Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 5 4.0

One engine is available in the RX-8 but it comes in two outputs of 192bhp or 231bhp. Confusingly the less powerful engine has more pulling power but comes with a five-speed gearbox rather than the six-speed in the higher output version. The engine itself is actually only a 1.3-litre unit - it's small size is down to the unusual rotary design, but while the power figures are good the engine does need to be worked quite hard to get the most from it.

It has a characterful buzzy note and revs all the way up to 9,000rpm - but find yourself in too high a gear and the RX-8 will struggle to gain speed, which can make motorway driving tiring. But that's not to say the RX-8 is slow. The 231bhp variant races from 0-60mph in just 6.4 seconds and it's an enjoyable unit to exploit on a back road. Unfortunately fuel economy soon suffers as a result and while Mazda claims a figure of 25mpg is achievable (27mpg in the lower output car) in reality you'll be lucky to see more than 20mpg in everyday driving.

Many comparisons were made between the Mazda and its rival the Nissan 350Z as both cars were launched around the same time. While the Mazda can't compete with the Nissan for outright power, it is superbly balanced and responsive making it less intimidating to drive quickly on twisting roads. Body roll is minimal through bends while ride comfort is very good too - although rough surfaces will soon unsettle it.

Thanks to the responsive steering the RX-8 feels agile through corners and is surefooted too, even in the wet. The Prodrive developed PZ model is more driver-focused than the standard car with lowered and stiffer suspension, a specially tuned exhaust and a rear spoiler. The facelifted R3 model (launched in August 2008) has a stiffer bodyshell and new sports suspension along with revised steering which gives a better feel.

It's even more sporty than the old model, although the ride is a little firm over rough roads.