By on September 30, 2014

Mazda 787B + Rotary Engine

Can you imagine one day visiting a Mazda showroom to buy a new RX-7 and finding anything but a rotary engine under the hood? Neither can global design chief — and RX-8 designer — Ikuo Maeda.

Automotive News reports the designer, whose father gave the world the aforementioned sports car, is hard at work on bringing back the RX line. Though nothing is set in stone, and that the Skyactiv engine “is a wonderful powertrain,” Maeda insists the next RX must live up to its name.

However, engineers are still at a loss as to how to make the rotary engine cleaner to meet today’s more stringent emission guidelines, having been hard at work in the background since the Renesis 16X engine debuted in the back of the Taiki concept in 2007. Mazda itself hasn’t pushed the rotary back into the spotlight since giving the RX-8 the ax in 2012.

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75 Comments on “Maeda: New Mazda RX Must Have Rotary Power...”


  • avatar
    Ooshley

    Absolutely I can. The rotary engine is what puts me off the RX series.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      I love the rotary almost as much as I love SAABs (I’m irrational like that), but a turbo V6 → a really good one ← would be almost as awesome to me. If Mazda put as much effort into one of those as the rotary, I think they could be a world dominator.

      • 0 avatar
        ZT

        Heh, as a former Mazda RX-7 fanatic (’88 GXL, ’90 Turbo II) and SAAB-ophile (Viggen, 9000 Turbo, 9-5 Aero, etc.) it is funny how those two worlds collide. We like weird cars, I guess.

        But yes, maybe it’s time to say goodbye to the wankel and put a “normal” engine in the next Mazda sports car. Would love to see something based off the Alfa 4C platform.

        • 0 avatar
          notapreppie

          Hell, just bring the damn RX-8 back with a longitudinal version of the MZR 2.3L DISI from the MS3. Call it the MX-8 and marvel at how it destroys the Toyobarus.

          I miss everything about my RX-8 except the Renesis.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            This. Please. What a great chassis.

            Here’s an oddball suggestion to go with that: develop a pushrod V6 for it. A 7000 rpm pushrod V6 would probably be lighter and more compact than the turbo 4. I prefer the linear response of a naturally aspirated engine.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            I’ve driven at least 30 new vehicles (probably closer to 40 or 50) over the last 5 or 6 years, and not one has as good a chassis as the RX-8.

            I do not baby the throttle and consistently get between 275 (whatever brand gas E10) and 300 (Shell or Costco gasoline) miles per 13.5 gallon fillup, which is right around 20 mpg with a 6 speed manual.

            I have 99,800 miles on the odometer and have not experienced a single non-maintenance issue.

            I literally can’t find a better daily driver that manages to combine utility, comfort and handling, with a quality interior, that is also very capable in the snow (like BMW 3 Series are) with dedicated snow tires.

            I should have bought one of the last 2011s produced just to have replaced my current one.

            I have no idea what I will replace it with at this point.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            No need to think too hard about it. You’ve probably got a lot more years left in it. Judging by how many good condition low mileage examples are for sale for decent prices in my area, and being heavily involved in two RX-8 purchases in the last two years, it shouldn’t be terribly hard to find a summer-use-only example when the time comes anyway. In terms of private sales, my area has 14 for sale with under 60k miles and there’s even an R3 with only 15k miles.

            I was right at 20 mpg for the week of city driving I did with one. I had a lot of fun with it and hit the shift chime multiple times a day, but I was also into 6th at 30 mph whenever I wasn’t accelerating hard and I don’t use AC below highway/freeway speeds. With that short gearing, the absurdity of the EPA shifting points is exaggerated. They require that the car stay in third up to 40 mph. I can’t imagine loafing along at 4500 rpm.

            My main concern is regarding the pre-mix to keep the apex seals properly lubed. I strongly believe in using that stuff. My buddy’s RX-8 is catless and the exhaust fumes are terrible even at a 200:1 mix. I’d keep the cat on and hope that small amount of oil wouldn’t harm it. Plenty of piston engines burn that much oil anyway.

            The rotary is charming, but I think a piston engine would generate more sales and do a better job of keeping the chassis alive.

    • 0 avatar
      akatsuki

      Agree 100%. The rotary will always be a curiosity. If Mazda is serious about it they will need to use it in many more models to justify investing in it.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    This is what goes wrong when engineers fixate on their engineering fetishes instead of on reality.

