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RX-8 Short Lead Press Event: Part 3 Impressions
Submitted by SuperUser on Sunday, June 22, 2003 - 12:05pm

Mazda went ahead and did it. They invited RotaryNews.Com back for a second round of test-and-evaluation of the all-new RX-8. But unlike our first round with pre-production test cars, this time we drove the real deal final production model. And we are happy to say; they actually did it.
Gone this time, were the smooth track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and the scenic beauty of California's Highyway-1. No, this time we unleashed the RX-8 into the real world. You all know the one, urban freeway drudgery and stop light grand prix'. Yes, this time we drove the RX-8 on our turf, and it impressed. Actually, we also did an hour or so on an auto-x course prior.

THE TRACK
The first drive of the day consisted of a few laps around a tight auto-x style course, which was designed to challenge both vehicle performance and driver skill. Fast sweepers, mid-corner bumps, and dusty conditions, were all thrown in the mix, to help challenge the driver-car duo. The course was set up in such a way that the 8 could run a complete lap in second gear. You might think, "second gear!!", as we did, but we later discovered that the top of that gear was quite high.
Provided, were two different 8's in which to attack the course in. One with the Driver Stability Control (DSC) system activated, and the other, with it completely switched off. The DSC system has two deactivation modes. First: the standard OFF mode that automatically activates the DSC if the ABS is activated. And the second, "leave me alone I'm an expert driver and I'll spin if I want-too", totally OFF mode that will not activate under any circumstance. As I discovered, the latter of the two was an absolute blast on the closed course.
First up, the DSC activated car. After, a single lap as a passenger, it was my turn to drive. The car impressed with its balance and composure on quick emergency-lane change type maneuvers. The mid-corner bumps, thrown in to unsettle the chassis, seemed to have a minimal, if any, effect on its composure. It just soaked them up with no drama or effort, even while in a high cornering attitude. On-track, the steering felt nicely weighted with great feel and control in both high and low speed transitions. The dialog between tires and steering felt quite natural and connected. The power-assist felt like a well-balanced speed sensitive hydraulic unit without any of the typical numbness, slop or dead spots, typical of such systems. The brakes, as in our original observations, offered excellent feel and modulation with strong fade free stops. It actually took a few laps to get familiar with the braking forces offered up by the RX-8: the tendency, being to brake early. It was surprising to hear that 80-0 braking is actually shorter than the new Porsche 911 Turbo. The DSC mode did not intrude in any appreciable manner, unless the car was over-driven. If taken too hot into a corner and understeer induced, the DSC stepped in with minimal drama and recovered the car. On a spirited road drive, this would be the difference between, kissing the guardrail lightly and totally flying off the road. On track, with DSC engaged, the RX-8 should not offend or molest 95% of its new owners. On the road, it is unlikely that the DSC would ever intrude, outside of low grip and/or emergency situations.
Next up, the totally deactivated DSC car. Now this was a revelation, as throttle steer and full opposite lock drifts and spins were introduced to the picture. The first observation was that a lot of the other journalists were spinning the car quite easily, including my esteemed RN colleague. My turn soon came up and observing all the previous mayhem generated by the other drivers, I took it easy, at least on my first lap. After that it was pure unadulterated fun. The car felt every bit a willing dance partner, lead it well and it smoothly followed, but, get the feet and hands crossed, it stepped on your shoes and a pirouette was inevitable. The 8, with the DSC off, felt alive and willing to play. By my third lap, I was giving joy rides and killing cones in beautiful (at least I thought) four-wheel drifts, and to my credit, not a single spin. Ok well, I almost spun once, but in a recovery worthy of any top WRC driver, I saved it (credit the car here). The key to driving the car in this mode, is car control. With at least some semblance of it, as in my case, you can ask your new friend to come out play. In the end, the RX-8 is very easy car to drive at that magical above 8/10ths level. It never felt nervous or twitchy at the limit. The type of antics described here, are obviously better left on the track. The RX-8 with a high caliber driver will make a great auto-x/track weapon. It will definitely reward the smooth and experienced!
Itís my understanding that a top CART driver drove the RX-8 recently and was thoroughly impressed with its performance. It turns out that he has been following the progress of the RX-8 quite closely and he requested a drive at the latest Laguna Seca CART weekend. He was looking for an alternative to his Honda S2000, which he really likes, but he mentioned that the car is very unsettled and hard to drive at 9-to-10/10ths level. His impression of the RX-8, in this respect, was very positive. DISCLAIMER: The name in this paragraph has been withheld to protect the driver and his sponsors. We couldn't have a big time Japanese manufacturer's driver, endorsing the latest Rotary, now could we?
The bell rang and playtime was over. We had to come in from the playground to eat lunch. After this, were to go out into the real world.
THE ROAD
It was time to do what we came here to do: drive this bad boy in the real world. Mazda laid out a very interesting 60-mile mix of freeway and city driving for all participants to experience the 8's driving dynamics. Dan was up as driver and I would observe from the shotgun position for the first half of this ride. First we needed to pick a color.

