Mazda bows out of the sport coupe business -- again

Mazda RX-8

Those of us who think of ourselves as driving enthusiasts will have one less sport coupe to flog around in 2012.

Mazda killed production of its rotary-engine RX-8 in July, according to the trade publication Automotive News.

Once upon a time, Mazda, Toyota and Nissan each had a fun sport coupe targeting twenty-something guys.

For Toyota, it was the Supra; Nissan had the Z; and Mazda, of course, the RX.

Each began life as a rather tame coupe that looked good yet didn't possess enough firepower to induce fainting spells in the mothers of those young potential buyers.

These cars looked hot but weren't overpowered, at least in the beginning.

But then their respective brands launched a horsepower war, which resulted in huge performance gains and skyrocketing prices.

Suddenly, not only couldn't the twenty-somethings afford to purchase them, they couldn't afford to insure them -- if they could even buy the insurance.

The result was that all three brands lost the war as they collapsed under their own weight.

The RX-7 disappeared in 1995, the Z in 2000 and the Supra in 2002.

No one was particularly surprised.

Toyota never looked back, but Mazda revived the RX as the RX-8 in 2001. Nissan followed suit, reintroducing the Z in the form of the 350Z in 2002.

Although sales of the Z haven't completely fallen off the cliff, they are down by more than 20 percent this year. Meanwhile, annual sales of the RX-8 had trickled off to just 544 units through July.

What happened to the RX-8?

I recently drove an RX-8 for a week. The two negatives I spotted that may well be the reason sales have evaporated are its less-than-enthusiastic off-the-line acceleration and its lackluster fuel economy.

A byproduct of its rotary engine, the RX-8 jogs from 0 to 60 rather than sprints. Its 7-second or so 0-to-60 time in the manual-transmission-equipped car isn't slow, but neither is it hair-on-fire quick.

With that same transmission, the RX-8 has an EPA estimated combined city-highway mileage of 18 m.p.g. Compare that with the 370Z at 21 m.p.g with a 0-to-60 time of about 5.5 seconds.

Despite its fuel economy and ho-hum off-the-line acceleration, the RX-8 was a blast to drive.

Maybe Mazda will resurrect it again, and the third time will be the charm.

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