2012 Mazda RX-8 Review and Prices

Last Updated: Feb 4, 2011

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2012 Mazda RX-8 Buying Advice

The 2012 Mazda RX-8 is the best car for you if you want a rotary-engine sports car that affords the rare combination of style, performance, comfort, and a remarkably useable rear seat.

The 2012 Mazda RX-8 should see a minor refresh that will likely include moderately updated styling and the possible addition of new features or revised trim levels. These changes will help keep the RX-8 current until it gets a full redesign for the 2014 model year. The 2012 Mazda RX-8 will remain a lively four-passenger coupe that includes small rear-hinged rear access-panel doors serving its back seat. The 2012 RX-8 traces its design to model-year 2004. While it wasn’t specifically a replacement for Mazda’s long-departed RX-7 sports car, the RX-8 filled that vehicle’s niche in the automaker’s lineup. It was freshened for model-year 2009, when it added a tauter-handling R3 version to the line. The RX-8 is Mazda’s lowest volume vehicle in the U.S. -- only 1,134 were sold during all of 2010, compared to 6,370 MX-5 Miata two-seat roadsters and 106,353 Mazda 3 compact sedans and hatchbacks. That the RX-8 endures is a testament to Mazda’s commitment to its rotary heritage, and to building “zoom-zoom” cars.

Should you wait for the 2012 Mazda RX-8 or buy the 2011 Mazda RX-8? Wait for the 2012 Mazda RX-8 if you wish to take advantage of the mid-cycle updates, bearing in mind they’re hardly expected to be extensive enough to make the 2011 RX-8 look or feel obsolete. Given that, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to think about taking advantage of deep price discounts on the slow-selling 2011 model.

2012 Mazda RX-8 Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Mazda RX-8 is expected to receive a minor makeover to help freshen its appearance, which was last tweaked for model-year 2009. Reliable information on the anticipated refresh wasn’t available in time for this review, but such revisions are usually limited to some subtle front- and rear-end cosmetic alterations, new wheel designs, and a few interior trim changes. The car’s basic dimensions or profile won’t change.

The 2012 RX-8 will retain its true sports-car size, which means it’ll remain notably smaller than sporty coupes such as the Chevrolet Camaro and more on the scale of the Audi TT, Nissan 370Z, and Porsche 911. Unlike all those two-door sports cars, however, the RX-8’s distinction is the unique arrangement of its dual rear-hinged half doors. They aid entry into and egress from the backseat but help the RX-8 maintain the overall look of a curvaceous sports coupe. Note that for safety sake, the rear doors don’t open or close independently of the front doors.

Appearance changes to the 2012 Mazda RX-8 could likely tamper with Mazda’s corporate “smiley face” front-end look, perhaps with new headlamps and a more-aggressive lower fascia. Rear-end styling updates could see different-shaped taillights with a revised bumper and lower fascia that might give the rump a less top-heavy appearance. Expect the long hood, muscular wheel arches and sweeping roofline to remain intact.

The 2012 Mazda RX-8’s interior would stay reasonably roomy and comfortable, given the car’s small exterior size. Thanks to the low seating position and some cleaver packaging, even the rear seat has enough head room and leg clearance to help adults avoid claustrophobia and stiff limbs – at least on journeys of modest duration. Trunk space should again be at a premium, however, at a skimpy 7.6 cubic feet.

Interior changes to the 2012 RX-8 are likely to be limited to new upholstery, some fresh trim, and perhaps revised instrument and control graphics. The instrument panel should continue to feature a combination of classic and modern elements, with round, deep-set gauges that center the tachometer directly before the driver and a circular “hub” of controls at the center of the dashboard. A short gearshift lever will remain mounted on the console that extends the length of the cabin between the front and rear seats.

The 2012 Mazda RX-8 should continue multiple trim levels. For model-year 2011, it offered three models: base Sport, well equipped Grand Touring, and higher-performance R3. Mazda could add, eliminate, or rename these trim levels, or reapportion standard features among them, for the 2012 RX-8.

