PLUSES: Sporty looks and performance. Lots of power in a small package.
MINUSES: Cabin room. Mileage.
The rotary was going to be THE engine of the future.
Mazda had one and General Motors was preparing to offer one in a subcompact called the Chevy Monza.
Even a silly looking car called Pacer from American Motors Corp. that resembled a 4 wheeled saucer was created to carry a rotary engine under its hood, though it never got the chance.
That was then and this is now and the only mass produced rotary powered passenger car on the planet is the Mazda RX8. The Monza car is no longer made and American Motors Corp. is no longer operating.
The rotary offered lots of power, but not exceptional mileage, in a small package. And with concern over high gas prices and limited fuel supplies, m.p.g. became a priority over m.p.h.
We tested the 2011 RX8 Grand Touring edition with its 1.3 liter rotary engine delivering 232 h.p. teamed with 6-speed manual. With 6-speed automatic its 212 h.p. The mileage rating is 16 m.p.g. city/22 m.p.g. highway.
Quick, yet quiet, the RX8 packs a V-8 punch from a rotary engine that's about 60 percent smaller and lighter than a V-6, about 40 percent smaller and lighter than a four cylinder.
Yet hybrids and electrics that squeeze more miles out of the source of energy command more attention than those engines that deliver potent power.
Stiil, the RX8 represents a lot of fun in a small package.
The RX8 has two traditional front doors and two small, rearward opening access doors behind them for entry/exit to the back seat, where most adults won't fit even if there were two full size rear doors. Leg and foot room is at a premium
in back. Save the space for packages.
Smooth, pleasant suspension for very sure footed handling without getting tossed about in the snug cabin.
While stability control and side curtain air bags are standard common safety systems, more novel safety features include front seats designed to reduce whiplash injuries in an impact, a brake pedal designed to break away in a high force collision to protect feet and legs, and a "shock-cone" hood design that cushions the impact of a pedestrian onto the hood.
The RX8 Grand Touring starts at $32,260 which includes Xenon headlights, fog lights, auto dimming mirror with Homelink, auto on/off headlights, Bose audio with 6-disc CD auto changer, satellite radio, automatic climate control, driver seat memory, power-adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support, leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, heated outside mirrors, keyless entry and pushbutton start, rain-sensing wipers, power moonroof, and Bluetooth hands-free phone capability. A DVD-driven satellite-navigation unit is a stand-alone option.
2011 Mazda RX8 Grand Touring
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 175.6 inches
Engine: 1.3 liter, 232 h.p. rotary engine.
Transmission: 6-speed manual.
Mileage: 16 m.p.g. city/22 m.p.g. highway.
Base price: $32,260.
Price as equipped: Add $795 freight.