The RX-8 drives like a sports car, with perfect 50-50 weight distribution for balanced handling and a high-revving engine. It reminds us of the brilliant third-generation RX-7, but it's $13,000 cheaper, and its muscular styling has a zoom-zoom edge.
Yet the RX-8 is surprisingly practical. It's perfectly capable of taking the kids to soccer practice, with ample passenger room for four full-size adults. There's enough room for a weekend's worth of luggage or two full-size golf bags, and the small rear doors and relatively spacious trunk make trips to the home improvement center possible. Granted, it's not as roomy as a sedan, but it can move people and stuff when needed.
The RX-8 was launched as an all-new model for 2004. While the manual transmission model carries over with few changes, but the automatic is far more compelling for 2006 than last year's model. The 2006 RX-8 offers a new six-speed automatic in place of last year's four-speed. What's more, the automatic model gets a significant boost in horsepower. The six-speed automatic comes with steering-wheel mounted paddle controls for semi-manual shifting. This brings the automatic closer in character to the manual version, making it much more appealing to those who don't always want to do the shifting themselves.
Still, the manual and automatic are two different cars due to the specific tuning of the high-revving rotary engine as paired to each transmission. The six-speed manual benefits from 238 horsepower at 8500 rpm and 159 pound-feet of torque at 5500 rpm, while the automatic produces 212 horsepower at 7200 rpm and 164 pound-feet at 5000 rpm. The automatic comes packaged with smaller wheels and brakes and a softer suspension. The bottom line is that the manual is for driving enthusiasts willing to sacrifice some comfort and convenience for performance. The automatic is for drivers more interested in the looks and feel of a sports car than in ultimate performance, drivers who have to contend with stop-and-go commuting.
The 2006 Mazda RX-8 comes in two variants: the MT ($26,435) with a six-speed manual transmission and the AT ($26,435) with the new six-speed automatic.
Optional packages: The Sport Package (MT: $1,300, AT: $2,000) includes xenon headlights, fog lamps, DSC w/Traction Control (AT models add a limited slip differential and the same wheels and brakes found on all MT models). The Touring Package (MT: $2,975, AT: $3,775) adds Bose audio and an auto day/night mirror w/Homelink to the Sport Package equipment. Grand Touring (MT: $4,510, AT: $5,210) includes all that plus leather trimmed upholstery, faux leather door trim, six-way power driver's seat, heated seats, lumbar support, a moonroof, and heated mirrors. The Shinka Special Edition Package (MT: $6,165, AT: $6,685) adds urethane-injected suspension cross members, bright-finish alloy wheels, leather/faux-suede upholstery, an in-dash six-disc CD changer, Sirius Satellite Radio equipment and a one-year subscription.
Additional options include a six-disc CD changer ($500), pearl white paint ($200), a DVD-based navigation system ($2,000) and an appearance package consisting of front air dam, a rear spoiler and side and rear aero flares ($1,100).
Safety features that come standard include frontal and side-impact airbags (for torso protection) for the front passengers, and curtain airbags (for head protection) front and rear.
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