    The brain damage being invested in this could be dedicated to something else. The rotary was cool in its day, but it is now obsolete technology. Piston engines have improved at a faster rate, and the rotary possible can’t catch up, as it is just too inefficient.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      True, unless your customer base shares the fetish, a la Porsche. In this case, one could argue that a cult of rotorheads exists.

      We all tell ourselves stories to make things seem better.

      • 0 avatar
        kvndoom

        There aren’t enough rotary fans who would buy this car new to make a business case.

        • 0 avatar
          319583076

          Are you sure about that? You’re implying the market is too small to be profitable for Mazda. Perhaps they’re looking at it with a different perspective.

          What was the business case for the LFA?

          • 0 avatar
            kvndoom

            Toyota can afford to lose billions on pet projects. Mazda is to cars what Blackberry is to phones. Every penny is sacred right now.

            I’m not knocking the car- I had one for 2 years and the driving experience is every bit as sublime as they say. Another article said they’d have to sell 100,000 of them for it to be worth it. I really don’t see it happening.

          • 0 avatar
            zamoti

            I have owned Mazdas and Blackberry devices almost exclusively for the last 8 years so what does that make me? Either the guy with the best taste ever or the guy who picks losers.
            Either way I win.

          • 0 avatar
            Aquineas

            If the RX sold well to begin with, it would still be in production.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I’m sure that the folks at Mazda would be able to find enough customers for it. All it would take is a time machine so that they can go back and find them.

        If time travel isn’t an option, then it would probably be wiser to forget it. There was a time when rotaries were quite competitive, but that is no longer the case.

        • 0 avatar
          319583076

          My sole point here is that I think Mazda knows what they’re doing, even if you two don’t agree.

          If I’m wrong about that when the wave function collapses, I invite you both to remind me that you called it correctly.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Mazda has a long history of being a struggling automaker. Its fixation on the rotary is part of the reason why that is (although there was also a time when the rotary was a benefit.)

            The company obviously knows that the rotaries have not been popular in quite some time, since it has had a hard time selling them.

            This is more about a part of corporate culture that refuses to die. Mazda is really devoted to the Wankel because of the company’s legacy, not because it makes any sense.

          • 0 avatar
            319583076

            I’d rather die of my feet than live on my knees.

            I hope Mazda is true to what Mazda has been rather than chase market and become practically any other volume automaker.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            I’m sure that there was a guy who made buggywhips who had your same sense of determination.

            Rotaries are obsolete technology. There was a time that they produced far more power per cubic inch than a piston engine could and when their fuel consumption wasn’t so bad compared to the rest of the market. But that is no longer the case, and the nature of the technology limits its ability to improve.

            The piston engine has more potential than a rotary. It is as simple as that. The design of a rotary is inherently inefficient; at best, it would need to be incorporated into a hybrid system that would allow the rotary to do less work, since they burn too much fuel for the amount of output that they produce. With piston engines now capable of producing more than 100 hp per liter, there is no longer much of a size advantage, either.

          • 0 avatar

            I spent a week with an RX-8 in ’04, when I was writing about the engine. I LOVED the RX-8.

            But in my research, I found that the constraints of the rotary doomed it to bad gas mileage and other ills. Anyone who wants to read about it can email me at [email protected] and I’ll email a copy, (assuming I don’t get flooded with requests).

          • 0 avatar
            WheelMcCoy

            “I spent a week with an RX-8 in ’04, when I was writing about the engine. I LOVED the RX-8.

            But in my research, I found that the constraints of the rotary doomed it to bad gas mileage and other ills. Anyone who wants to read about it can email me at [email protected] and I’ll email a copy, (assuming I don’t get flooded with requests).”

            I had requested the article in response to an earlier rotary TTAC piece. I enjoyed reading it; thank you sir!

            The RX-8 is so tempting. I liked the packaging — the suicide doors I mean. I also heard that when the RX-8 first came out, insurance companies saw it had a small 1.6L engine, four doors, and charged accordingly… until someone there figured out that the RX-8 was a sports car!

            But gas and oil consumption made it too impractical for me. Also, I’ve heard that the RX-8 is fussy about being started and stopped without driving it much. That means you have to explain to the valet that they must let the car run a bit if they need to move it.

            There’s beauty in a small simple engine (compared to the piston engine). It’s easy to see Mazda engineers thinking there must be a way to perfect it.

