Used car buying guide: Mazda RX-8

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Used car buying guide: Mazda RX-8

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The RX-8 was the last rotary-engined car sold in the UK and, now that Mazda is considering a revival of its famous Wankel concept for a new hybrid powertrain, it seems pertinent to consider its virtues.

This friendly looking four-seat sports car (Mazda actually referred to it as a quad coupé) has a relatively diminutive powerplant of 1.3 litres. However, it won favour with performance enthusiasts worldwide, thanks in part to its class-leading dynamic capabilities and to that innovative engine’s 9500rpm redline.

What’s more, the RX-8 offers a sub-1400kg kerb weight, a near 50:50 weight distribution and rear-hinged ‘freestyle’ doors that are as unusual as they are arguably impractical.

When the RX-8 was launched in 2003, buyers could choose from a 190bhp entry-level model or the 228bhp range-topper. Although an automatic gearbox was offered in other markets, only the row-your-own version was available in the UK. An update in 2008 brought revamped styling, stiffer suspension and shorter gear ratios for improved acceleration, while the less potent variant was done away with.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the RX-8 eventually succumbed to the ruthless onslaught of European emissions legislation in 2010, before production in Hiroshima finished once and for all in 2012.

For better or worse, the RX-8 has yet to attain the same cult-classic status as the Nissan 350Z or Mk4 Toyota Supra, so you can pick up a usable example for less than it would cost to spend a fortnight in Majorca.

It goes without saying that the cheaper the car, the more careful you should be, and this is no truer of any car than the RX-8. The rotary engine will be expensive to maintain, even if it’s in good nick, and its impressive ability to get through a tank of petrol is secondary only to its unquenchable thirst for oil – a characteristic of all Wankel designs. Mazda reckons the RX-8 will get through 250ml of the black stuff every 1000 miles.

Ignore the recommended service intervals at your peril; the reason there’s such a plethora of seemingly immaculate RX-8s being broken for parts is because the engine’s rotors wear down over time, allowing air and fuel to travel between its combustion chambers, which results in poor efficiency, diminished performance and, eventually, complete failure.

You’ll know a good RX-8 when you see one; most sensible sellers have a compression test professionally carried out before listing their car in the classifieds (you can’t use an ordinary piston compression tester) and it’s likely any horrors will make themselves known on start-up.

The general consensus is that the engine will manage 60,000 miles before it needs some serious attention, so check the odometer reading tallies with past MOT receipts and really give it the beans on your test drive.

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