Mechanical: Nothing we’ve seen indicates that the 2012 Mazda RX-8 will see any substantive changes beneath the sheetmetal. This means its signature mechanical feature will bit its 1.3-liter “rotary” engine. Mazda built a sporty reputation on rotary engines and the 2012 RX-8 should remain the only car in production to come powered by one. Instead of relying on pistons that move up and down within a cylinder, the RX-8’s engine utilizes triangular rotors in cocoon-shaped combustion chambers that accomplish the four processes of intake, compression, combustion, and exhaust. The prime benefit to a rotary engine is its ability to generate strong and smooth power from a relatively small package. Unfortunately, a rotary tends to lack low-end torque, which is what enables a car to accelerate quickly from a standing start.

It’s possible the 2012 Mazda RX-8’s 1.3-liter engine could be tweaked to afford some added muscle, but don’t expect a big difference from its model-year 2011 output. In other words, power ratings are good for a 1.3-liter engine, but not great for a performance car.

Without tweaking, the 2012 RX-8 would return with 232 horsepower when used with the six-speed manual transmission and 212 with the six-speed automatic that’s available in the Sport and Grand Touring versions. With either transmission, torque is an unremarkable 159 pound-feet. The automatic transmission should again include steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for quasi-manual operation, though engine speed is limited to 7,500 rpm, versus 9,000 rpm with the manual.

In true sports-car fashion, the 2012 Mazda RX-8 will retain its rear-drive configuration. Compared with front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive distributes a car’s weight more evenly between the front and rear axles and is favored by driving enthusiasts for its balanced handling. Indeed, the RX-8’s 52/48 percent front/rear weight balance is just shy of the ideal 50/50 ratio. What the RX-8 may lack in outright power it makes up for by being among the best-handling cars on the road.

An electric power steering system should continue to team up with a double-wishbone suspension up front and a multilink array at the rear to deliver quick and precise handling with a reasonably compliant ride (especially for a sport coupe) over rough roads. The 2012 RX-8 Grand Touring and R3 versions should again include traction control for added low-speed grip off the line, and stability control to help prevent fishtailing in high-speed maneuvers.

Eighteen-inch wheels and tires should again be standard on Sport and Grand Touring models, along with four-wheel-disc brakes with antilock technology for more controlled stops and a limited-slip rear axle to help maintain traction on slick surfaces. Expect the 2012 R3 model to again ride on 19-inch wheels and performance-tread summer tires and to have a specially tuned suspension that features shock absorbers supplied by noted automotive component manufacturer Bilstein for even tauter handling.

Features: The 2012 Mazda RX-8 will continue with a wide range of available features, though to keep the base price in check, the Sport model should repeat with a rather elementary list of standard equipment compared to the Grand Touring and G3 models. 

Look for air conditioning, power locks and windows, a tilt steering wheel, and a CD audio system with steering wheel controls and an auxiliary input jack for connecting iPods and other portable devices to remain standard on all 2012 RX-8s. Likewise, front seat-mounted side-impact airbags and head-protecting side-curtain airbags for both front-and rear-seat riders.

Unless Mazda juggles the 2012 RX-8’s trim-level or options content, Grand Touring and R3 models should again add amenities like high-intensity xenon headlamps, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with integrated garage-door opener controls, and a Bose audio system with six-disc CD changer and Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone interface. They’ll also continue with standard automatic climate control, a power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory settings, leather upholstery, heated front seats, power heated side mirrors, a keyless push-button entry/start system, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

Expect the 2012 RX-8 Grand Touring to will again add a power moonroof and Sirius satellite radio and the 2012 R3 to further include sport seats with padded side bolsters to help keep the driver and front passenger upright through the sharpest turns

Aside from the automatic transmission, a navigation system was the only available factory standalone option for model-year 2011, and it was limited to the Grand Touring model.

2012 Mazda RX-8 Prices back to top

Prices for the 2012 Mazda RX-8 weren’t available in time for this review, but they’re not expected to rise more than nominally over model-year 2011 levels. That suggests a base-price range for the 2012 Mazda RX-8 of about $28,000-$34,200. (Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandatory destination charge; Mazda’s fee for the 2011 RX-8 was $795.)

Assuming no additions or deletion of trim levels, base price for the 2012 RX-8 Sport model should be around $28,000 with either the six-speed manual or automatic transmission.

Estimated base price for the 2012 Mazda RX-8 Grand Touring model is around $33,500. Choosing the automatic transmission should add about $700 to the cost of the Grand Touring, with the optional navigation system priced around $2,000.

Expect a base price for the 2012 Mazda RX-8 R3 of about $34,200, with no factory options available for this model.

