By on June 27, 2011

Having seen its RX-8 banned from Europe for flunking emissions tests, Mazda may be going to extreme lengths to improve the efficiency of its next-gen rotary engine (codenamed 16x) which has been in development since 2007. Autocar reports

The 16X’s capacity has been raised from 1304cc to 1600cc, and it is also physically smaller and partly built from aluminium. The changes are designed to improve two of the biggest issues with rotary engine performance: fuel economy and torque delivery.

The Mazda source said the new engine “needed a smaller hole on the wall [of the combustion chamber]” as a result of eliminating the space-hungry normal spark plug. He also admitted to Autocar that the use of laser ignition “was absolutely possible”.

Recent advances in Japan have created high-power lasers made from ceramics that measure just 9mm in diameter and 11mm in length, easily small enough to fit into a car engine.

Not only would laser ignition allow the 16x to burn leaner, it would also allow more precise control of ignition points and timing. More importantly, it would cement the Wankel rotary’s status as the least-necessary, most overly-complex and thoroughly awesome engine ever created. And they say emissions standards always make cars less interesting…

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53 Comments on “Wild-Ass Rumor Of The Day: Mazda Working On Rotary Engine With Freaking Lasers?...”


  • avatar
    mike978

    “More importantly, it would cement the Wankel rotary’s status as the least-necessary, most overly-complex and thoroughly awesome engine ever created.” Hilarious and true.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, I will agree with you that, at this point, the rotary engine is the answer to a question that no one has asked. But not about the “complexity” point, given that today’s piston engines all feature variable valve timing and lift . . . which sounds pretty complex to me.

    In fact, it strikes me that one problem with the rotary engine is that it’s equivalent of valve timing and lift – the opening and closing of exhaust and intake ports by the rotor – can not be made variable, but is fixed in the physical configuration of the engine.

    Having owned one of the original rotary Rx-2s for 5 years I will say that I’ve not heard or driven a piston engine at 7,000 rpm that did not sound or feel like it was trying to self-destruct . . . in comparison to the 2-rotor Wankel engine at the same engine speed.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      You’ve never heard a sport bike turning 10k rpm?

      Or higher?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Or an AP1 S2000 cruising at 7,000 rpm on the highway? My friend’s did it quite happily, while he had a 4.77:1 axle in it.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        You’ve never heard a sport bike turning 10k rpm?

        While true, a sport bike doesn’t have to haul around a few thousand pounds of mass. You can build a much different engine when you’re not having to worry about petty things like torque.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Yeah, and it does not sound like a motor that’s good for 50K miles, leave alone 100K.

        Ditto for the Honda S2000, which I test drove and decided not to buy.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        There are plenty of S2000s with 50-100k+ on them. I’d be very surprised if they didn’t last longer than rotarys, if running at merely 7000. They sound trashy compared to the RX-8, though, eve though that has more to do with the I4 layout than with being a piston engine per se. The latest M3 V8 is smooth as silk at 7000+, as was the previous M3 I6.

        A bigger issue is, that once built with the short strokes necessary to rev a high as a Wankel, piston engines starts taking on Wankel torque and fuel efficiency characteristics as well.

      • 0 avatar
        Nicholas Weaver

        My (2L) S2000 has 70K on it (35K from me). Runs like a top, screams like a banshee.

        An absolutely brilliant daily driver…

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      In fact, it strikes me that one problem with the rotary engine is that it’s equivalent of valve timing and lift – the opening and closing of exhaust and intake ports by the rotor – can not be made variable, but is fixed in the physical configuration of the engine.

      You could do it by playing Rube Goldberg with the physical layout of the holes in the housing, possibly to the point of having electric valves, but it would be unpleasantly complex.

      I thought Mazda was looking at mating the rotary with an electric motor? That seemed like a good idea: the power and efficiency troughs of the engine are well suited to electric augmentation, and it’s small and light enough that shoehorning wouldn’t be the issue it is for a piston engine.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        That application might make sense. One advantage of the rotary is high output for its physical size and weight. Although, I’ve always wondered about a small gas turbine in a series hybrid application as another possibility. The turbine would have to be started and stopped, and operated only in its most efficient operating range.

      • 0 avatar
        Pig_Iron

        @psarhjinian

        A la Yamaha Power Valve System (YPVS)?

        http://www.yamaha-motor.ch/german/designcafe/en/Images/1980%20YPVS%20power%20curve%20PS_tcm71-307559.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      “I’ve not heard or driven a piston engine at 7,000 rpm that did not sound or feel like it was trying to self-destruct”

      Set your DVR to record the next F1 race and enjoy the sound.

    • 0 avatar
      onechoag

      Well let me tell you that in the Renesis engine for the manual transmission only, Mazda did a third intake port that is higher in the combustion chamber than the regular intake ports that opens only at high RPM letting more air. This 3rd ports acts the same as Vtech in Honda engine. It just leaves the intake port open for a longer period of time when is necessary.

