My first encounter with the Mazda RX-8 was on a special handling course set up around the paddock area of the Laguna Seca racetrack, Monterey, California.
It was January 2003 and the long-lead media event seven months before the first cars arrived in the UK.
Working on a publication dealing with company cars, the idea of a £20,000 genuine four seater that looked like the RX-8 seemed impossible. I couldn’t believe my luck.
Being an Emap staffer, I was called in to help a colleague with a secret twin-test.
Car magazine had organised for a Los Angeles-based friend of the mag to drive up to Monterey in a then new Nissan 350Z, while a photographer was sent economy class to rendezvous with the Z and meet us outside the track.
With driving on the track limited to a few laps behind a pace car the on-road driving it was then disappointing to head off to quiet roads and drive slowly for pix to be taken.
Being a team player cost me what might have been an exciting drive in this sensational new coupé.
Fast forward to July and I was able to drive the car on some fantastic roads in North Wales during the UK media launch.
Although comparisons were inevitably made with the 350Z they are very different cars. The Nissan more visceral and brutal; the Mazda more graceful and subtle.
The compact 1.3-litre rotary engine mounted very low and towards the back of the engine bay gave the RX-8 the balance and composure of far more expensive sportscars.
One or two hacks complained at the lack of pulling power, but there was a real thrill in spinning the engine up to 8,200rpm to unlock the full 231PS on the high-power version, unleashing a mere 155lb-ft of torque at 5,500rpm on the way.
An audible beep alerted that the rev limit was near, but the driver was allowed the indulgence of another few hundred rpm before really needing to change up.
And the sound was like no other. Unmistakably mechanical, but almost other-worldly with it.
Before I left Fleet News for Parker’s, towards the end of 2004 I had managed to secure a year’s loan of an RX8, but had to give it up just two months and 3,000 miles in.
The RX-8 wasn’t perfect. There was still the concern over oil consumption (oil helps form a seal with the rotor tips in the combustion chamber) and all new cars were supplied with a litre, and owners were recommended to check the oil level at every second refuelling stop.
Unfortunately rotary engines are also associated with high fuel consumption so every second refuel usually came well within 500 miles.
In 2006 I was lucky enough to drive the special edition PZ which came with Prodrive tweaks – lowered suspension new dampers and minor styling additions.
The sharper chassis became the standard one in 2008 when the R3 version arrived. The facelift model was available in 231PS guise only with high equipment levels.
Unfortunately the world has moved on very quickly in such a short time.
There is no longer a place of a now £25,000 coupe with CO2 emissions of 299g/km and official fuel consumption of 24.6mpg.
So the RX-8 disappeared quietly from price lists this summer, and while Mazda seems fully committed to the concept of the rotary engine, it will be a few years before we see it in another Mazda.
No doubt, with targets to cut CO2 and fuel consumption we could see it as part of an ‘alternative fuel’ powertrain.
So it’s time to lament the passing of the Mazda RX-8. There was never anything else quite like it during its seven-year life in the UK, and our automotive world has been much richer for its existence.