Mazda announced on August 23, 2011, that the RX-8 was to be discontinued citing the 2011 model as the last line of production. The RX-8 was removed from the European market in 2010 after the car failed to meet emissions standards.
Without the volume sales from Europe coupled with rising Yen prices, Mazda could not justify the continued sale of the RX-8 in other markets.
Mazda introduced rotary engine vehicles in the US in 1971, beginning with the R100 and going on to introduce the RX-2, RX-3, RX-4, RX-5, and finally three generations of the RX-7 sports car. However, the lack of conveniences and user-friendliness, coupled with the high price tag and declining interest in sports cars and coupés at this time led Mazda to withdraw the RX-7 from most major markets except Japan. After 1995, Mazda suffered from a relatively undistinguished product line in the US save the MX-5 Miata.
As popular interest in import tuning and performance cars resurged in the late-1990s, thanks in part to various popular cultural influences, Japanese automakers waded back into the performance and sports car market in the US. In addition, Mazda endeavoured to rejuvenate itself around this time, partially with financial and management assistance from Ford, and successfully developed a new product line of high quality cars with desirable styling and superior driving dynamics, beginning with the Mazda6 and followed by the Mazda3, paving way for the arrival for Mazda's next-generation rotary sports car.
The RX-8 combined two previous products (the internationally sold RX-7, and the Cosmo which was exclusive to Japan), with the exterior dimensions of the RX-8 slightly smaller than those of the Cosmo. Mazda chose not to install the 2.0 L three-rotor 20B-REW, which was discontinued in 1996 when the Cosmo ceased production. In Japan, sales were affected by the fact that the RX-8 did not comply with Japanese Government dimension regulations, and Japanese buyers were liable for yearly taxes for driving a larger car. The rotary engine had financial advantages to Japanese consumers in that the engine displacement remained below 1.5 litres, a significant determination when paying the Japanese annual road tax which kept the obligation affordable to most buyers, while having more power than the traditional inline engines.
Development of the RX-8 can be traced as far back as the 1995 Mazda RX-01 concept car, which featured an early iteration of the 13B-MSP engine. Naturally aspirated with side exhaust ports, this engine produced 210 hp (160 kW). Because of Mazda's financial state at the time and the growing market interest in SUVs, the RX-01 did not see further development or production. However, a "skunkworks project" engineering team within Mazda kept the development of the 13B-MSP alive using MX-5 Miata chassis, eventually catching the attention of management, which at this time had come under heavy influence from Ford. Development of the 13B-MSP advanced and eventually led to the RENESIS name debuting along with the RX-EVOLV concept car which began to bear semblance to the production RX-8 with the "freestyle" rear suicide doors. Styling was developed, in Mazda tradition, by competition between its design studios in Japan, the US, and Europe. The lead designer was Ikuo Maeda, the son of Matasaburo Maeda (the lead designer on the original Mazda RX-7). The project obtained official approval from management, and eventually the RX-8 concept car (design/engineering model) was produced and shown in 2001, closer resembling the production version. A near-production "reference exhibit" RX-8 was shown shortly thereafter at the 2001 Tokyo Motor Show, pending final approval for production. Production RX-8 closely resembles this vehicle save for minor trim details, and "Job 1" began in February 2003 at Mazda's Hiroshima plant in Japan.
The RX-8 was designed as a front mid-engine, rear-wheel drive four-door, four-seater quad coupe. The car has near 50:50 front-rear weight distribution and a low polar moment of inertia, achieved by mounting the engine behind the front axle and the fuel tank ahead of the rear axle. The front suspension uses double wishbones and the rear is multi-link. Weight is trimmed through the use of materials such as aluminium and plastic for several body panels. The rest of the body is steel, except for the plastic front and rear bumpers. The manual gearbox model uses a carbon fiber composite driveshaft to reduce the rotational mass (momentum of inertia) connected to the engine. At the heart of the Mazda RX-8 is its high-revving, 1.3-liter rotary engine. Power is sent to the rear wheels through a torque-sensing conical limited slip differential for improved handling. While underpowered in comparison to the final RX-7, the RX-8 is considered its successor as Mazda's rotary engine sports sedan. Its layout and clever engineering, along with typical Mazda suspension tuning have endowed it with excellent driving dynamics which have garnered much praise and numerous awards. It has also proved popular in Japan among car enthusiasts as well as aftermarket equipment manufacturers and professional tuners.
