Cosmetic tweaks are only part of the story of this Mazda RX-8 facelift, and it is even more fun to drive than before

What is it?

On first glance the R3 looks like a simple facelift on the RX-8. New front grille and bumper, new rear lights, bigger bore exhaust tailpipe and a little tweak here and there.

Except the changes go a little bit deeper than cosmetic. The engine has the same power output but the oiling system has been substantially modified with a bigger sump and new pump. Hopefully this will have cured the rotary Mazda’s thirst for oil. The steering has also been changed, dampers revised and the shell made 5.4 per cent stiffer.

What is it like?

I hadn’t driven a Mazda RX-8 for at least a couple of years and within a few minutes on empty roads I was a bit taken aback by how good it felt.

Better, in fact, than I remembered. The rotary engine is as rev-happy and exciting as ever, but now the steering feels sharper, the turn-in more precise and the body more tightly controlled.

The R3’s 19in alloy wheels and 40-profile tyres look great but also look as though they might ruin the ride. They don’t – the Bilstein dampers are well tuned to balance handling and ride.

The car itself has been improved more than the sum of the changes. It’s sharper, more nimble and even more fun to drive than before. With Recaro seats, cruise control, a Bose audio system and several other gadgets as standard, the R3 is good value, too.

Should I buy one?

Yes, because its days could be numbered. The rotary engine is still a thirsty engine (24mpg on the combined cycle is not that clever), but that is its nature. It also revs to 9000rpm and sounds like no other engine. All car enthusiasts, and certainly all lovers of the internal combustion engine, should experience the rotary once in their lives.

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