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        Or a Drag Racer of compact early model Mazda’s

  • avatar
    Hummer

    Unless the new engine is apex seal fail proof, warrantied for 300k miles, then really just put the lightest most powerful engine you have into it.

  • avatar
    redav

    Holy facepalm, Batman!

    RX = rotary. That’s what the R means. If they used a different engine, it would be an MX, like the MX-5, MX-6, MX-3, etc. He never said they wouldn’t build another MX car with a normal engine. He said that an RX car would have a rotary, because, you know, that’s what an RX is.

    • 0 avatar
      ...m...

      …exactly this: design a GT coupé if there’s a market case for it, and if the next-generation rotary isn’t working out, drop in a piston engine and call it an MX instead…mazda already has historical precedent for other *X cars, so while the rotaries are cool, ultimately whether it’s an R or an M is somewhat secondary to just getting the car built…

    • 0 avatar
      SlowMyke

      Cuz no auto maker has ever called a car something misleading. Certainly not. Coupes are coupes. Sedans are sedans. RX’s are…

      I get your point and kinda agree with it, but I think the issue at hand is reviving the product line, whether or not bastardizing it. I see no way a new rotary car comes out, but I won’t say the same about an RX9.

    • 0 avatar
      kuman

      Rx = rotary engine car
      Mx = mundane car

      Just kidding. :p

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Without a rotary, they aren’t going to build it at all. It’s not RX vs. MX, it’s RX vs. nothing.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Mazda has explicitly said they are interested in producing another RWD car based on the Miata platform. They’ve explicitly said they are interested in dropping a 6 cyl in some future cars, and they are considering both a V6 & a I6. They have never said that the car would be called an RX (except when talking about rotaries, which their execs have said is *not* coming).

        In short, I don’t believe a word of your theory that it will be an RX or nothing.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          The point is that a sports car designed around the rotary won’t have a non-rotary alternative. Either they’ll build that car as a rotary or they won’t build it at all.

          That does not preclude them from building other sporty cars. But the piston engine cars would not be the same as the rotary.

  • avatar
    Lythandra

    I had a Gen 2 RX-7. Fun car but I do not miss the gas mileage at all. I got to about 100k before my seals needed to be redone.

    City: 13
    Hwy: 23

    Compared now to my 2003 GTI with the 1.8T motor which is more powerful than the old 7 motor.

    City: 26
    Hwy: 36

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    You could use a rotary to drive a series hybrid. That’s about the only way it makes sense. The engine has packaging advantages that work really well, here.

  • avatar
    snakebit

    As ‘Ooshley, first posted, I too can picture an RX-7 without a Rotary engine. In fact, if Mazda is going to the trouble of resurrecting the RX-7 model, my fervent hope is that they will retire the Mazda Rotary. The 1993-2002 version was, to me, the pinnacle of a comfortable, beautiful sports car with the wrong motor.

    When I read of Mazda’s tenacity to retain the rotary motor for a new RX-7, it brings to mind Chevrolet’s meat-headed decision to hold onto the original model-specific Vega 140CID motor for years, until finally remembering that they already had the bullet-proof Iron Duke motor in their quiver.

    Think about it: Mazda has been trying to develop and use the rotary motor since at least the production R100 of 1970, forty-four years. How many more years and how much more money do they want to waste on this motor. Personally, I think the RX-7 brand will easily survive the elimination of it as a powerplant.

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    I think Mazda should do whatever it takes to bring back the boing-boing ads.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Getting 30mpg in my FR-S while driving like an idiot is nice, but there are some things that are simply charming without having to quantify it. The rotary engine is one of those things. Dirty, inefficient, unreliable, but hearing one at full song is a thing of beauty.

  • avatar
    alsorl

    Thought Mazda was evolving into a company that wanted to be profitable. New rotary means lower reliability that could be associated with the whole brand.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Rotary can be done. The question is whether or not it’s smart for Mazda to gamble the resources to make it work. They pretty much have to throw the kitchen sink at it though.

    – displacement on demand
    – turbocharging
    – some kind of smart hybrid

    Keep in mind Mazda built the whole Skyactiv thing because they didn’t have the money to develop those techs for their piston engines

    So rotary is pretty much a pipe dream, unless they collaborate with someone richer.

  • avatar
    Tinn-Can

    Just jam it into a miata as an optional engine… Minimal development cost and finally spinning triangle miata…

  • avatar
    Krivka

    Put an inline six into the car. It will be almost as smooth and quiet and will leave a ton more toque. V-6s don’t even compare with an inline 6 and rotary engines are just too expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      I like the way you think!