A prominent feature of the RX-8 is a pair of rear-hinged "freestyle" doors (similar to suicide doors) to provide easier access to the rear seats. The RX-8 has no B-pillar between the front and rear doors, but the leading edge of the rear door acts as a "virtual pillar" to maintain structural rigidity. Because of the overlapping design, the rear doors can be opened only when the front doors are open. Although by no means expansive, the RX-8's cabin was designed to allow enough room to house four adults, making it a genuine 4-seater rather than a 2+2.
The RX-8 was sold on export markets including Europe, whereas the RX-7 had been withdrawn from these markets after 1996 due to falling sales and thereafter only sold in Japan.
The first version of the RX-8, chassis code SE3P, and JM1FE, was produced from model year 2003, though the car's U.S. debut was the 2004 model. It is powered by the RENESIS 13B-MSP (2-rotor, multi-side-port) Wankel engine displacing 1.3 litres non-turbo (1308 cc). At launch, the RENESIS was available in standard and high power versions. The 4-port standard RENESIS produced 191 hp (142 kW) and was coupled with either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. The 6-port high power RENESIS was only available with a six-speed manual transmission and was rated at 250 hp (186 kW). For the North American market, Mazda revised the reported output rating of the standard and high power RENESIS soon after launch to 249 hp (186 kW) and 248 hp (185 kW), respectively. With exhaust ports now located in the side housing, the RENESIS boasted improved fuel efficiency and emissions rating over the 13B-REW employed by the last RX-7, thereby making it possible to be sold in North America.
At launch, the RX-8 was available in various models in different markets around the world. Standard models include:
6-speed manual "High Power" with a claimed output of 249 crank hp @ 8500 rpm and a 9,000 rpm redline (Sold in North America). This model was equivalent to the "Type S" trim in Japan.
5-speed manual "Standard Power" tuned to 141 kW (192 PS; 189 hp) with the redline reduced to 7,500 rpm. This powertrain combination was not available in North America.
6-speed automatic with manual paddle-shifting option (introduced in the U.S. with the 2006 model, replacing the 4-speed automatic of '04-'05) developing 158 kW (215 PS; 212 hp) and 159 lb·ft (216 N·m) of torque with a redline at 7,500 rpm. This was the revised standard RENESIS, now with two extra intake ports like the high power version. The '06 automatic RX-8 also was given a second oil cooler, as was standard in the manual transmission model.
Automatic versions all had lower output/lower rpm engines due to the lack of availability of a transmission that would be able to reliably cope with the engine's high rpm limits. The 2004 - 2005 automatic version only had one oil cooler instead of two and is prone to overheating if raced.
In 2005, Mazda introduced the first special edition RX-8 called "Sports Prestige Limited" in Japan and "Shinka" in North America. Shinka takes its name from the Japanese word meaning "transformation" or "evolution". Billed as a more luxurious grand touring model, this Shinka came with Black Cherry exterior color and Parchment leather interior along with subtly chromed 18" wheels. Out of the total production of 2150 vehicles, 1357 were produced for North America market. The most significant mechanical change were slightly revised Bilstein shocks and suspension cross member injected with urethane foam to improve ride quality.
Launched in 2006 the ‘Evolve’ was the first special edition for the UK. The new model was named after the original Mazda concept car seen in Detroit in 2000 and was limited to a production run of just 500.
Based on the 231 PS (170 kW; 228 hp) high-power version,it had several unique exterior features. These include a choice of two exclusive colours (Copper Red Mica 400 and Phantom Blue Mica 100), unique dark silver 18 × 8J alloy wheels, a polished aluminium Rotary crest on the front air dam, dark silver bezel headlamps, sports door mirrors, polished aluminium side air outlet fins, Rotary branded B-pillar trims, chrome exhaust surrounds.
Inside, the Evolve features unique stone leather and Alcantara sporty seat trim, plus black leather-wrapped steering wheel, gear knob and hand-brake lever. The Evolve Special Edition with its enhanced specification was great value for money the same price as a standard RX-8 231 PS model with leather trim.
