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Development and design
The development of the RX-8 can be traced as far back as the 1995 RX-01 concept car, which featured an early iteration of the 13B-MSP engine. Naturally aspirated with side exhaust ports, this engine has a power output of 210 hp (157 kW). Because of Mazda’s financial position at the time and the growing market interest in SUVs, the RX-01 did not see further development or production. However, a «skunkworks project» engineering team within Mazda kept the development of the 13B-MSP alive using an elongated MX-5 Miata chassis known internally as «gokiburi-ka», or «coachroach car» translated to English, eventually catching the attention of management, which was by then heavily influenced by Ford. Development of the 13B-MSP advanced and eventually led to the RENESIS name debuting along with the RX-EVOLV concept car which began to bear semblance to the production version of the RX-8 with the «freestyle» rear suicide doors. The styling was further refined, in Mazda tradition, by competition between its design studios in Japan, the US, and Europe. The lead designer was Ikuo Maeda, the son of Matasaburo Maeda (the lead designer of the original RX-7). The project obtained official approval from management under one condition, that the resulting car should have four doors, and eventually the RX-8 concept car (design/engineering model) was produced and shown in 2001, closer resembling the production version. A near-production «reference exhibit» RX-8 was shown shortly thereafter at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show, pending final approval for production. The production version of the RX-8 closely resembles this vehicle save for minor trim details, and «Job 1» began in February, 2003 at Mazda’s Hiroshima plant in Japan.
The RX-8 was designed as a , four-door, four-seater quad coupé. The car has a near 50:50 front-rear weight distribution and a low polar moment of inertia, achieved by mounting the engine behind the front axle and by placing the fuel tank ahead of the rear axle. The front suspension uses double wishbones and the rear suspension is multi-link. Weight is trimmed through the use of materials such as aluminium and plastic for several body panels. The rest of the body is made of steel, except for the plastic front and rear bumpers. The manual gearbox model uses a carbon fibre composite driveshaft to reduce the rotational mass (momentum of inertia) connected to the engine. Power is sent to the rear wheels through a torque-sensing conical limited-slip differential for improved handling. While underpowered in comparison to the final variant of the RX-7, the RX-8 is considered its successor as Mazda’s rotary engine sports sedan. Its layout and clever engineering, along with the typical Mazda suspension tuning have endowed it with excellent driving dynamics which have garnered much praise and numerous awards. It has also proved popular in Japan among car enthusiasts as well as aftermarket equipment manufacturers and professional tuners.
A prominent feature of the RX-8 is its rear-hinged «freestyle» doors (similar to suicide doors) that provide easier access to the rear seats. The RX-8 has no B-pillars between the front and rear doors, but the leading edge of the rear door acts as a «virtual pillar» to maintain structural rigidity. Because of the overlapping design, the rear doors can be opened only when the front doors are open. The RX-8’s cabin was designed to allow enough room to house four adults, making it a genuine 4-seater rather than a 2+2.