Mazda RX-8: The Car Bible (SE3P; 2004-2011)
Love it or hate it, the RX-8 is a quintessential RWD enthusiast chassis.
Welcome to the Mazda RX-8 Car Bible. As you scroll down you’ll learn all about this vehicle’s qualities, features, finer points, and shortcomings. If you’re thinking about buying one of these, want some help maintaining or modifying one, or just want to deepen your knowledge for the next round of car trivia, you’ve come to the right place.
This is a living document that’s updated as we learn (and confirm) new valuable info. Got something to add? Drop a comment or send us an email! Don’t be shy; the more dialogue we have the better this Car Bible will get.
–Andrew P. Collins, Car Bibles Editor-In-Chief
(Disclaimers; Disclosures: Some Car Bibles will have links to specific forums, groups, brands, shops, or vendors for parts shopping and such. We have no sponsorship deals or official affiliation with any of them unless explicitly stated. We also have to explicitly state that you should work on your own car and follow our advice at your own risk.)
There’s a lot of info packed into this Bible. If you’re looking for something specific, hit command/control-F, type one of these terms, and your browser should bring you straight in.
- The Short Story
- Fast Facts
- Spotter’s Guide
- Check This Car Out If…
- Important Trim Levels and Options
- Year-To-Year Changes
- Obscure Details
- General Reliability and Ownership Costs
- Red Flags and Known Issues
- Where To Buy Parts
- Aftermarket Support
- Popular Modifications
- Key Technical Details
- Fluids, Filters, and Capacities
- Factory Service Manuals
- Other References and Resources
- Professional Reviews
- Owner Reviews
- What They’re Worth Now
- Where To Find One For Sale
- What To Ask A Seller
- Competitors To Consider
- Photo Galleries
- Pop Culture References
- Enthusiast Inquiries
- Downloadable Paperback Car Bible
- Comments Disclaimer
The Short Story
The Mazda RX-8 was Mazda’s final production car powered by a rotary engine. We say last, though word is it might use a rotary as a range extender on models in the future. But regardless, it’s the last car to feature this alternative, revvy form of internal combustion as its main power plant.
The RX-8 was the follow-up to the venerable RX-7, and it was sold from model years 2004 to 2011 in the USA. It featured a high-revving rotary that claimed between 197 and 232 horsepower, came in either automatic or six-speed manual, and was renowned for its balanced chassis and superb handling characteristics. Like the RX-7, it was also raced extensively around the world in all levels of competition, from weekend autocross action to high-level GT racing.
Its design was (and still is) a point of contention among car fans; people seem to either love it or hate it. What’s quite intuitive though is its featured clamshell doors; it’s truly a four-door, four-seat sports car. This, along with its minuscule engine displacement of just 1.3 liters, usually bodes well for drivers’ insurance rates.
Unfortunately, the RX-8 has a reputation of having poor reliability and fuel economy. While the latter is pretty accurate, the former is another point of contention.
If you’re looking for more images, scroll on down to the Photo Galleries links toward the end of the Car Bible.
- Came from the factory with perfect 50/50 front/rear weight distribution
- Has the most powerful naturally-aspirated rotary engine ever put in a production car
- Has a carbon fiber driveshaft for added weight reduction
- Features dual oil coolers to help keep its high-heat-producing Renesis 13B rotary engine cool
- Has a blistering redline of 9,000 RPM
- Has its engine mounted low and well behind the front shocks towers, making it a front-mid chassis. This improves its inherent handling characteristics
- They are designed to consume oil; this is necessary to adequately lubricate the rotor’s seals inside its housing
In North America, automatic transmission models claimed 197 HP while six-speed manual transmission-equipped models had 232 HP.
The fastest 0-60 mph times that brand-new models recorded were in the 6.5 second range, though some testers reported this improved to just under five seconds with age. That’s right, some racers, enthusiasts, and journalists swore they got a little faster with some mileage.
The RX-8 is pretty remarkable; it truly doesn’t really look like anything else on the road. Its clamshell doors are easy to spot, as well as its classic sports car figure, wide wheel arches, mildly-aggressive front grille and headlights, and anime-looking overall design features. It sort of looks like it could be in the background of a scene in a late-80s anime film; this is a good thing in our book!
The RX-8 was one of the more common built sports cars of its time. Mazda sold 73,377 in the USA between late-2003 and early-2012, of the 192,094 total produced by the brand. If you’re wondering why the majority of what you find on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are 2004 models, that’s because they sold the most that year -23,690 in fact. They sold far fewer S2 models; 4,190 during its entire 3-year run.