      Renesis engines are very high-tech rotary engines already. I am glad that Mazda is still developing them.

      Even though this new laser ignition developments are at the cutting edge, the rotary engine is still a very simple 3 moving parts only that do not define Newton laws of physics.

      • 0 avatar
        jaje

        Just to clarify a mispelling: VTEC = Honda’s patented and first to production variable valve timing with electronic lift control technology. Whereas, VTech = an Hong Kong electronics manufacturer call Video Technology, LTD. VTech also may refer to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      The Honda S2000 sounds awesome between 6000 and 9000 rpm, with no hint of looming self-destruction.

    • 0 avatar
      phu5ion

      The rotary equivalent to variable valve timing would be 6 port induction and Mazda introduced that in 1981. At high RPM (3800 if memory serves), vacuum actuators open additional ports in the intake allowing the ports to stay open longer, the engine will suck in more air and make more power. Later, the S5 introduced Variable Dynamic Effect Intake (VDI) which opened a crossover along the intake track which used the port closing pulse of one rotor to force air into the other rotor.

  • avatar
    tom

    Where is my Wankel?

  • avatar
    L'avventura

    The wankel engine does have its advantages, however the persistent problem has been that under low-medium load situations it has difficulty achieving stoichiometric air-fuel ratio that would result in a leaner combustion. So under the varying load demands of the modern automobile results in poor mileage.

    So the expected addition of direct-injection in the 16X will have a very significant impact on wankels especially in the low-mid loads where they have traditionally been weak.

    The reality is that wankel engines are efficient when load is consistent, which is why they are used in generators especially as they are small and modular. This is why Mazda has been investigating the wankel’s application in hybrids and range-extenders as the engine could operate at its most efficient load.

    At the same time we should observe that Mazda seems to have put significant R&D in their traditional engines as well, their Sky-G and Sky-D DI gasoline and diesel engines share an identical 14:1 compression ratio. Meaning that not only is the the highest compression ratio gasoline engine, and lowest compression ratio diesel engine on the market, it means that Mazda can share the maximum amount of parts between gasoline and diesel engines. So we should expect that any future wankel would bring something more to the table than what its other engines already achieve.

    • 0 avatar
      mtymsi

      When I read the compression ratio is identical for the gas & diesel and they were designed for maximum parts sharing I immediately think of GM’s car diesels from the early 80′s. Just sayin.

    • 0 avatar

      @L’avventura: Do you know why modern diesels are having ever lower compression? It used to be over 20 to 1. I have to assume its because they’re all have quite high boost from their turbos. Or?

    • 0 avatar
      L'avventura

      @mtymsi

      GM’s diesel engines of the 80′s couldn’t be more dissimilar to what we see now with the convergence of many diesel/gasoline technologies. We’ve only recently seen gasoline engines remotely approaching diesel-like compression ratios, and most of that has only recently been made possible due to direct-injection and ULSD (ultra-low sulfur) fuel that has been made available in the US since 2007. Even today Mazda has to lower their Sky-G engines to 13:1 in the US market compared to 14:1 in European/Japanese markets. The goal of every manufacturer is achieving HCCI through modern DI systems, “80% the efficiency of diesel with 20% the cost”.

      @ Paul Niedermeyer

      Mazda claims that the lower compression ration of the Sky-D engines improves ‘refinement’, but the real reason we’ve been seeing lower compression ratios is due to emissions regulations. Higher compression ratios, a leaner burn, results in higher NOx and particulate matter emissions. Which in turn results in more expensive catalytic converters. By keeping compression ration low Mazda can not only use aluminum more extensively in the engine, but also reduce the cost to meet various emissions standards.

    • 0 avatar
      L'avventura

      @ Paul Niedermeyer

      Found a link (Mazda’s reasoning):

      http://www.mazda.com/mazdaspirit/skyactiv/engine/skyactiv-d.html

  • avatar
    cmoibenlepro

    Did they address the oil consumption issue?

    • 0 avatar
      Boff

      What issue? A small amount of oil is burned by design…it is injected into the chambers to lubricate the apex seals. Keeping up with it is about as much of a hassle as keeping your dash dusted.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    “…piston engines go ‘boing, boing, boing, boing, boing’, and the Mazda goes ‘hmmm’…

    Good grief, Mazda! Give it up already! This engine, while impressive in its simplicity, just is not suitable for an ever-changing environment of RPM’s as a tried-and-true ICE.

    • 0 avatar
      usnidc

      I have a 79 RX-7 with over 150,000 miles on it that still runs good and a 2008 RX-8 with almost 25,000 miles of almost daily driving that runs perfectly.

