Three and a half years ago I swapped my fancy, gas guzzling BMW 325Ci for a small, faster, more highly equipped Renault Clio Sport 182. Since I was commuting to work every day I needed something that did better than 20mpg. It’s been a great little car, cheap to run, very fuel efficient considering its performance and I have lots of happy memories blasting along country roads, cruising up and down motorways and carrying things to the local tip from time to time.
However since I now work from home I hardly do any miles at all. We thought about going from being a two car family to one but realised that despite my not doing a lot of driving, we both needed to drive to different places at the same time frequently enough to kibosh that. Also, my Clio was starting to cost me a bit of money. French cars tend to be pretty good for a few years in my experience then start falling apart and costing lots of money, so after the last BMW-priced service (in that I’d expect to pay that to service a BMW, not a Renault) I thought it was time to get something different.
Fuel economy was no longer an issue for me and thanks to the world recession and car tax in the UK penalising gas guzzling high polluters, fast sports cars are dirt cheap. So after a bit of research I managed to pick up a year old Mazda RX-8 with a mere 30 miles on the clock – so effectively brand new – for a price I still can’t quite believe!
It’s ‘sparkling’ black, has a cream leather interior, an amazing Bose stereo, that new car smell, rear wheel drive, 2 seats in the back you can get adults into (via the rather cool rear suicide doors), proper pin-you-to-the-back-of-the-seat acceleration and most interestingly for me a Wankel rotary engine under the bonnet. Rotary engines work somewhat differently to the standard engine you find in most cars. Rather than bore you with the details, just read the Wikipedia article if you’re interested in how it works. Anyway, the end result is that it red lines at 9500rpm – almost motorbike numbers – and yet sounds amazingly smooth and is accompanied by a lovely engine note quite unlike any car I’ve been in before. It’s very easy to drive and tame when you go around town, but if you get the revs up it turns into a racing machine that’s beautifully balanced and seems to have endless power on tap and loves being driven fast.
All this does come at a cost though. The engine may have an official size of 1.3 litres but it’s actually equivalent to a 2.6 litre ‘normal’ engine and therefore drinks quite a lot of petrol. Drive it like a grandmother in 6th gear at 56mph and you’ll maybe get around 25mpg. Drive it like a normal person with a pulse and you’ll get around 21mpg. Drive it like a maniac and you’ll get under 19mpg. It also pumps out more CO2 than my friend’s Jaguar V8 which has a 4 litre engine. This puts it in the top road tax bracket of £400 per year. So it ain’t cheap to run.
Fortunately as I said I don’t do many miles so the fuel economy doesn’t really matter as much and the driving I do might as well be fun. If I had to commute to work it would be rather costly (and a stupid choice of car) but driving to football a couple of times a week and away hiking and such like at weekends might cost me slightly more than before but it’s a small price to pay for a much newer car with a long warranty period, amazing performance and handling and a genuinely innovative and unique engine. To get a BMW with similar performance would cost me double what I paid – and having had one before I can honestly say I prefer the RX-8 in every way.
Oh, and it has the bonus that every time I describe it to friends and say ‘Wankel’ my wife can’t stop herself from laughing! 🙂