Though, by comparison, Mazda sold 82,067 MX-5 Miatas right between January 2004 and December 2011.
Since this was an inexpensive sports car, and one that needed a little extra attention to keep running, quite a few have been crashed or mechanically totaled out.
Check This Car Out If…
You’d like a car that has a well-balanced chassis, fun driving dynamics, an unconventional-yet-fun engine, and is also surprisingly versatile. Though, be prepared for an increased expense in filling up -they’re quite thirsty. If this isn’t a concern, and you’re game for keeping an eye on some maintenance items, they’re very fun cars!
Important Trim Levels And Options
There were three initial trim levels available: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. There are minor differences between them, such as cloth vs. leather seats, the addition of satellite navigation, a sunroof, etc.
In 2006, Mazda offered a Shinka trim which featured Black Cherry or Pearl White paint, chrome wheels, a white/cream leather interior, and upgraded Bilstein shock absorbers.
Later in the RX-8’s life, in 2009 Mazda offered the R3, which featured upgraded Bilstein shock absorbers, sportier wheels with stickier rubber, Recaro seats, a Bose stereo system, and sportier exterior accessories like a rear spoiler and front lip spoiler.
Throughout the course of the RX-8’s run, various minor changes were made to address certain issues that arose. This breakdown covers U.S. models.
2004 Model Year:
- Car introduced
2005 Model Year:
- No major changes
2006 Model Year:
- Four-speed automatic was replaced by a six-speed automatic.
2007 Model Year:
- No major changes
2008 Model Year:
- No major changes
2009 Model Year:
The biggest change in the RX-8’s production run was between Series I (S1) and Series II (S2). In 2009, the Series II era began, which lasted until the 8’s exit from dealership lots after 2011.
The S2 featured a host of upgrades. It featured a shorter final drive ratio for better acceleration. Mazda also added a third oil injector to each of the housings in the Renesis engine, now called the Renesis II. This improved rotor seal lubrication, as did adding an electric oil metering pump and increased oil pressure. These improved engine reliability significantly over earlier engines.
The S2 also featured increased structural rigidity, particularly due to the addition of a beefy shock tower brace under the hood. Finally, they had revised front fascia and other styling upgrades, including bigger wheels.
2010 Model Year:
- No major changes
2011 Model Year:
- No major changes
The major thing about an RX-8 to keep in mind is it has a rotary engine. While it lacks a valvetrain, it demands attention in other areas, such as keeping its ignition system in top condition, keeping carbon-buildup at bay (a redline a day keep the carbon away), ensuring it doesn’t overheat, and being prepared to service its various seals. Especially if it hasn’t been owned by a maintenance-conscious enthusiast before it reaches your hands.
General Reliability and Ownership Costs
Again, it’s up for debate, but one could conclude that RX-8s are reliable as long as you keep an eye on them. Installing reliability modifications helps a lot, too. Like a lot of cars, sometimes decreasing the time and mileage between service intervals can help even more, like changing ignition components and oil more frequently.
Still, due to these engines consuming oil, and achieving a mixed fuel economy of 18 mpg during the best of times, they’re thirstier than almost every other car in their class. Its sibling the NC MX-5 Miata is generally a much cheaper sports car to fuel and maintain.
Since genuine OEM Mazda parts don’t fetch brand tax like BMW, Porsche, Volkswagen, etc., it’s generally cheaper to use genuine replacement parts those of these European brands. Though, upgraded aftermarket parts, like new ignition components to allow a more efficient burn, are a bit of a financial investment.
Red Flags and Known Issues
There are a few different schools of thought on the Renesis 13B rotary engine and keeping it alive and happy. These are all to combat it’s behavior that non-enthusiasts usually aren’t aware of.
The engine is known to have cooling problems, lubrication problems (primarily on Series I models), carbon buildup problems, and ignition problems. Some of these happened due to keeping costs down, but also due to the engine’s design, particularly in its exhaust ports.
Here is a lengthy, but not entirely complete list of ways to keep the Renesis alive and happy:
Drive it easy until it’s fully warmed up. Then, follow the ol’ saying “a redline a day keeps the carbon away.”
Do not stop it immediately after starting it up cold. The car will flood and require a lengthy de-flooding procedure.
The OEM ignition coils and wires are widely regarded as weak. This causes inadequate combustion and leads to many issues. Upgraded aftermarket coils help this significantly, and even improve fuel economy.
These engine run hot. Upgraded aftermarket oil coolers and radiators help them stay cool and prevent warping housings.