      Mazda won the 24 hours of Le Mans with a rotory. Mazda rotary engines are VERY competitive in GT racing.

      And oil… My RX-8 burns about .5 – 1.0 quarts of oil every 3000 miles or so. I have driven MANY piston engines that burn that much or more. ALL piston engines burn a little oil too. It takes less than a minute to check when I fill up the gas and less than 2 minutes if I have to add oil. If you drive a performance car, you better be checking the oil every fillup or two anyway.

      Driving my RX-8 down a twisty back road is one of the great joys in life. Until you have done that, or better yet, drive a rotary powered car around a track, then you are unqualified to comment about the limitations of a rotary power car.

  • avatar
    M 1

    I wonder, will the lasers be powerful enough to burn through the crud that is practically guaranteed to almost immediately plug those tiny little laser ignition ports? Combustion chambers aren’t exactly the world’s cleanest environment.

    I wonder what the ignition system will look like? “Sure they LOOK like 5-gallon buckets, but they’re actually charge-capacitors…”

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      Mazda’s engineers probably never thought of this. You should tell them.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        When I recall the engine cover that must be removed to add oil to the RX-8′s sump, the sump that oil is consumed from each time the engine rotates, I can understand why one might assume that they don’t think things through at Mazda.

      • 0 avatar
        Boff

        Solution: broom engine cover (which takes 0.25 seconds and two hands to remove) and install billet rotor-shaped oil cap!

      • 0 avatar
        M 1

        @srogers: Perhaps you’ve noticed this section is where people “discuss” things. We do this by having “conversations” based on “thoughts” which occur to us. Ponder it for awhile, then come back when you have something useful to contribute.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    Has Mazda hired Dr. Evil?

    • 0 avatar
      ChesterChi

      I had one simple request. And that is to have engines with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads ! Now evidently my cycloptic colleague informs me that that *can* be done.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    So what would a laser ignition do for piston engines?

  • avatar
    HiFlite999

    Rotary oil consumption is a red herring. 1 qt/2000-2500 miles or so shouldn’t be a big deal for anyone driving a sports car. I find that most people dissing rotaries have never driven one. They are uniquely smooth and turbine-like compared to any piston engine I’ve driven. If that’s of no interest to you, don’t buy one. Most all the blah blah about torque, including that in the auto press, makes no sense at all. A rocket-engined dragster doing the quarter mile in 3 seconds at a bazillion mph, has no torque what-so-ever! Having zero torque, the CW goes, means it can’t accelerate at all. Bologna. For any semi-conventional engine, horsepower (kW) does the work. In english units, HP = (Torque x RPM)/5252. A diesel has a large torque number but at low RPMs, a motorcycle (or rotary), the opposite. An F1 engine has a lot of both, but costs a half-million bucks each. YMMV.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      To the contrary, I’d be deeply concerned the minute any of my sports cars started eating a quart of oil at that rate.

      • 0 avatar
        usnidc

        From my BMW Z4 manual:

        “As with fuel economy, oil consumption is
        directly influenced by your driving style and
        vehicle operating conditions.”

        Drive any car hard and you will use more oil.

  • avatar

    S2000′s metal-matrix cylinders do look kinda pedestrian in comparison, yeah.

  • avatar
    ChesterChi

    If only Saab had used rotary engines, it would have saved the company. Two stroke rotary engines installed behind the rear axle, with the ignition key inserted where the dipstick is located in most other cars.

    As people are so fond of saying on TTAC, “I would seriously consider buying one”. Ha ha ha.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Mazda’s slavish dedication to the Wankel engine is quixotic at best. It’s continued development is merely a function of corporate pride, not business sense.

    I tire of hearing of all its advantages. The Truth About Wankels is you never hear of one setting records for handling or acceleration, and there are no awards for ‘low hoodline’ (I’m also looking at you, Subaru, re: the boxer engine).

    The weird torque curve is novel but not endearing to drive.

    Mazda’s Wankel may win all the battles, but it lost the war decades ago.

    • 0 avatar
      Boff

      “Mazda’s slavish dedication to the Wankel engine is quixotic at best. It’s continued development is merely a function of corporate pride, not business sense.”

      The same could be said about Porsche’s rear-engine layout or boxer engines, pushrods in GM small-blocks, live axles in Mustangs, inline-6′s in BMW’s, AWD in Audis, etc. etc. If every engineering solution devolved to the most efficient common denominator, the car world would be very much the poorer.

    • 0 avatar
      lastwgn

      Count me out if all car and engine design is based on “business sense.” Business sense does not push the envelope or maintain a niche product for which designers, engineers and customers have a passion. Since the Camry makes a lot of business sense, maybe that’s all we need, a world full of Camry’s.

      Yup, business sense. That is what makes a great car experience.

