2012 Mazda RX-8 Spirit R – 191

November 29th, 2012 by NZPC

I feel as though I should start this article with a little full disclosure: I’ve never liked RX-8s. I’ve always thought that Mazda’s last surviving rotary is unattractive, underpowered, over-thirsty and uninspired, so when Mazda New Zealand called up the NZPC offices and told me they had an RX-8 they thought I should borrow for a while, I wasn’t all that enthused and wondered if they would be so keen to give me the keys if they knew how I felt about their pride and joy. Sensing my hesitance, the voice on the other end of the phone said: “It’s the Spirit R limited edition.” Well … that changes things.

Mazda’s Spirit R badge is reserved for only the very last in the line of rotary vehicles, almost like one final hurrah before the model ceases production. It signifies not only the end of a model, but also collates all the very best that that model has to offer from its lifespan — years of constant development, improvements and options. Considering one of my all-time favourite cars is the brilliant and highly desirable Mazda RX-7 Spirit R, I quickly brightened my tone and arranged a time to go and pick up the rare car. And thinking about it on the way down to Mazda HQ, it has been nine years since the debut, so the RX-8 was certainly due for its Spirit R goodbye.

Upon arrival at Mazda, and seeing the car in the parking lot, I was at first taken aback by just how good it looked. Gone are the frumpy lights and bumpers of the original, instead replaced by face-lifted gear that does wonders for improving the car’s aggression. The exterior is perfectly rounded out with huge 19-inch wheels, which look awesome with their concave face and interesting spoke pattern. The interior was a dream too — in keeping with the theme of the RX-7 Spirit R, the RX-8 features a beautiful Recaro leather interior in red — it not only looks badass, it’s super-comfortable and supportive too. That said, the interior did show its age a little — the controls seemed very last decade (for obvious reasons), and the lack of USB and trip computer seemed out of place in a brand-new car.

Regardless, this machine is built for the rotary purist — it’s a driver’s car through and through, and any self-respecting Wankel fan would have no use for a stereo anyway once the 13B Renesis was fired up and barking through the large exhaust system. This car sounds like a real rotary, a feature that ended up being my favourite part of our week-long driver/vehicle partnership. For a stock car, the Spirit R absolutely howls as you pound through the six-speed manual gearbox at a heavenly 9500rpm — while there are probably quicker straight-line cars out there for the money, the pure enjoyment you get from thrashing this high-revving, throaty machine through the hills is hard to match (the wide feet and very stiff Bilstein suspension set-up doesn’t hurt, either).

Although she sinks gas like Frank the Tank on the end of a beer funnel, by the end of the week, I was happy to keep filling her back up — it was all worth it for the amount of pure fun I was having. In all honesty, I am very surprised at just how much I’m into this car and how drastically it’s changed my perception of the Mazda RX-8. $56,695 seems like a very fair price for a great, high-end, limited edition (read: ‘desirable in the future’) and infinitely fun package. Very few of these cars have been brought in by Mazda, so if you want one, get in quick!

This article is from NZ Performance Car 191. Click here to check it out.

2012 Mazda RX-8 Spirit R – Specs

ENGINE: 13B Renesis R2  
DRIVELINE: Six-speed manual  
SUSPENSION: Bilstein double wishbone
BRAKES: Twin-pot calipers, vented discs  
WHEELS: 19-inch
POWER: 172kW @ 9000rpm

Words and photos: Peter Kelly