Engines often experience carbon buildup issues. Faulty ignition parts, etc, it could damage or clog the catalytic converter. RX-8 cats are very expensive, new and used.
Some owners increase seal lubrication by mixing two-stroke engine oil with their gasoline. This can be done by adding it to the gasoline during every fill-up. Typically, 1 ounce per 2 gallons of gas is mixed in, but opinions vary. Two-stoke oil is engineered to burn up in the combustion chamber.
More efficient seal lubrication can be achieved with a SOHN adapter. This injects two-stroke oil directly into the combustion chamber from a small tank under the hood, via the oil metering pump. This way, the oil that’s providing crucial lubrication elsewhere in the engine can be a high-quality synthetic that’s better-engineered to deal with the rotary’s high heat, but not engineered to burn in the combustion chamber. Two-stroke oil burns much cleaner, too.
There are also some non-engine-related issues to keep an eye out for:
- The seals on the radio unit degrade over time, rendering the front panel useless. Replacing these seals, or the entire unit, is common.
- The clutch pedals are weak and can bend over time, rendering the clutch inoperable. Companies sell reinforced units to prevent this.
- The transmissions are a tad weak and can experience damage from overheating. Luckily, used replacements seem to be not that expensive.
The RX-8 was a part of the Great Takata Airbag Recall of the 2010s, but besides that, it didn’t suffer many recalls. This source can quickly review over what’s been recalled based on the production year. Check out the NHTSA’s site for specific information on recalls as well.
Earlier models however had some teething issues. In addition to airbag recalls, certain important safety items needed addressing by way of recall:
- Leaky fuel pump pipe
- Control arm and ball joint separation
- Fuel pump sealing ring, which might separate and leak fuel
- Fuel leakage under the hood, causing fire
- Overheating manual transmission
Where To Buy Parts
Besides dealership parts departments, there are plenty of discounted OEM parts sources, such as MazdaParts.com, MazdaSwag.com, and more. RockAuto.com is a great source as well. Retailers who have been in the aftermarket game for a long time, such as Racing Beat, are also a great source. Especially for performance parts.
The aftermarket is still pretty supportive of the RX-8, mainly due to the strong, dedicated following that rotary-engine cars have, and the fact that they are still capable performance vehicles. Suspension upgrades, minor bolt-on power upgrades, and brake upgrades are plentiful. There are also various aftermarket reliability modifications out there, such as upgraded coil packs like we mentioned earlier.
Improving an RX-8 is all about playing to its greatest strength: the chassis. While factory suspension equipment is good, simple shock, spring, and sway bar upgrades go a long way, making them handle even better. High-performance, racing-type coilovers are even better.
Key Technical Details
Engine: 1.3-liter Renesis 13B rotary
- Six-speed manual
- 2004-2005 four-speed automatic
- 2006-2011 six-speed automatic
Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive
Suspension: Front double-wishbone fully independent, rear multi-link fully independent
Wheelbase: 106.4 in; 2702.56 mm
- 2004 – 2007 – 175.6 in; 4460.24 mm
- 2008 – 2011 – 175.6 in; 4460.24 mm
Curb weight: 2,880 and 3,051 pounds
OEM tire size:
- 225/45/18 – General size, particularly for all non-R3 manual-equipped models
- 225/55/16 – Pre-2009 base automatic-transmission trims
- 225/40/19 – R3 trim
Fluids, Filters, and Capacities
Fuel: 91 Octane
Battery Size: 35 650 CCA – they last every 3 to 5 years
Engine Oil: 4.6 quarts of 15w40 conventional oil. The interval should be every 3,000 – 5,000 miles, enthusiasts say the former if it’s being driven on track or autocrossed. The Mazda factory recommendation is 7,500 miles, which enthusiasts say is much too long. Enthusiasts say that conventional Idemitsu 20w50 is also a good choice for an RX-8 that’s driven on the track, but otherwise their 10w30 is good for normal, everyday use.
- 2004 – 2008, Mazda OEM B6Y114302A, changed during every oil change
- 2009 – 2011, Mazda OEM N3R1-14-302, changed during every oil change
Premix: If you’re inclined to pre-mix two-stroke oil, the general consensus among enthusiasts seems to be 1 ounce per 2 gallons fuel. A popular two-stroke oil for pre-mixing is by Idemitsu. Some companies make convenient premix kits.
Air Filter: Mazda OEM N3H1-13-Z40A-9U, every 25,000 miles or 24 months.
Cabin Air Filter: Mazda OEM LDY4-61-J6X, every 25,000 miles or 2 years.
