Everybody give a big hand to “VTNoah”. He’s got a Guest Post for us. You could be next! Send ’em in! — JB
For those who are paying attention, the title of this article may have raised a red flag. “How can anyone rent a ten year old, manual transmission, rotary powered sportscar?” Well my friends, the answer is Turo. They are attempting to create the Uber of rental agencies by allowing everyday people to rent their cars to total strangers. I learned about the company via Matt Farah’s Smoking Tire podcast. Farah and his crew talk about Turo regularly so when I found out I would be spending a week in the Dallas Fort Worth Area, I decided to give it a shot.
Turo is simple enough. You can download their app or visit their website to complete your transaction. You plug in the location you’re looking for a car in, the time you need it for, and you are served with a variety of vehicles to choose from. Currently with a small user base, the variety of vehicles available is entirely dependent on location. Tiny Vermont has one vehicle available for rent in the whole state. In Dallas, however, I was blessed with a cornucopia of choices. Everything from Porsche Caymans to Shelby GT500s are available. An enthusiast looking to try something out for a day or two could do much worse.
Unfortunately, the company I work for wouldn’t spring for the $100 a day rental fee for the manual 2012 M3 I had my eyes on. So I narrowed my choices down to a 2015 Nissan 370Z for $27 a day and the 2006 RX-8 for $36 a day. The rates are set by the renters themselves, hence the disparity in prices. I was originally going to opt for the 370Z due to the fact that it’s newer and didn’t have a reputation for blowing apex seals on a bi-weekly basis. Thanks to an account mix up, however, by the time I was able to actually reserve the car, the 370 was no longer available. So the RX-8 was called to bat.
After touching down in Dallas, I received a message from the renter that the vehicle would be available in the taxi pickup area of the airport. There I was greeted by a friendly young man by the name of “Harold”. Harold explained that he and a few friends rent out a number of cars under their own little mini rental agency. He handed me the keys and asked if I’ve ever owned or driven an RX-8 before. After answering no, he explained that most of the people who rented this particular car either currently own an RX-8 or have owned one in the past. After taking some preliminary pictures of the car to document its condition, Harold gave me the keys and I was off to navigate the highways and byways of the Dallas Fort Worth Metro Area.
According to Wikipedia, “The RX-8 was introduced in 2001 by Mazda as the successor to the legendary RX-7 during the North American Auto Show. It first arrived to our shores as a production model in 2004 and was sold through 2011. Powered by the 1.3 liter “Renesis” rotary engine, the RX-8 produced 238 HP at 8500 RPM, redlining at a sky high 9000 RPM. Torque comes in at only 156 lb ft at 5500 RPM.” I remember being a recent high school grad, seeing the return of the RX-8 correspond with the Nissan 350Z, and being exceptionally excited. I was hoping that one day soon the Supra would return and America would again be blessed with the “Holy Trinity” of Japanese performance cars. It was not to be. At that time I was in no place to be buying a new sports car of any type anyway. I was a full time student, paying for my tuition, books, and rent on a part time salary. Keeping my 91 Jetta GL alive to get me to work and school with trips to the mountain for snowboarding was challenging enough.
Fast forward 10 years and I was presented one of my college dreams — one that didn’t involve a room full of women with loose morals, anyway. Unlike my dreams, this decade-old Mazda had aged a bit and I needed to reset my expectations. The design of the RX-8 has held up quite well over the years, looking modern even today. There were a few scratches here and there but the silver metallic paint held a good shine. The RX is also tiny in comparison to most modern cars, sitting what felt like a solid six inches below a modern Sedan or Hatch.
Sidling into the surprisingly capacious cabin, I was immediately greeted by the smell of “Wet Funk”. The dashboard had several cracks on the passenger side. Thankfully, everything else worked. Reading up on the RX-8’s reputation as a bit of a reliability nightmare, I had a legitimate concern that it might detonate at any moment. RX-8’s are also known for flooding their engines if one turns the car off prior to it warming up properly. I was legitimately paranoid during the week that I was going to kill this thing by turning it off at the wrong time, leaving me stranded in a far-off land.
After letting the car warm up, I eased the car onto the freeway to discover the rotary magic. Let’s preface this by saying I am in no way a professional driver. I’ve never driven on a track. The highest performance vehicle I’ve operated prior to this was my friend’s 2006 STI, the fastest I’ve ever driven was 130mph in a 1989 Saab 9000 Turbo (on STUDDED SNOW TIRES, mind you). I’ve done a lot of dumb things in cars at high-iish speeds but my ability to assess a vehicle’s performance chops is mediocre at best.
What’s a rotary engine known for? High (kinda) power out of a very low displacement, high RPM, copious oil/fuel consumption, and smooth operation. I can confirm most of these. The Renesis easily hits its 9000RPM redline anytime you wish. It is truly happiest above 5000 RPM. Puttering around below that and you will get smoked by a base 2016 Honda Civic off the line. It happened to me, and it will happen to you. Fuel consumption is… ambitious. In the 26 miles from the airport to my hotel, I came close to using a quarter-tank of gas. Considering the fuel tank on the RX-8 is around 16 gallons, that works out to about 6 MPG. The EPA ratings on the RX-8 are 16/23 so my guess is this high mileage example needed a serious tune.
The burning question here is, does it handle better than my current ride? Why yes it does! I drive a C-Max Hybrid, however, so that’s not saying much. The RX-8’s center of gravity is seriously low. According to the Wikipedia article I referenced for this review, the RX-8 is a Front Mid Engine Design, meaning it’s got nearly 50/50 weight distribution. Could I tell the difference this made without driving at 10/10th’s? No. But it felt more “Balanced” than a 2015 C-Max so there’s that.
The Mazda is also very light, utilizing aluminum in some of its body panels. I was able to take offramps at truly ludicrous (for me) speeds, and the rush as I approached redline became addicting. The combination of free revving motor, low center of gravity, and excellent steering made the car feel much faster than it really is. The RX-8 is not an off the line monster, you rev the pants off of it to get the most performance and you enjoy every minute doing it.
This being a ten-year-old Mazda with 88,000 miles, there were some minor “issues” to report. Whenever I hit a bump, it felt as though one of those lightweight aluminum body panels would rocket off into the Dallas traffic, only to be embedded in some $70,000 Cowboy Cadillac’s expensive and expansive grill. The suspension was tight but the ride was harsh. This was further exacerbated by the terrible roads in the part of Dallas I was staying. My guess is that the suspension needed a thorough work through. On the plus side, the wet funk smell I discovered originated from the old air freshener hanging off the rearview mirror. I promptly chucked it and things improved significantly.
The week went by without much drama. The first night driving around Dallas was a bit of an adventure as the city received a serious amount of rain, flooding most of the side streets with sometimes up to six inches of water. We managed to ford the raging waters but it was a nail biter on more than one occasion. How would I handle being stranded in a flooded street with a hydro-locked rotary? Thankfully I wasn’t able to find out. Throughout the trip, the refreshingly simple Bose sound system tuned to the classic Hip-Hop station “Boom 94.5” kept me company through the storm, bumping KRS-One and Wu-Tang on the regular. There’s something to be said for not having GPS, Android Auto, and every other tech gadget in a car. It was nice to focus on driving rather than how much energy was being recovered by the regenerative brakes in my C-max.
Would I buy an RX-8? Hell no. Was it fun to drive for a week? Sure. Would I rent one again? Nope. I was always intrigued by rotaries and I was able to scratch the itch with my rental but If I’m going to be spending my employer’s cash on a rental, I’m going to put it towards something a bit more luxurious next time around. Lexus LS460s are CHEAP on Turo!