While the RX-8 can be simply considered as the latest version of Mazda's halo car or the successor to the manufacturer's sports car throne that has long been empty since the demise of the RX-7, its redesigned rotary engine, spacious interior, and loads of high-end features made it far better than being just an heir to RX-7's crown.
The Mazda RX-8 was unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in 2001, but it wasn't sold in the North American market until 2004. Despite its good market performance, production of this Mazda sports car was stopped after the 2011 model. The decision came after the RX-8 was pulled out from the European market in 2010 due to its failure to meet Europe's emission standards.
2003 - 2008: 1st generation Mazda RX-8
The first generation of RX8, with SE3P and JM1FE chassis codes, made its debut in 2003 for the 2004 model year. Under the hood was a powerful RENESIS 13B-multi-side-port Wankel 654x2 rotary engine that was able to displace 1.3 liters non-turbo and produce 191hp. The RENESIS was initially available in both standard and high-power version and was paired with either 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic.
Two years after the launching of the generation 1 RX8s, Mazda made way for the special-edition RX8 Sports Prestige Limited (Japan) or Shinka (North America), which means evolution or transformation.
In 2006, the first special edition for UK--the Evolve--was launched. Production of this version was limited to only 500 units. That same year, Mazda also introduced the RX-8 PZ in the UK. Mazda has teamed up with Prodrive, a motorsports company, to develop this car, which was offered only in six-speed manual.
The 3rd UK-only special edition of the Mazda RX-8, the Nemesis, was also unveiled in 2006. A year after, Mazda released another UK-only version dubbed as Kuro, a Japanese word for black.
This generation of RX8 bagged several recognitions and awards across the globe, including the 2003 Japanese Car of the Year, 2003 International Engine of the Year, the 2004 U.S. Best Sports Car, and Australia's Wheels magazine's Car of the year for 2003, let alone the several UK Best Car recognitions that this Mazda car earned. For three consecutive years, from 2004 to 2006, it was also included on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best List.
2009 - 2012: 2nd generation Mazda RX-8
For its second generation, Mazda improved the rigidity and handling of the RX-8 by adding structural reinforcements. The RENESIS II engine now came with a third oil injection port in every rotor housing. There are also other enhancements done to improve the vehicle's appearance.
The R3 package was introduced in 2009. What made this package different is the improved suspension due to the Bilstein shock absorbers as well as a foam-filled front crossmember. Along with the R3 package, a Spirit R edition of the RX-8 was offered in the Japanese market. Production of this version was limited only to 2000 units, so only a small number reached other countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and New Zealand.