- Automatic: Pentosin ATF 1, 9.2 quarts – Mazda says its lifetime, but enthusiasts recommend changing every 5 years
- Manual: Mazda OEM is 0000-77-114-QT, but any quality 75w90 GL5 will do. Capacity is 1.8 quarts, and Mazda says its lifetime, but enthusiasts recommend changing every 25,000 – 50,000 miles, the former for track driving and autocross
Transmission Filter: Mazda OEM SJ6021500, replaced every 5 years with the automatic transmission fluid. Note: other replacement parts are required to complete this job.
Differential Oil: Same as manual transmission gear oil, 1.4 quarts, and changed every 25,000 miles.
Coolant: OEM Mazda FL22, changed every 4 years.
Power Steering Fluid: None, electric power steering
Brake Fluid: Enthusiasts suggest 1 liter of Motul RBF 600, changed every 30,000 miles
Clutch Fluid: Same as the brake fluid, bleed when changing brake fluid.
Spark Plugs: 2x OEM Leading NKG PN: RE7C-L; 2x OEM Trailing NKG PN: RE9B-T (two plugs per rotor), replaced every 30,000 miles. The upper plug is the trailing, the lower plug is the leading.
Coil Packs: OEM Mazda N3H1-18-100B-9U, replaced every 30,000 miles.
Spark Plug Wires: OEM Mazda N3H1-18-140B, replaced every 30,000 – 60,000 miles (check for damage while replacing plugs and coil packs).
Repair Guides And Manuals
Luckily, a lot of reference material is available for free, such as this link.
Otherwise, one can buy downloadable service manuals as well.
Or, original, printed service manuals are in ample supply second-hand.
Other References and Resources
The 2003 book RX-8: The World’s First 4-Door 4-Seat Sports Car by Jack Yamaguchi seems to be considered the definitive physical text on this vehicle. Based on a cursory Google search, it might not be all that easy to find today.
“America’s Best Handling Car Competition: Contenders and Instrument Testing” (MotorTrend – Aug 25, 2008)
One of the most flattering reviews comes from long-time race car driver and automotive journalist Randy Pobst. Quoted during MotorTrend’s 2008 Best Handling Car shootout, Randy opined the following about the RX-8 on track: “In the purest sense of a sports car, the rear-drive RX-8 is the most satisfying through corners, I felt like it was a glove on my hand. I could put it right where I wanted. Extremely well balanced, east to drift, unfettered by weight. It’s just so much fun to drive.”
“Last Drive? 2010 Mazda RX-8. One More Ride Before The Triangles Stop Spinning” (MotorTrend – Jun 9, 2010)
MotorTrend’s Scott Evans echoes this positivity on the road. “The word ‘illegal’ scarcely does justice to the speeds the RX-8 will allow you to attain on your favorite canyon road. See that yellow warning sign suggesting a safe, reasonable speed at which to execute the next corner? Ignore it. The RX-8 will double it with nary a hint of protest from the Bridgestone Potenzas. Is it a bit sharper than you thought? No problem, just grenade the big brakes and the svelte 3000-pound car will scrub speed like a race car.”
Jeremy Yeung (Feb 12, 2021)
2009 RX-8 R3; mildly modified; owned 10 years/65,000 miles
“I always felt the RX-8 was underrated. Out of the box, it drives like an extension of the driver. Super balanced and fun to drive anywhere. A little under powered, but it didn’t matter. It’s unfortunate that a lack of understanding regarding the maintenance and driving of the car led to it’s demise, and reputation of rotaries being unreliable. It also sounds amazing at WOT with an occasional fireball. Never had an issue with mine -I don’t think the new owner has had any either. Long live the rotary!”
Wes Chan (Feb 13, 2021)
2005 RX-8 GT; modified; owned 6 years/25,000 miles
“There’s something to be said about a smooth, high-revving engine that begs for – nay – *requires* a daily dose of 9k RPM singing. Coupled with a progressive chassis, a buttery-smooth shifter, the best shift knob in the world, and perfectly-placed pedals, the RX-8 is an engaging, dynamic, and remarkably practical package. The aftermarket may be lacking, but I believe it exists where it matters. Engine rebuilds and replacements aren’t cheap, but the lack of reliability is a bit exaggerated. Just keep an eye on the temps, oil, and gas, and go zoom zoom!” You can see his car on his Insta.
Andrew DeBlock (Mar 15, 2021)
2005 RX-8 Shinka manual; stock; owned three years
“I really enjoyed driving this objectively impractical car. This was my daily driver and I commuted to and from work in Los Angeles traffic at least five days a week.