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      1. Have a look at a rotary engine one day, like the Renesis in the RX8

      2. Then look at an M54 or N54 I6 out of a BMW.

      3. Realize that the reason Mazda could make the RX such a joy to drive is that the Renesis is something like one-sixth the size of an inline six.

      I like a lot of things about inline-sixes, but they absolutely such at space efficiency.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    I owned an RX8 and a STI guess which one blew up first…hint it had cylinders…

    • 0 avatar
      mik101

      It also had a turbo and two heads.

      Not the most reliable piston engine to compare it to. An I4 shouldn’t need nearly as many parts as a V6.
      (Disclaimer: Everyone that I know locally that has had an STI blew it up at some point and their families Legacies etc with EJs have eaten head gaskets).

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Question for ex-RX owners:

    I have read that the rotary engines were real polluters.
    How come?
    Is it because the lubricating oil had to be squirted into the combustion chambers?

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      The design is inherently less fuel efficient, which is the same as saying that the carbon emissions are high compared to piston engines with the same output. But the smog emissions (NOx) are manageable with smog equipment, as is the case with a piston engine.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      In a rotary you have much less control of the valves (because there are no valves) and no option for direct injection (unless you want to replace injectors really often), so you get much less control over emissions.

      Plus, yes, you dribble oil into the combustion chamber.

      You can trap a lot of this in the cat, but even still it’s not going to help get emissions down to modern standards. It’s akin to getting a two-stroke to meet Euro-V: possible, but not worth the effort.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      To add to everybody else’ comments: the combustion chamber doesn’t just change size through the motion, it changes shape as well. Trying to get a complete burn of the fuel in the chamber is a quixotic endeavor.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Mazda is hilarious IMO, a boutique mfg which also sells bread and butter to pay the bills… the question becomes can they keep paying the bills?

  • avatar
    DevilsRotary86

    I really wish Mazda would stop teasing me. I really want to believe that there will be another rotary car, and I would love to own one next to my ’86 GXL.

    Look Mazda, at this point all I really hope for now is for you to continue making replacement pieces for the previous rotary engines in perpetuity. Keep that up and I would be a happy camper.

  • avatar
    Pastor Glenn

    Maeda-san, if you are reading this, have you considered a stratified charge dual Wankel? One row of rotors above another, with the top row having smaller displacement than the lower; the top row being the primary combustion component, directly gear to the lower rotors which run with about 25 to 1 air/fuel ratio, combustion by “inevitability” with no spark plugs – with the ‘exhaust’ of the upper rotary feeding into the lower rotary at about 5 degrees ATDC. Then compound-turbocharge/electric supercharge it. A triple “row” wankel would have 6 rotors, but the simplicity of the engine rotating assembly would still be less than a V6. Another advantage would be the small depth of the rotors given the layout, helping emissions. Just a thought.

  • avatar
    robc123

    why dont they just use RX for a new engine platform? like those pneumatic value engines or something fun fast and really cutting edge.

    the wank isnt super smooth or have any kind of advantage over traditional engines- maybe make the RX electric?

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    Really!

    The rotary in its present condition is untenable in this world requiring lower emissions and better fuel mileage. Just build a ‘fixed head’ MX5 coupe or a new sporty RX type coupe with a Turbo four or V6 and make it drop dead gorgeous, use the same design team that was used for the new MX5.

  • avatar
    lastwgn

    Well, I guess I will offer up my 2 cents. I hope there is another RX with a rotary. Is it tough to make the business case for it? Absolutely. No question. I am an accountant by trade. From a business perspective it makes no sense at all. Go ahead and be just like everybody else and develop a straight six, or a turbo 4. But then, Mazda would be just like everybody else. Maybe with a taughter chassis, but just like everybody else.

    I am glad that hey dare to be different and that they dare to dream differently. For those that like pistons, speed, etc., there are many options, even within Mazda. There is the obvious, MX-5, but there have also been the MS3 and MS6. Hopefully those will see the light of day again.

    The RX and the rotary allows Mazda to stake a claim to something completely different. Yet it can be affordable. The first gen RX-7 was a timeless design with unbelievable simplicity. I have owned a 1979, acquired and rehabbed in 2005, and a 1983 RX-7, acquired in 2010. Wonderful cars in their own right. A delight to drive. Simple to work on and maintain. Different than anything else at classic car gatherings.

