Mazda’s Rotary Engine Is Returning, But There’s A Catch

Ever since Mazda’s last rotary powered vehicle, the RX-8, ceased production in 2012, fans of the rotary have been hoping to see it make a comeback in a new model. After numerous rumors and teasers such as the RX-Vision concept, it looks like the rotary will be making a comeback, but not how we had all hoped it would. 

Mazda’s global powertrain head, Mitsuo Hitomi, says the rotary will return in 2019. However, it wont be the heart of another rev-happy sports car, instead Mazda says the rotary would make the perfect range extender for an upcoming electric vehicle. “I think that’s probably what it will be,” Hitomi said during a sneak preview at the automaker’s Japanese proving grounds.

According to Hitomi, Mazda feels that the rotary’s ability to make a lot of power in a small, low-vibration package would make it an ideal range extender on its first electric car. But it also serves as a nod to the company’s heritage and keeps the rotary tradition alive.

Mazda says its new electric vehicles, set to arrive in 2019, will offer vehicles with or without range extenders, as well as hybridized powertrains. But what of that ultra-powerful rotary powered performance vehicle we keep hearing about?

While Hitomi confirmed that Mazda’s engineering team has continued work on a larger Wankel that could be used for a future sports car, it is not known when, or whether or not that project will be given the green light. Mazda is currently trying to decide “whether the business conditions will be met or not … not the big technical issues. Are we going to really sell that many models of sports cars? There aren’t that many auto companies selling multiple sports cars.”

Mazda is right to be cautious if they are going to make something radically different from the MX-5. We all assumed the next rotary-equipped vehicle to be another RX that would easily upstage the Miata, and presumably, therein lies Mazda’s concerns, they don’t want to kill Miata sales.

“The technology of the rotary engine is something only Mazda can build,” said Mazda’s global design chief Ikuo Maeda during last year’s unveiling of the RX-Vision Concept. “If we give up, it’ll disappear … Fujiwara (Head of R&D) wants to build a rotary and a sports car, and I have the same feeling: a grown-up sports car that can lead our brand — an icon.” 

“A car needs to have character, which means it has to convey that traditional machine-like feel. It must still have a mechanical quality,” Maeda concluded.

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