First impressions are always important and the final production colors of the RX-8 didn't disappoint. There are enough colors to please almost any taste. The beautiful rainbow of 8ís that greeted all that came into the venue that morning reinforced this. Of special note, was a not previously seen, subtle shade of green. The RX-8 has great presence, without being extroverted. Itís definitely a classy and stylish car in almost any shade. Each individual's taste and personality will have to determine color choice. Whatever the color choice though, the 8 is sure to please. We chose Titanium colored car, for it's low profile muted nature. It also happens to be the color of the upcoming RotaryNews.Com project car, due in mid July. Color chosen, we were ready to head out, but before we did, we picked and prodded at the interior for a bit.
Getting into the back seat and surveying the nooks and cubbyholes, a pleasant surprise cropped up; rear cup holders, who knew. The rear seats are cozy and comfortable without being too tight or claustrophobic. The center console has compartments that are deep and functional and pockets abound around the cabin. An elaborate door that both slides and swings provides good access to center console storage space. Interior panel materials differed some from the pre-production model though. The very nice lacquered center console and accents remain pretty much intact, but there did seem to be a shift to a lighter plastic material on the dash and assorted panels. Fortunately, the stylistic appeal and feel of the cabin remain. Satisfied that we had explored enough of the cabin, we mounted up and headed out.
The route out of the event venue was a mix of loose gravel and broken pavement with a few speed bumps sprinkled about just for good measure. At a conservative pace through this stuff, the RX-8 soaked it up without complaint. The suspension soaked up the cracks and uneven pavement without or any real harshness or intrusion into the cabin. The speed-bump test is always telling and the RX-8 traversed them without any creeks or groans from the chassis or suspension. Sport oriented suspensions tend to bang over the sharp jolts and bumps, but the RX-8 had enough compliance to handle all of these types of pavement irregularities. A good first sign for the real world.
The open road beckoned and we were past the guard gate now. Dan stood on the pedal and the car surge forward with an urgency that surprised us both. Even the exhaust note sounded better this time around. It wasn't annoying or bothersome; just more sporting. We're not sure if Mazda changed anything in the exhaust from the pre-production model or not, but it was great to hear that RENESIS motor. These two main attributes seem to stimulate one to drive the car hard. It almost beckons to be pushed and rev'd hard all the time. Dan obliged the 8, to the point that I had to ask him to slow down, due to local constabulary's affinity for handing out traffic citations.
In the passenger department, the RX-8 was comfortable and secure. The cloth seats provided decent support and comfort, even in spirited driving situations. The door windowsills are above shoulder level, so it feels like one is riding deep inside the car. At no time did it ever feel like the car was rolling or pitching in any appreciable manner. These two factors contribute to make the RX-8 feel secure from the right seat. The typical sensation of too much speed, present in a lot of cars when riding in the passenger seat, at even mildly spirited driving levels, was a non-issue in the RX-8. Footbox dimensions are not luxury car spacious, but there is enough room to shift the feet and legs around for comfort those long trips. There does seem be a small bump on the transmission tunnel that protrudes into both the passenger and driver footwell's, it's not necessarily bothersome, but it does make it's presence felt on the upper leg. Radio and HVAC controls are within easy reach of the passenger seat. Visuals on the center control information center bar and navigation systems are equally clear and legible from both front seats. Great A/C with the very precise control levels. As a passenger, this is really not a bad ride to spend a few hours in. Again, it's grand touring aspirations were verified, even in city driving. Luckily my turn as a passenger wasn't hours long and it was my turn to pilot.
