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July 29, 2003

WHILE MICKEY KAUS CONTINUES TO MAINTAIN STUBBORN SILENCE on the vital RX-8 question, I have been tirelessly looking into the matter.

I was passing by the Knoxville Mazda dealership today and stopped in to drive one. The first thing I noticed was the low-pressure salesmanship. In sharp contrast to my unfortunate experience with the Nissan 350Z a while back, they were happy to let me drive a car, and exerted no pressure to buy one on the spot, as so many dealers do.

I liked the car very much. The styling is somewhat Batmobile-like, but that's a good thing, I think. The interior is surprisingly roomy -- I even fit in the coupe's backseat, which is accessed via "suicide" reverse-opening half doors that make getting in and out easy. I wouldn't want to sit there for a long trip, but you could easily put two full-sized adults in there when going out for lunch, and there's plenty of room for one or two kids. The stereo was excellent -- the only car stereo I've heard at any price that matches the quality of the one in my Passat wagon, which for some reason is exceptionally good.

The model that I drove was the top-of-the-line "Grand Touring" model with 18-inch wheels, DVD navigation, etc. Adjusting the seat position, etc., was easy and intuitive (then again, I've owned two Mazdas in the past, a 1980 RX-7 and a 1993 MX-6). I didn't use the DVD navigation system (I don't think I'd ever buy one of those, anyway) but the climate and radio controls were easy and featured big, tactile knobs. The seats, in Mazda tradition, were very comfortable.

Shifting was delightful -- short throws, very precise, very positive. The engine was powerful, though not as powerful as, say, the Infiniti G35 coupe. But the Mazda felt better. Steering was extremely taut and responsive, and the weight distribution is just about perfectly 50-50. It shows in the handling. The rotary engine had a very pleasant sound, though it lacked the mild almost-backfiring on deceleration that earlier rotaries had. Overall, the feel was quite similar to my 1980 RX-7 at some subliminal level, even though the new version is much more refined and powerful. I liked it a lot.

Weirdly, a spare tire is optional -- the car doesn't come with one, just with a repair kit. In a way this makes sense. I haven't had to change a tire in well over a decade, even though I've had major nail punctures. Today's tires seal that sort of thing pretty well. But still. . . .

I was pretty impressed. So is reader John Brothers who emails:

I have had the good luck and foresight to own one of the very first RX-8s in Atlanta. It is an incredibly fun car - although the manual is somewhat cramped for people over 5'10 - Luckily I have an automatic (I'm 6'1). It is nimble and sleek, gets lots of double takes and is hands down the best car I've ever driven.

Plus, it looks like a 944, which was my dream car when I was a kid.

I didn't find the interior cramped (I drove a manual), and I'm six-three. But what does Mickey think?

UPDATE: Reader Jon Foster emails these thoughts on successful car-sales techniques:

When we went to look at the Protege 5 for the wife, we were driving around in it before the salesman actually asked us for our names. Several months later when we wanted to buy, he got the sale. I am looking at a Mazda 6 for myself, and believe me, he will get the sale again.

Wish all dealerships had such nice salesmen!

Yeah.

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