      And as for not endearing to drive, I guess to each his own, but I am glad every morning when I go into my garage that Mazda is willing to step out and be different.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      @Boff & lastwgn:

      You mistake my meaning.

      Boff – Other people do all those things you mention, so they make sense (rear engines, boxers, pushrod small blocks, solid live axles, inline 6s, AWD, etc.). As a design engineer, I applaud the unique solution to a problem. However, the rotary has run its course after many decades, and offers no meaningful advantage over other ICEs. Regulation is overtaking its advancement.

      lastwgn – Business sense doesn’t mean we all drive Camrys. It means that rotary development has to eventually pay for itself. I doubt that laser ignition or other means of staying ahead of emissions regulations will actually pay off, given the very small number of rotary engines Mazda actually sells. I too am glad Mazda is willing to be different, but I’m not willing to pay for it. Passion – though admirable – doesn’t pay the bills.

      Consider the Chrysler Turbine – lots of people admired it, but it would have been a colossal business failure had Chrysler released a product with it. Nobody has undertaken a serious effort to revive that technology for cars, because it’s a financial black hole. Such is the rotary.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    So am i the only one old enough to appreciate the irony in “controlling ignition points and timing” with lasers?

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      I did wonder about the “ignition point” comment (I assume it doesn’t mean “points” in the spinning-contactor sense that I think you’re referring to).

      I can’t imagine they’d actually need to alter anything but timing.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Does this mean Mazda’s rotary engine will see its fuel consumption go from bad to mediocre? The latest jump from execrable to bad was impressive.

  • avatar
    Austerror

    There certainly are a lot of people that like to say bad things about the rotary!

    I own (and drive) a Eunos Cosmo. It is currently not my daily driver, but I have used it as a daily.

    My Cosmo has a 20B twin turbo. 0 to 100km/h is around 4.5seconds. Thats 0 to 60mph I think. Fuel economy on the freeway is just a little more than 10L per 100km. Around town, depending on how I’m driving the economy can be up to 2x as bad.

    It is indeed not the most fuel efficient car on the market. But it is far from the worst.

    For those of you that don’t know, the 20B is the 3 rotor engine, its a 13B with an extra rotor. It does not need any oil top ups between oil changes (every 5000km). In fact I have never observed the oil going down at all.

    I’ve owned my Cosmo for about 5 years now and I won’t be selling it. The WORST thing about the car is the warm up cycle.

    A correct warm up and cool down cycle is a must for the 20B. So its not the car you can drive if you are in a hurry. Its forte is long haul freeway drives. For example from Sydney to Melbourne.

    Also, the Cosmo is SMOOTH. The power delivery never gets boring! I’ve been in a bunch of cars and none of them compare to the Cosmo. I have not been in a new BMW M5, I’m sure that would be smoother.

    But my Cosmo was made in 1995.

    I am a Mazda fan and have driven Mazdas for a long time. My current daily is a Lexus IS200. It was the right price and condition :)

    The IS200 IS a very nice car and to prove I’m not some crazy mazda nut, I would buy Lexus again, they make nice cars.

    As for the rotary. Yes they do need to be cared for, but if you look after them right, they will look after you.

    The 16X is going to be EPIC.

    PS If you have not been in a fast rotary powered car, find someone to take you for a spin. Its an experience that will make you grin!

    Same goes for a fast piston powered car. They are fun too, but different.

  • avatar
    acmech

    This article was posted over 2 years ago (6-27-11),and while interesting- I’m not thrilled at the very opinionated & FICTITIOUS comment of “cementing the Wankels current status (review text)…” by its’ author… Sure Mazda has spent a great deal of money developing this powerplant design, and so have many Wankel enthusiasts… This is what it takes to develop things that work well & endure stressful conditions… As far as not setting records with this design, has anyone who is reading these responses even looked into the history of what vehicles using this engine design have done? Look at who won the 1991 24-hours of LeMans… It was a MAZDA 787B powered by a Wankel… This is the ultimate test of performance & endurance of Man & machine…. How about the stunning performance of the drag cars and wheel-driven WLSR racecars? Don’t forget about the very satisfied owners of numerous Wankel powered sport aircraft… The Truth About Cars is that SIMPLICITY will often be the result of reliability and performance…. This simplicity often takes ENORMOUS amounts of money, research & development to master the art of function… After the devastating results of the Tsunami that Japan has endured since this article was posted, many expensive research/development programs had to be put on hold to aid the recovery of this country… I’m inclined to think the Wankel will re-surface as soon as the funding for R&D can be made available… BTW, the Wankel engine is by far the simpler design and has much LESS vulnerability to mechanical malfunction than many of the current RIDICULOUSLY over-complicated contraptions that roll out of the doors of many vehicle manufacturing plants… This is something that consumers should be looking forward to…


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