Strapping in to the driver's seat and adjusting the wheel and seat to may taste was a snap. Dan, although taller than me, likes to sit closer to the steering wheel, so I had to make a few adjustments to help me get the clutch throw, brake and gas pedal relationship just right. This was easily accomplished with the adjustable steering column and good seat adjustment spacing. Pedal relationship and spacing is close and provides easy toe-heel play. The dead pedal is large and supportive. Aluminum pedals, including the dead pedal, are not only aesthetically pleasing, but offer good non-slip grip without being grabby. All set and strapped in, off we went.
Initial clutch arc seemed a bit long, but the engagement was precise with good feel; it's very RX-7 like. The uninitiated to the rotary power will have to make a small adjustment to their driving style with the RX-8. The light mass of the rotors and flywheel make revving the motor to 2-2.5k and slightly slipping the clutch, a necessity for a smooth launches. Rotary folks, with lightened flywheel RX vehicles, are very familiar with this procedure and the 8 continues this tradition. Fortunately, revving the RENESIS to that level is a non-issue. The motor likes to spin so quickly and rev freely that this launch procedure just becomes second nature without feeling like you are stressing the car at all. A lack of torque, close ratio 6-speed transmission, and short final drive gear, didn't conspire to make the car unruly or cumbersome in the close quarters, as I had imagined. Credit the RENESIS' extremely flexible rev range, long flat torque curve, and optimal gearing in the 6-spd box for this. I was half expecting to be rowing the shifter constantly in stop and go traffic, but nothing could be further from the truth. The engine and tranny compliment each other so well that this fear never materialized. As an example: at fuel cut 9.5k or so, first gear runs out to 38mph, 2nd to 68mph and third to 95mph. Sanity and a lack of road prevented us from testing the rest of the gears. Good car controls such as the steering wheel, shifter and gauges made this exercise a no drama effort.
The steering wheel felt natural and it's controls for radio and cruise system intuitive. Flipping radio stations and adjusting volume, without needing to look down, came after a few short blocks. The meaty feel of the shifter and positive engagement of the tranny made rowing the gears a snap. Six speeds in the box, caught me out a few times before I got used to it, but I think this was more a function of driver coordination than the car itself. On the freeway, this issue was a little more pronounced when in shifting into or out of sixth gear. Not being familiar with the sixth gear made me think for a split second where I need to go with the shifter, but I'm sure a few days with the car, would make this a non-issue. The car is deceptively fast; it's good that the controls all work in harmony.
Driving hard onto a sweeping freeway onramp, I merged into traffic at extremely fast rate, without even pushing hard that I was surprised at my merging speed as I came into the traffic flow. Glancing down at the speedo, I was shocked to see 90mph. The easy and speed with which the RX-8 handled the curve made it shoot out the other side so fast. Moving down the freeway and transitioning onto the another highway on a two-lane interchange, we trailed a big Ford F-250 truck doing over 80mph. As a soon as traffic cleared in the lane over, I swept around and passed him. This time feeling the car working some, Dan glanced over and yelled out, "Damn you were doing over a 100mph". Such is the confidence that the RX-8's handling and acceleration inspire, for better or worse. Our time with the RX-8 was coming to and end and it was time to take stock of everything this car had, and judge if Mazda had done it.