    I currently own 2 RX-8’s. Sure gas mileage bites, but I have never failed to smile every time I hit a freeway on-ramp, or a corner, or just head up the street to pick up something at the grocery store. It is the intangible thrill that the engine and chassis – in combination with each other – provide that is unique from anything else. The RX-8 in particular is a marvelous packaging achievement. The back seats are accessible and usable in way that is unlike ANY coupe its size. I have been taking kids to an from school and basketball practices and games for years, something that could not be gracefully accomplished in the typical coupe.

    And in a world of “me too” black BMW’s, Mercedes, etc., and the typical gigantic mom’s SUV, the RX-8 is unlike anything else in the school parking lot.

    Love the engine, love the chassis, love the overall intangible feel. Enjoy not being just like everybody else. That is what the Prius is for.

    And so I hope that we once again have an RX from Mazda. I hope it sticks to the original principles of the original RX-7 and the RX-8 in being affordable. Gas mileage? If I drive 15,000 miles per year and average 25 mile per gallon versus 18 mpg, I burn an extra 233 gallons of gas for the year. About 4.5 gallons per week. Compared to the cost of a lot of other vices/hobbies/activities, I will continue to enjoy paying for those smiles per gallon!!

  • avatar
    wmba

    I see that nobody has read enough to know why the rotary cannot work as well as a piston engine.

    The combustion chamber constantly changes shape due to constant rate of rotation. So combustion is poor, with high emissions.

    By contrast, the mechanics of the piston engine mean the piston doesn’t move much around top dead center, through many crankshaft degrees of rotation. This gives a more fixed combustion chamber shape and allows a much cleaner burn. Conditions don’t change as much during the actual combustion event so the combustion space is more defined. Furthermore, by changing the connecting rod to crankshaft stroke ratio, the small piston movement at TDC can be varied too, which is a further tuning aid.

    The poor old rotary just cannot match this advantage.

    All this was discussed seven or eight years ago, when Mazda first decided to quit offering the Wankel.

    No miracles are expected.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    It’s time to re-imagine the RX-7. Mazda has the design and engineering chops to build a 4-cyl, Miata-killer coupe.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      I was right behind you, thumbs up, until you posted, “Miata-killer coupe”. Lightspeed, please take that phrase home with you tonight, and tomorrow in class, we’ll parse that out together to find out why it doesn’t read correctly. Hint, who would make both cars?

    • 0 avatar
      bosozoku

      I can only wonder why it is that Mazda haven’t invested more in this theoretically Miata-killer…

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    Apart from the above combustion issues I have heard that the rotary while compact is chevy V8 heavy. It certainly drinks liek a V8.

    For a copmpact motor mazda could doa turbo flat 4, or even a v4 to be different.

    Take the miata platform, make a far more soopy shaped coupe with 300hp and you have a giant killer.

    Maybe some electric assist rotary migth work, vbut then you are talking mass and $$$.

    To me a RX is asmall light car, it does not have to be rotary. What a rotary did was offer a level of refinement and revability 4cls lacked. Surely those same characteristics can be done ina piston motor today.

    The the new Mata is 2250lbs, what woult a 2500lbs 300hp car be like, I sure woudl like to know.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      “Apart from the above combustion issues I have heard that the rotary while compact is chevy V8 heavy. It certainly drinks liek a V8.”

      It’s not that heavy at all: ~200-250lbs less than an LSx, ~100lbs less than a Honda B18C. The fuel consumption isn’t that bad for the power output, either. It is bad for it’s displacement, but that’s not really a good comparison.

      “For a copmpact motor mazda could doa turbo flat 4, or even a v4 to be different.”

      A boxer four or a blown inline three would be reasonable choices if you want to retain the packaging advantages. You’d end up with something sort of like the FR-S.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Remembering back to the day when you had a choice of a bunch of engines in Chevelles, Camaros, Mustangs, Barracudas etc, I see no reason for Mazda to limit the choices of engines to one. The RX8 was really nice looking but I didn’t want another Rotary. They do not age particularly well IMO.

    An RX8 with a small V6 is something I would find appealing. I guess the name would have to change if it isn’t rotary. If it could be had with a 4 and a rotary as well that wouldn’t bother me a bit. YMMV

  • avatar
    tekdemon

    Why in the heck is the comment system here deleting my comments about a rotary engine as spam??!

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