In May 2006, the Mazda released the RX-8 PZ for the UK market. This car was jointly developed with motorsports company Prodrive. Only available in six-speed manual, it featured custom 10-spoke alloy wheels supplied by Italian F1 team supplier OZ Racing in "Dark Silver" finish, mirrors developed to reduce drag, front and rear black mesh grilles, and a rear spoiler to provide more stability at higher speeds. Both the wheels and rear wing are badged in carbon fiber with "Prodrive." Significant revisions were also made to the suspension to improve the handling: dampers from Bilstein and coil springs from Eibach are used in addition to reducing the ride height by 15 mm (0.6 in) and an increase in spring rate of 60%. Finally the car was supplied with a unique upgraded twin exhaust system, with exhaust tailpipes branded "Prodrive." Only 800 were made at an MSRP of £25,995. It was available in two colours, Galaxy Grey (380) and Brilliant Black (420).
The Revelation model was an Australian special edition of the RX8 with a 1000 car limited production run. The model incorporated the top spec features of the current RX8 with the 9 speaker Bose sound system, leather seats and with the same 13B Renesis rotary engine. Like regular RX-8 variants, the Revelation features 18-inch alloy wheels and tyres, traction control, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), six airbags, cruise control, power windows/mirrors, limited-slip differential, six-CD in-dash audio system and climate control air-conditioning. The revelation though, added stiffer anti roll bars, foam filled cross members and special edition grey spoke alloys. The Revelation also offered new colors such as the new Mazda Galaxy Grey, Phantom Blue, Copper Red, Brilliant Black and white pearl.
The 'Nemesis' model is the 3rd special edition model launched in the UK and is a UK exclusive. It was launched in 2006, although some cars were registered in 2007 due to stock runoff. The ‘Nemesis’ features unique paint colours and interior trim, plus an exclusive accessory package, at a cost that was at the time £330 less than the model on which it is based - when similarly specified. Based on the standard 192 PS (248 kW) version of the Mazda RX-8, it included a unique stone leather seat trim interior and came with a five-speed manual transmission. The Nemesis has several other unique exterior and interior features. Two exclusive colours were available, Copper Red Mica and Stormy Blue Mica, each Nemesis also comes with a polished aluminium Rotary crest on the front air dam, polished aluminium side air-outlet trims behind the front wheel arches, special B-pillar trims with a Rotary crest and ‘Nemesis’ badging. Inside these special edition models also featured Nemesis branded luxury carpet mats and Mazda RX-8 branded aluminium door scuff plates. Like other standard 248 PS (182 kW; 245 hp) RX-8s, the Nemesis has front fog lights, heated front seats, electrically-operated driver’s seat, climate control air-conditioning, nine-speaker BOSE premium audio system with 6-CD auto-changer, plus a black leather-wrapped steering wheel, gear knob and hand-brake lever. The Nemesis has a top speed of 139 mph (224 km/h) and accelerates from 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.2 seconds. Each Nemesis buyer also qualified for a complimentary Prodrive experience day. Just 350 examples were commissioned, 200 in Copper Red and 150 in Stormy Blue.
In 2007 Mazda released a UK-only limited edition known as the Kuro (Japanese for Black). Production run was limited to 500 cars, based on the 231ps model. All cars were finished in Sparkling Black Mica paint, with 18" alloy wheels finished in dark silver. Stone coloured leather upholstery featured throughout, and each car was individually numbered with stainless steel scuff plates, on the door sills. 
2007 saw the release of a special edition to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Mazda's rotary engine. The 40th Anniversary special editions were different in the Japan and North American markets. The Japanese version came in Marble White as an homage to the Mazda Cosmo Sport, which was initially only available in white. The North American version came in Metropolitan Grey Mica exterior with the interior clad in special Cosmo Red leather. It also had wheels of a new design later incorporated in the 2009 facelift, as well as an exclusive sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein dampers. Further upgrades included an enhanced urethane foam injected front cross member intended to improve steering feel. In North America, this special edition was available only in 2008.
For the Australian market, only 200 examples of the 40th Anniversary Edition were produced in 2008 exclusively. It was available in Metropolitan Grey, or Brilliant Black exterior paint. The interior came with exclusive white Alcantara and black leather seats with contrasting white stitching.