Had Mazda created a car that is a worthy of the RX tradition? Would the RX-8 carry on Mazda's sporting heritage? Did they create a 4-door sports car? We can answer the first two with a resounding: "yes they did". And if the power the RX-8 posses, to make the back seats and four doors disappear, while driving, is any indication, then we would have to say: "Yes Mazda did it!" They actually created a new RX sports car.
 
 
 
QUICK NOTES
-absolute blast to drive
-fun
-impressive and surprising real world manners
-good everyday type utility
-useful storage interior bins

-stylish
-fun
 

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subject:
gret job!
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
I really enjoyed your review. I'm glad we can all relax about the lack of torque issue. Nice to hear the production inerior is better than the pre-production.

You mentioned that your test car had navigation, but you don't mention using it. Did you get a chance and fail to write it up? Or were you both having too much fun driving to care where you were headed.
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subject:
Lighter Material?
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
"Interior panel materials differed some from the pre-production model though. The very nice lacquered center console and accents remain pretty much intact, but there did seem to be a shift to a lighter plastic material on the dash and assorted panels." Do you mean lighter color or lighter in feel/weight?
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subject:
No title supplied
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
Was this car part of the first shipment of 8's to arrive in the states? Did you hear when the first ones would be arriving at the dealerships? And finally, did you sit in any 8 that had a leather interior? Anxiously awaiting the arrival of my 8!!!
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subject:
Admin 2
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
Puppy1:
Sorry about the confusion. I meant lighter in feel/weight. The quality didn't seem to suffer though. It was just an observation I had after the Mazda folks harped on how this was a great interior and worthy of a 30K car, unlike all of the complaints the press had about the 350Z. So it made me look a little harder at the materials. No creeks, squeaks or rattles presented themselves during our drive, just as it should be in a new car.

-Bern
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subject:
Admin 2
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
Charlie:
Our understanding is that these were the very first batch of production cars shipped to the USA.

Depending on what part of the country your in, anywhere from 10-20 days. The local dealers that are extremely close to the port in California, will see cars in 5 days or so.

Sorry, I didn't this time around, but maybe Dan did. The quality of the leather in pre-prod cars was quite nice in our last review. Hopefully, Dan can shed some light on this.

Thanks,

-Bern
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subject:
Admin 2
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
Puppy1:
We really didn't use the Nav system much, since Mazda provided us written directions for the course. We did verify our position several times though and found the system to be quite accurate. It was useful, but I'm not sure if it's 2K worth. It will really depend on your use and driving habits.

I'm sure Dan can comment a little more as he played with it more than I did.

-Bern
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subject:
No title supplied
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
What comparisons can you make with the FD? Being a first time rotary owner (well, when this damn car comes in!), I am curious as to what can be said about the positives and negatives. Obviously one of them would be accelleration but I'm pleased with the 5.9s number, my question is about the comparable handling.

And if you can compare it to any other cars you've driven.. would appreciate it. Thanks for the review!
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subject:
Bern
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
Hercules:
An FD comparison is tough. This is not really a fair comparison.. the cars are really different. Both were designed with very different goals in mind.

The RX-8 is definitely a better utilitarian daily driver and commuter. The FD is a better ULTIMATE sports car and track weapon, but requires a higher driving skill to master. The RX-8 has a chassis that is at least equal to or better than the 1st gen FD available in the US and is easier to drive at the limit. The brakes on the RX-8 are a step above, for sure, the US available FD. The FD is definitely a sexier and sleeker looking ride though.

In a straightline battle, the FD is a hands down winner. You really can't argue with its power and weight advantage. On the road race track, with equal drivers, the FD will prevail. But introduce some differing skill levels and the RX-8 is right there.

Like I said, this is a real hard comparison, but all you have to do is watch that video comparison of the SpiritR-vs-RX-8 at the track in Japan, to appreciate its skills...