2012 Mazda RX-8 Fuel Economy back to top

EPA mileage estimates for the 2012 Mazda RX-8 had not been released in time for this review but they shouldn’t vary from their model-year 2011 ratings. This means an RX-8 should again be rated at 16/22 mpg city/highway with the six-speed manual transmission, 16/23 mpg with the automatic.

These ratings are not outstanding for a small 1.3-liter engine in a car that weighs a modest 3,100 pounds. They illustrate another of the rotary engine’s shortcomings: comparatively poor fuel economy. By comparison, the model-year 2011 Porsche 911’s six-cylinder engine produced a far stronger 345 horsepower yet was EPA-rated 19/27 mpg. The 300-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 engine in the larger and heavier model-year 2011 Ford Mustang was rated at 19/31 mpg.
Mazda requires the use of premium-grade fuel for the RX-8.

2012 Mazda RX-8 Release Date back to top

The 2012 Mazda RX-8 should go on sale in September 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Mazda RX-8 back to top

Despite rumors Mazda was preparing to discontinue the RX-8, recent reports suggest it’s a survivor and will in fact be redesigned for the 2014 model year. Still, that’s at least a year later than initially anticipated. Sources attribute the delay to problems Mazda incurred developing an all-new 1.6-liter rotary engine. Internally called the 16X, this would be Mazda’s first rotary designed from scratch in nearly two decades. It’s expected to be more powerful than the current version and possess improved torque for quicker launches.

That second-generation RX-8 is likely to be somewhat smaller and lighter than today’s model. The car will stay true to its rear-drive, four-passenger formula, though whether the rear clamshell access-panel doors would continue is less certain.

Mazda is also rumored to be developing a successor to the fondly remembered RX-7 sports coupe, which hasn’t been offered in the U.S. since model-year 1995. The new coupe would resurrect the RX-7 nameplate or update it as the RX-9. Also packing rotary-engine power, it would exist alongside the RX-8 as a higher performance model. There’s a chance the RX-7/RX-9 could be built off the MX-5 Miata chassis. Expect to see this one no earlier than the 2013 model year.

2012 Mazda RX-8 Competition back to top

Audi TT Coupe: Audi’s roundish all-wheel-drive sports coupe has a small rear seat but only two side doors. This second-generation TT received freshened styling and assorted mechanical updates for model-year 2011. Costlier and more upscale than the RX-8, it should continue for 2012 with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 211 horsepower in the base model and 265 in the turbocharged higher-performance TTS model. (Both are also offered as two-passenger convertibles). The only transmission is a six-speed dual-clutch manual and both models rate 22/31 mpg. Despite its all-wheel drive, the TT tends to act like a front-drive car in aggressive driving and though it’ll beat the RX-8 in a drag race, the Mazda cooks it in the curves. Estimated 2012 base prices are $40,000 for the base TT and $48,000 for the TTS. Also on hand will be the $60,000 TT RS with a 360-horsepower turbo five-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual gearbox. A full redesign for the TT line isn’t expected until model-year 2014.

BMW 128i Coupe: This is essentially a shrunken version of BMW’s compact-sized 3-Series coupe. It eschews a few frills yet delivers comparable performance. It’s a rear-drive four-seater with outstanding handling and good acceleration from a 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder that’ll likely retain 230 horsepower for model-year 2012. Also expect 18/28 mpg with either the six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The 1-Series is freshened for model-year 2012 with new headlamps and lower front fascia, revised taillights, and an updated dashboard with new switchgear. A convertible version is also offered, as are more-powerful 135i models. The 128i is due to be redesigned for model-year 2013 or 2014. The 2012 128i coupe should start around $30,500.

Nissan 370Z Coupe: This long-running rear-drive sports car remains a reasonably priced and entertaining ride. Again, the RX-8 handles better, but this Nissan two-seater has a more muscular character. The 370Z is due a mid-cycle makeover for model-year 2012 that will likely be limited to a cosmetic freshening and minor mechanical updates. We don’t anticipate the car’s basic shape or size to change, and it will probably retain its 3.7-liter V-6 engine, though perhaps with a few more horsepower than its 2011-model-year rating of 332 horsepower and a bit better mileage than its 18/26 with the six-speed manual transmission and 19/26 with the seven-speed automatic. As before, it will come in multiple trim/performance levels with convertible versions also offered. The 2012 models should be priced from around $32,000-$38,000.

2012 Mazda RX-8 Next Steps