At the 2004 North American International Auto Show, Mazda unveiled the RX-8 Hydrogen RE concept car, designed to run on either hydrogen or gasoline. In February 2006, Mazda revealed that it would start leasing a dual fuel RX-8 to commercial customers in Japan, and in March 2006 announced its first two customers, claiming the first fleet deliveries of a dual hydrogen/gasoline production car. In 2008 30 RX-8 HRE were delivered to Hynor.
Following suit with the Roadster, Mazda introduced the NR-A/Party Race program for RX-8 in Japan in 2004. The NR-A kit, sold through Mazda dealers, brings the RX-8 up to spec in terms of eligibility for participation in the one-make Party Race sanctioned by the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF). The kit includes roll bar, sports radiator, oil cooler kit, tow hooks, and racing brake pads, and was only available for the Type S (high power) model.
Series 1 RX-8 commonly suffer from early engine failures due to combination of cold temperature wear and lack of rotor lubrication. It is also easy to flood the engine with uncombusted fuel if the car is started in the cold and shut off without letting it warm up or conduct manual purging process of the excess fuel by revving.
Engine failures are common with the pre-2006 model years as Mazda had multiple ECU flashes that continuously added more oil injection into the rotor during the first two year of public release. Common failure points are compression loss due to wear of rotor seal tip and water seals between the rotor housings.
In 2008, Mazda engineers improved the RX-8 body rigidity through the addition of structural reinforcements, by adding a trapezoidal shock tower brace and enhancing the local rigidity of the front suspension tower areas. The rear suspension geometry was revised for better handling, and the final drive gear ratio on manual transmission cars was shortened from 4.444 to 4.777 for improved off-the-line performance. While minimal, these changes gave the updated RX-8 increased acceleration and performance. The Renesis II motor iteration that launched with the 2008 model year included a third oil injection port in each rotor housing to feed oil to the middle of the rotor facing, making this their first all new EMOP (Electric Metering Oil Pump) with a total of 6 lubrication injectors, plus an all new engine oil pump.
The horsepower and torque power of the Series 2 RX-8 manual 6-Speed configuration usually have 160 to 170 rwhp and 120 to 130 ft-lb of torque compared to Series 1 at 165 to 175+ rwhp and 140 to 150+ ft-lb of torque.
The updated RX-8 also received design enhancements that were meant to freshen the styling and give the RX-8 a new look, without impairing the basic design theme. Refinements for the 2009 model year included a more aggressive restyled front and rear bumper as well as a new front fascia. The updated RX-8 also came with sporty, high-quality finish front and rear headlamps as well as larger exhaust pipes (now measuring 90 mm (3.5 in) across). The 09 RX-8 also offered a new five-spoke wheel design featuring a symbolic and sporty design reminiscent of the rotary engine, with different arrangements for each wheel size. There were three trims available to consumers from 2009 to 2012: Sport, Grand Touring, and R3.
The R3 version was introduced for the 2008 year model. The R3 package added slightly improved suspension over the base model by adding Bilstein shock absorbers and a foam filled front crossmember to improve rigidity. The R3 also came with 19-inch forged aluminum-alloy wheels and high performance tires. On the exterior, the R3 had a different, lower front bumper sporting a splitter, lower side sills, and a standard rear spoiler. There is a pair of special Recaro seats up front, along with the same 300-watt Bose audio system, Bluetooth, and Mazda advanced keyless entry and start system. No electric sunroof was offered in the R3 model.
The Spirit R was a limited edition RX-8 for the Japanese market, built to celebrate the end of RX-8 production. The name "Spirit R" was based on the final limited edition Mazda RX-7. The RX-8 Spirit R came equipped with exclusive piano-black headlights, front and rear red brake calipers, high performance Bridgestone summer tires, 300 watt Bose premium audio system and piano-black transmission tunnel trim. The engine ignition coils were upgraded to high output revision-C coils, for increased performance and engine response. The manual transmission model included slightly improved suspension with Blistein dampers and a urethane-foam-injected front suspension cross-member, exclusive red leather SPIRIT R bucket seats from Recaro, and lightweight, forged 19-inch BBS bronze aluminum alloy wheels. The automatic transmission model included leather seats with lumbar support in black with red stitching, a leather-wrapped multi function steering wheel and a center console box front seat armrest covered with synthetic leather with red stitching, and 18-inch lightweight BBS dark alloy wheels. The body color choices for the Spirit R were limited to Aluminum Metallic, Sparkling Black Mica, and a special color, Crystal White Pearl Mica, exclusive to the Spirit R.