-Bern
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subject:
Mileage
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
What were the number of miles on the odometer on the production cars you all got to drive (before and / or after the drive) Thanks again for the great reports!
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subject:
Nav
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
It was too bad that they didn't put instructions on how-to use the nav.. instead we were just given directions of the route on paper.

However, the nav was accurate, and I could tell when an intersection was coming up and could warn Berny where to turn well in advance.

Is it worth it for $2000, I suppose if you do a lot of driving in places you've never been before, it would be worth it, and with the updates on the DVD yearly, the other information could be valuable.
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subject:
Admin 2
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
Daniel:
The 8 we drove had about 950 miles on it. I'm sure a few days of press introductions and some shakedowns by Mazda, contributed to most of these miles.

-Bern
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subject:
No title supplied
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
Bern,
Could you provide some more insight into several issues I have been very concerned about?


1) Body Roll

2) Understeer

3) Steering Quickness and Sharpness (i.e. 2.99 turns lock-lock)

From your write-up, it seems like there is a BIG difference between the earlier test models and the production version. Could you comment on the above points from the perspective of someone who would be comparing the RX8 with the FD, S2K and EVO.

The impression I had (from previous reviews) was that these were some of the compromises that were needed to be made to make the RX8 appealing for broad consumption and the masses? Will the other media outlets be changing their reviews drastically for the production model?
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subject:
Admin 2
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
REVHAPPY:

1) Body roll although present in small amount, does not really seem to interefere with driving this car. You never really feel the car appreciably rolling or tipping around.

2) Understeer is there, but only if you are really going faster than you should be for any given situation. The laws of gravity still exist. The car was balanced and poised at most sane speeds in the real world. The auto-x did show a little more understeer, but that was because I was entering corners way to fast. Of course on the big track at Laguna Seca, things like this are understeer are greatly enhanced. Going into the hairpin at over 100mph and braking hard can really make a car work. Maybe this was the difference you read into my two reviews. There was no big track this time.

3) I'm not sure of the lock-to-lock, but it does offer decent quickness. You have to have quick hands to catch the car in spin situation though. But, this should only really happen with the DSC off in real sporting conditions. I had noted previously that the box was not as quick as the FD and that stands, but it does offer excellent feel and feedback.

I really don't think that my two comparisons are really that drastically diiferent, it's just that both the cars and testing situations were different. We now had a car where we (RN) felt totally comfortable, with the roads and driving conditions and that makes a big difierence when driving a new car. Also, some of the comments in our previous review came from driving the Laguna Seca circuit at 10/10ths. No big track to give input on this time. What the car does in the real world is certainly going to be different than what it does on the track and this is what we wanted to try and get accross. All of the other media outlets have almost all had, good to excellent, feedback on the 8 and I'm sure this will still be the case.

And yes there were still compromises. Some people will criticize it for its looks and style. The car is still a 4-door/4-passenger ride and it doesn't have the ultra high levels of handling, power and feel of the FD. It doesn't have the ultimate performance levels of some other cars, but it is a car that one can drive close to the limit in easily. Unlike some sports cars where you really have to know what your doing to eek out the last few tenths of performance. I woud be afraid to drive an FD at the level I did with the 8 on the street. Does this make it faster on the track or even on the street than the FD, S2000 or EVO probably not, but it will reward you with it's driving experience. All of my previous commentary on compromise stands, but I felt the car worked better than we thought it would, out in the real world.

-FD vs RX-8


-S2K vs RX-8
totally different cars and driving experiences.

-EVO vs RX-8
The EVO is a great car that lacks style and interior quality. Lot's of small compromises for that level of speed. Price gouging and dealer mark-ups seem to be a problem. Great car at the 30K level, but 40K is pushing it. It will surely be faster in almost any condition than the RX-8, as performance is it's main focus.

If one is looking for an ultimate performance sedan or more importantly sports car, the RX-8 is not your car. The 350Z might actually be a better choice, with it's gobs of power and torque.

I hope this clears things up a bit.

