RX8 and Nissan 350Z
dates : 30th May 2004/3rd June 2004
The sports car market is alive
and well and living in Rivonia Road. Or so it seems if you
take a drive down the main thoroughfare through Sandton's
Audi TTs, BMW Z4s, Mercedes-Benz SLK's and SLís sprout like
mushrooms after a rain shower, and it seems most of the
world's manufacturers are aware of these boom times.
Two of the latest newcomers on the sport scene are Nissan's
350Z and Mazda's RX8.
Both are designed to help reposition their various marques.
Both Nissan and Mazda are in the midst of worldwide revivals
after some dismal years in the 1990s, and both have global
catch phrases designed to get people thinking differently.
In the case of both companies, there was a so-what attitude
that developed amongst car-buyers, due largely to bland
indifferent styling of their product range over the past few
From an engineering viewpoint there has never been any doubt
that both Mazda and Nissan produce excellent, reliable cars
with very competitive performance. But both brands were almost
entirely devoid of any kind of image.
In the case of Mazda, its "Zoom-Zoom" slogan is
designed to emphasise zest for life. While Nissan has been
imploring us to 'Shift Expectations" for the past year or
These are the two cars that are spearheading a complete
model-range makeover for both companies.
Although they are both clearly sports cars, you couldn't
really wish for two cars of more diverging feel and character,
even though they are both of Japanese origin.
If you think of these two cars as weapons of choice, the Mazda
RX8 would be the rapier, while the Nissan 350Z is the
sledgehammer. Both highly effective, both beautifully
engineered yet both so different.
The biggest obvious difference is that the Nissan is a
pure-two-seater, while the RX8 has a unique four-door
configuration that actually provides real room for four
The Nissan even goes so far as to include a rigid chassis
brace across the luggage compartment at the rear, indicating
that this is a car for driving first and foremost.
The RX8 provides a unique "suicide" door arrangement
for its rear portals, these being hinged at the rear, to give
remarkable easy access for the rear passengers.
While there is more than enough space in the Nissan for two
people and weekend luggage, the surprise package with the RX8
is that the rear of the passenger compartment is actually
useable. Headroom is restrictive for very tall people, but you
could spend at least an hour in the rear of the Mazda without
getting too uncomfortable.
But the differences in the cars are more essential than just
in their differing seating configuration.
The heart of the matter lies in the engine and in the approach
to ride and handling
Starting with the engine the 350Z has gone the classic route
with a 3,5-litre 24-valve V6, a powerplant that has been
around in Nissan products for a few years.
In the 350Z this has been massaged to produce two hundred and
six kilowatts at six thousand, two hundred rpm, and the 350Z
will rev to six thousand six hundred in wonderfully throaty,
It has a heavyish clutch, a very meaty, solid gear lever
action, and the steering needs a firm hand. The suspension is
stiff and uncompromising.
The Mazda uses a rotary engine, this Japanese company being
the only manufacturer in the world that has persevered with
Felix Wankel's revolutionary engine concept since it first
appeared in an NSU in the 1960s.
Those viewers old enough and with good memories will remember
the stir that the original Mazda RX2 created in the early
1970s with its raucous, free-revving, spitting rotary engine
A rotary engine is much smoother than a conventional piston
engine because there are no reciprocating parts.
The engine in this case uses a pair of semi-triangular rotors
and functions of induction, compression and exhaust are
conducted in three chambers within the rotor housings.
The biggest problems facing the early rotary designs were fuel
consumption and heavy wear of the rotor tip seals, which play
the role of piston rings in a conventional engine.
But Mazda has sorted these problems after nearly four decades
of development and the current rotary engines are durable and
Whereas the Nissan revs up with plenty of drama, the rotary
spins to its seven thousand, five hundred rpm redline with an
almost eerie lack of fuss.
There is a zesty free-spirited engine not, but it is all
smooth and effortless.
Incidentally, this model on test is the cheaper five-speed
model, with one hundred and forty one kilowatts. The six-speed
model produces one hundred and seventy kilowatts and revs to a
spine-chilling nine thousand rpm!
In terms of handling and driver feel, the Mazda is less
demanding. Its gearchange action is much lighter, so is its
clutch, and its suspension is more compliant.
As a point of interest, to identify the five-speed, this model
is fitted with the smaller 16-inch alloy wheels. The six-speed
has 18-inch wheels for a more dramatic look and sharper
In heavy traffic we would prefer the Mazda, but out on the
open road where you can stretch the car's legs, it is a matter
of how you feel.
Both have excellent road manners and high levels of grip,
although the Nissan would probably come out on top around a
It is certainly much more powerful, and is rated as a
six-second zero to one hundred kilometres per hour machine.
The Mazda will take about eight seconds to reach a hundred,
and has a top speed of around two hundred and twenty. The
Nissan is good for 250 kilometres per hour any day of the
This "serious-versus-fun" approach is also carried
through to the cabins. The Mazda uses brightly coloured
leather panelling to amplify its "zoom zoom"
The Nissan shifts your expectations via a rather austere
layout in black, with business-like metal accents to indicate
the no-nonsense experience that lies ahead.
As for the exterior, the Nissan is once again all purpose, but
nevertheless one of the most beautifully-styled cars to come
out of Japan in recent years.
The RX8 has an almost comic-book approach to sportscardom,
emphasising fun, a free-spirited approach.
These are very different cars and yet they are both designed
to pep up your life. The Mazda costs just shy of three hundred
thousand Rand, while the Nissan sells for three hundred and
eighty five thousand rand.
Both are exceptionally good value for money, if you have the
cash to spend on a car that is somewhat less than practical,
somewhat more than a mere conveyance.
Our choice? While David leans strongly toward the Mazda, the
Car Torque team would plump for the Nissan.
But itís a close call.
Car Torque is