A small number of Spirit R RX-8's were sold in Indonesia, Malaysia, and New Zealand.
Mazda North American Operations extended the engine warranty on all model year 2004-2008 RX-8s. The warranty extension covers only the engine core which consists of the rotor housing and internal parts as well as the seals and gaskets. It does not include clutch or drive train (transmission or differential). An extended engine warranty for emissions was not offered in any other RX-8 markets.
Mazdaspeed, Mazda's in-house tuning and high-performance arm, has produced various after-sale parts and accessories for the RX-8, including full body kits, suspension upgrades, engine upgrades (such as cold air intake kit and catback exhausts), and various interior accessories. In addition, Mazdaspeed has also produced several series of showroom-ready limited-production RX-8s in Japan featuring some of these parts and accessories. To date, however, there has not yet been a full Mazdaspeed-tuned RX-8 along the same line as the Mazdaspeed Protegé, Mazdaspeed MX-5, Mazdaspeed6, or the Mazdaspeed3.
The RX-8 has been campaigned and used in various racing series by privateers. It has seen a considerable amount of success, the most prominent of which being the 2008 and 2010 24 Hours of Daytona GT-class wins campaigned by SpeedSource Race Engineering. This victory also marks the 23rd endurance race win at Daytona by a Mazda rotary-powered race car. While the cars are powered by the 20B rotary engines, the car is in fact built on a tube frame chassis and not on the production car.
Ryan Eversley won both races of the 2010 SCCA World Challenge Mid-Ohio Grand Prix in the touring car class.
Other racing series include the KONI Challenge Series in the Street Tuner class. In the UK, the RX8 featured in the Mazda sponsored "Formula Women" series (2004), which involved all women drivers with slightly modified RX8s, and the RX8 was also run successfully in Britcar series endurance races (2005/2006). In Belgium, Mazda are currently sponsoring an RX8 silhouette racer in the GT series. The car also won the IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge in 2005.
The next generation rotary engine, dubbed 16x (Sky R), is currently under development.Rumours suggest that the RX-8 may be replaced by a new smaller, lighter, simpler sports car set to compete with the likes of the Toyota 86. Mazda’s new 16x (Sky R) rotary engine is rumored to be at the heart of the RX-8 successor. Rumors suggest the RX-8 successor will include the introduction of direct injection and hybrid technology, as well as aluminium side housings with 1600 cc capacity instead of the 1308 cc capacity from the RX-8. Rumors also suggest that the new engine dimensions of the 16x will have increased stroke and reduced rotor width for improved thermal efficiency and more torque. Japanese reports and Autocar both state that the next generation RX-8 will have around 290 horsepower, and weigh around 2,700 lb (1,200 kg).
Rumors suggest that development work on the next generation rotary engine have been given a lower priority and will proceed at a slower pace, due to limited engineering resources and tightening emission regulations, making development of a high performance rotary engine a lower priority compared to the next generation MX-5. However, in a press release on February 2012 Mazda stated that development of rotary engines will continue.
The sales of the RX-8 ended in 2010 in Europe after failing to meet increasingly demanding emission standards.
The production of the RX-8 ended in 2012 in Japan. Mazda has produced 192,094 RX-8s since 2003. Production of the rotary ended in June 21, 2012, followed by the end of RX-8 assembly on June 22, 2012 at Mazda's Ujina, Hiroshima plant.
By the end of 2015 the trend away from rotary engines at Mazda seems to be reversing, with the announcement of the RX-9 which incorporates some of the improvements mentioned above but heavier and more powerful than the RX-8.
As of October 2006 the RX-8 has won 37 international motoring awards including 2003 International Engine of the Year, the 2003 Japanese Car of the Year, Australia's Wheels magazine's Car of the Year for 2003, the 2004 Singapore Car of the Year, the 2004 U.S. Best Sports Car, and several UK Best Car Awards. It was named on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 2004, 2005, and 2006. It also took home 1st place on Car and Driver's "Four of a Kind" comparison test. 2010 RX-8 placed 3rd out of 7 on Car and Driver's The Best-Handling Car in America for Less Than $100,000. It was also awarded the Editors' Choice Award by Grassroots Motorsports in 2003.