-Bern
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subject:
No title supplied
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
I think Berny will agree with me and say the production RX-8s are no where near as "soft" as the pre-productions. They are sharp and crisp, without the teeth jarring ride like the FD.

I drove my FD to the event, a 4 hour trek down from vegas. I wish I had an RX-8 to drive home in.
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subject:
Admin 2
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
SORRY

-FD vs RX-8

see comments below in the response to HERCULES.
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subject:
Paid subscribers
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
We have two short videos from last weeks event, but they are availbale to paid subscribers only. (Email notifications, and special videos) For $5 a year, you can get rotarynews delivered into your inbox, and have links to special videos like these:

http://images.rotarynews.com/videos/Paid
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subject:
clutch feel
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
Bern or Dan,

i am curious on how the clutch feels on the 8. you said that the take up is a little long, similar to the FD. what about the weight of it? is it a little heavy like the FD or much lighter and easier to deal with in traffic?

thanks for the time

santino lascano
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subject:
No title supplied
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
It is very light. So much so that when I drove home in my FD, the clutch on is velt H-E-A-V-Y.
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subject:
ADMN 2
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
Guys:
A few follow-up comments on this story. We reviewed our notes and wanted to add a few comments, we feel important, that were neglected in the main story.

1. The throttle-by-wire system:
-Excellent response and feel. No real disconnected feeling. Very linear. Really wouldn't know it was a TBW system if not told.
-Prevents any type of slow speed / rpm bucking or jumping associated with cable systems on earlier rotaries. Very transparent and seamless.

2. Views from the drivers seat
-Size and angles on the outside mirrors provide good coverage and views.
-Rear view mirror was vibration free and clear out the back window.
-low seating position and high window sills in front and back seating areas combined with small rear windows, make the over-the-shoulder, blind-spot check, a little difficult. There's not really a good direct view to the blind spot. Careful check of the mirrors and maybe a double check at the blind spot will be needed. I'm sure this will get better as one spends time in the car.

3. Tire noise
-a little more pronounced than the pre-prod models. Not bad, just noticable on certain road conditions.
-good communication to driver

4. The digital speedo
-good in daily and normal driving, but a challenge in spirited and high performance driving on the road.

NOTE: I didn't agree with Dan on this the first time, but after doing some spirited driving and concentrating hard on the road and traffic, I found it hard to look down and really catch the speed. On a track where the speedo doesn't really matter, this should not be an issue.

-Bern
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subject:
No title supplied
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
In reference to the blind spot is it possible to wind the mirrors out the the NHMA recommended positions? This is wider than standard and typically either right at the limit of travel or beyond to the outside on many cars. (Position for driver side is put your ear on the side window, wind the mirror out until you just see the edge of the car. passenger side is similar but with your head directly behind the rear view mirror) benefits here are that if you point your nose at the mirror, you either see no car (can pass) or you see the car in the mirror or catch the hood out of your peripheral vision. this is a great tool for those of us who can't keep our hands from following our eyes. it worked great on my miata with the top up (huge blind spots).
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subject:
moby
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
Any idea when the RX-8 is going to be introduced to the American market place? If they're in the country you sure wouldn't know it by checking at the dealers lots around here. (wi)
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subject:
ADMIN 2
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
I really didn't run this specific test, but I'm sure that if your Miata could do it, I'm confident the 8 will be able to also. But to be perfectly honest, I can say for sure. Thank you very much for this tip!

-Bern
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subject:
ADMIN 2
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
The first of the pre-order cars are already in the USA. I would suspect that the midwest states would see cars by the end of this month (July)

-Bern
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subject:
RX-8 PRICE
author:
No Rotor
date:
December 31, 1969 - 4:00pm
is there a way of knowing why thr rx-8's price in puerto rico is around the $ 41,000 to $ 49,000 while in the states it's around $ 28,000 to $ 30,000. the same happened with the "92" rx-7 it was around the $ 59,000 and didn't sell in the island.
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