, that's no four-door," he said. "It's only got two doors."

He was shouted down, of course, by anyone who had seen the car in the metal.
"You can't open the doors from the outside, so there are no outside handles," we told him. "You open the front doors and then open the rear-hinged back doors."

He was persuaded that there were indeed four doors, but he remained sceptical about why you'd need them. What the ingenious four-door set-up does for the RX8 is turn the sports car from a vaguely anti-social vehicle into transport for four (when I was a kid two-seater sports cars were labelled "selfish" by older people trying to discourage my obsession with open-topped two-door cars).

And a sports car with useable room for four was exactly what Mazda's research indicated was needed. Its engineers have succeeded brilliantly, achieving a spacious front cockpit and delivering rear cabin seating for two that is roomy and easy to get into and out of.

Even if you're one of those "selfish" people who carry only two in your sports car, the back doors make putting groceries or your briefcase on to the back seat a breeze. The bane of almost every two-door is clambering past the front seatbacks to retrieve items from the rear cabin.

 If you do carry four, you're unlikely to go on an extended holiday with them. The reasonably spacious boot is compromised on NZ market cars by the space-saver spare wheel fitted to local cars. Elsewhere RX8 buyers make do with a tyre repair kit to effect temporary puncture repairs (presumably it's a much more deluxe deal than the one that came with your Rudge, Phillips or Raleigh bicycle).

Lower yourself into the RX8's driving seat, get the seat adjusted, align the mirrors and you're struck immediately by how everything seems to be perfectly placed.

Flick the key and the twin-rotor engine bursts into life, ease off the handbrake, engage first gear and you're away. As you go up through the six-speed manual gearbox you're immediately impressed by the lightness, precision and quickness of the shift action. And the more you use the gearbox, the more you're impressed.
The steering is excellent - quick and with good feel.
The car is light on its feet and changes direction beautifully.
It corners flatly and you get a strong impression of the bodyshell's rigidity.
That handling aplomb is achieved while retaining an excellent level of ride comfort. This is a definite sports car, but a sports car without the ride harshness that is often part-and-parcel of the genre.
The 177kW/211Nm motor produces a delightful, if muted, snarl at high revs. It also provides sparkling performance. The 0-100km/h time would be in the low six-second bracket.

However, the motor can be found wanting for torque as you accelerate out of corners. To punt the car briskly on a winding road you find yourself having to change down a gear to get sufficient oomph out of the corners.
We drove the car briefly - five laps each - on the Taupo motor racing circuit and the car was a blast. The brakes were strong and effective and the car revealed excellent grip levels.

On the racetrack, the driver's seat that had proven so excellent at holding you in place at vigorous on-road cornering speeds, was less effective and I was having to resort to the old brace-the-knee-against-the-door-or-console trick. That's an indication of how much grip and the level of G-forces the tyres and chassis were generating.
These are brief impressions. They were brief drives, but our impressions were universally favourable. On first acquaintance, it's a masterpiece. Bring on the extended road test.
- Mike Stock.

Auto Trader New Zealand