The trunk was small, the back seats completely unsuitable for an adult (shout out to my poor friend that rode roundtrip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in the back), and it wasn’t especially good on gas.
All that out of the way, this car brought me immense joy once I got off the crowded LA highways and found myself anywhere with some corners. It’s a car I always looked forward to driving. The RX-8 is not aggressively fast, I never felt the sensation of being pushed back into my seat when I dropped down a gear and floored it, but it is certainly a driver’s car. The car gave me confidence in the corners with light and predictable steering. The cockpit is comfortable with a good sound system, user-friendly controls and a gauge cluster with a massive tach in the dead center highlighting the best part of the car – the rotary engine. Low and close to the firewall it made it’s presence known. I loved watching that needle effortlessly hit 7,000 RPM and keep climbing. The Shinka interior was especially nice with the tan leather. I also really liked the unique touch that is the half-sized suicide doors.
My relationship with the car had a fittingly dramatic ending. I blew an apex seal driving to work on a Tuesday morning with around 100,000 miles on the odometer, let that be a cautionary tale. I’ll reiterate that this is not a practical car and note that while I owned it I also had to replace the fuel pump that started leaking gas into the back seat.
To conclude, and even in light of everything else I’ve shared, I’ll offer an unqualified recommendation of the RX-8. The exterior styling is not for everyone and it lacks many practical features that you might expect from a car with rear seats but the rotary and handling won me over. The RX-8 Shinka manual is a great car that I looked forward to driving every day – just be ready to pay for inevitable issues associated with the Wankel engine.”
Do you own or have you owned one of these? Leave a comment or hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org!
What They’re Worth Now
RX-8 values seem to come down to general maintenance and engine health.
A clean, S1 RX-8 with a dead engine can be as cheap as $1,500 on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
A clean, S1 RX-8 with either a freshly-rebuilt engine or engine with good compression can be anywhere between $4,000 and $7,000 on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
A clean, S2 RX-8 with a healthy engine, especially an R3 trim, can be as much as $15,000 due to their rarity and nice spec.
A base, OK condition S2 RX-8 seems to fetch anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000.
Where To Find One For Sale
Online auction sites, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace definitely have the most RX-8s listed. Regardless of where it’s listed, always do your research, ask lots of questions, see how much service history is available. Most importantly, request or have done a compression test. A compression test is the best way to determine if a rotary engine has been treated correctly.
What To Ask A Seller
“What kind of mileage does the engine have? Is it the original, a rebuilt engine, or a Mazda reman?”
“What is the compression of the engine?”
“Do you pre-mix? Is a SOHN Adapter installed?” (Typically, only enthusiasts do this.)
“When was the clutch last done?”
“Have all of the recalls been remedied?”
“What is the condition of the catalytic convert, and two O2 sensors?”
“Have the ball joints and control arms ever been replaced?”
Competitors To Consider
When it comes to competitors, basically every other Japanese sports car of this era can stack up. The Nissan 350Z, Honda S2000, and Mazda’s chassis mate the NC MX-5 Miata. Each of these have their own issues, though it seems less so than the RX-8.
The BMW 128i is a good European competitor, as its a RWD, sub-250 horsepower sports car like the RX-8.
To a lesser extent, the Audi TT is a competitor as well, mainly for being a small European sports car. At least Top Gear thinks so.
Pop Culture References
From our research, Jay Leno has owned (and possibly still owns?) an RX-8 Shinka, and Patrick Dempsey raced several RX-8s in Rolex GT racing. Apparently Justin Timberlake has owned one, too, as well as Britney Spears.
The RX-8 has made a few appearances in mainstream entertainment. In The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Neela (played by Nathalie Kelley) drives one, and one makes a quick appearance in Burlesque, which is one of the best-worst films, ever. Also: Britney Spears drives one (possibly her own) in a music video! It’s certainly made more appearances in films and tv shows outside of the USA.
Most big questions should be laid out above, but if we start to spot the same question again and again, we’ll add it here.
Downloadable Paperback Car Bible
If you’re old school and like to keep reference notes on paper, or you’re just a completionist and want a free accessory for your RX-8, you can download this paperback Car Bible. Well, you have to also print it to put it on paper. But you knew what we meant.
Think of it like an owner’s manual supplement. Keep it in your car and your days of waiting for slow internet on your phone at the auto parts store are over!
You’ve reached the end of the RX-8 Car Bible and are about to scroll into the comment section. If any questions were left unanswered in the text above, try posing it in the space below! Unsolicited rotary tips are also welcome.