By on October 27, 2015

Mazda Concept Tokyo

“We’ve all but given up on rotary powered engines being fuel-efficient and commercially viable so calling this an RX concept would be a long throw.”

Speaking to Autocar on Tuesday, Mazda’s chief research and development officer Kiyoshi Fujiwara said that the company’s sportscar concept coming to the Tokyo Motor Show this week would in fact be a rotary-powered RX concept. (I can’t help but feel like he just called me out.)

The new engine, which has been dubbed Skyactiv-R (because of course it is), would come “some time in the future,” which would mean he’s coming for me soon.

Pack a lunch, Fujiwara. You and I will be dancing all day. 

The two-seater sportscar could be arriving sooner rather than later according to the Mazda design chief.

“It is a two-door, two-seater. It is a pure sports car design. We have MX-5 and another icon is a rotary sports car. We haven’t talked about market reach but this would be in that segment.” Ikuo Maeda, who is Mazda’s head of design, told Autocar. He said the Tokyo concept “represents our dream, but we don’t want it to be a dream too long.”

Officials from Mazda were non-committed to an exact date for the return for the RX, but Autocar correctly pointed out that 2018 would be the 40th anniversary for the RX-7.

Last year, Maeda told Automotive News that the RX must have rotary power, and we’ve heard everything from hydrogen to hybrid (both!) to help along the notoriously thirsty and high-revving engine to make mileage requirements.

Mazda ended sales of the RX in 2012 in Europe due to tightening emissions regulations and slowing sales for sports cars. Rumors have pegged the new engine’s displacement at 1.6 liters, larger than the original rotary units, but it’s unclear how the powerplant would meet increasingly difficult emissions standards.

Your move, Fujiwara.

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33 Comments on “I Was Wrong: Mazda’s Concept in Tokyo is Rotary After All...”

  • avatar

    Yeah, rotary power! :D

  • avatar

    Rotary engines are technically fascinating, but absent any breakthrough to overcome its weaknesses (emissions/fuel economy and the maintenance requirements being the biggest hurdles), doesn’t Mazda have better things to spend their very limited limited R&D budget on? If this was Honda or Toyota (or the VW of a few months back), they could spare that kind of coin, but not Mazda.

  • avatar

    You know what this would be great with… an electric motor. mount the batteries in the bottom of the chassis and keep the center of gravity low.

    • 0 avatar

      I genuinely could see a hybrid supercar in the mold of the 918 or NSX but with a rotary.

      I don’t think Mazda would build it (unless they tried their hand in La Mons again), much less make it affordable.

      • 0 avatar

        What I was really trying to say is that the Rotary is dead unless there is some huge technological breakthrough.

        Since most RXs are purchased by enthusiasts and become “toys” (much as most Corvette and Viper guys aren’t using them as primary transportation) an electric RX makes more sense (IMHO) than a rotary one.

        • 0 avatar

          An EV conversion instead of a V8, turn it into a Tesla Roadster-esque car? Sure, other than the weight, it would still be fun.

          Yeah, since only one company puts any money into Wankel research, it’ll always be a step behind piston engines. They may get it up to emissions & economy standards, but by then piston engines will be that much further ahead.

          Where I do think it would work is as a generator. It’s compact size & low weight could work well for campers as well as an EV range booster.

          • 0 avatar

            They certainly won’t get it up to economy standards. The design constraints are too severe.

            Anyone who wants to see my article on why, just email me at HolzmanDC at outlook dot com.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Nice shape, bad heart.

    All the 1980s rotary enthusiasts on the internet will buy one, along with 2000 people a year for 5 years. Then Mazda will withdraw it from the market, citing the former Obama Administration’s onerous CAFE mandate.

  • avatar

    My prediction: Moving variable ports that can provide a displacement on demand effect.

    • 0 avatar

      Hi Crab,
      I have pondered this very thought when daydreaming of the rotary engine.



    • 0 avatar

      I have an idea for moving the point of combustion to allow better spark timing, speed the burn, and prevent blow-by.

      I just don’t know of a device that will make it work. (Other than lasers. Everything works with lasers.)

    • 0 avatar

      The 6-port NA engines in the 2nd generation (FC) RX-7 had exactly that, although not exactly for displacement-on-demand. It was essentially a 2-step cam, like Vtec, that allowed a longer duration intake event at higher speed & throttle opening, while keeping the shorter duration at low speed & load.

      Rotor deactivation would be more akin to “displacement-on-demand”. Even in piston engines, if you build a large displacement engine & give up some of that displacement through LIVC, such as with a Miller-Cycle, you can’t get that displacement back without increasing the compression ratio significantly. This means that you either have a huge tendency to knock at full load where you want the displacement, or you have a really low compression ratio at part-load where you could use the compression to make the fuel & air more reactive to help combustion stability.

      Side note: “Atkinson-Cycle” is also commonly used to refer to the same thing, but originally refers to a mechanism that reduces the physical stroke on the intake & compression revolution. It was not done with variable valving (thermodynamically having a similar effect), so I refuse to call valving strategy-based intake stroke reduction “Atkinson-Cycle”

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    What about hydrogen combustion?

  • avatar

    They had the answer before and these days its coming back to the be “thing” that everyone is doing… turbos.

  • avatar

    I love that these guys are still working on this glorious, elegant expression of Felix Wankel’s genius.
    To the skeptics: We have plenty of conformists playing it safe. The risk takers climb the highest peaks-not the accountants.
    Will it fall short, probably. Since when are sports cars about being rational?

    I wish them all the best. The Otto cycle has been refined for over a century by hundreds of companies. I think it fair to consider that the rotaries potential may yet be largely untapped. Say, piston engine circa 1930?



  • avatar

    Well I will eat foot right along with you…

    But they left such a bad taste in folks’ mouths with the RX8 that I can’t see this being a success. Oh well, prove me wrong, a second time.

  • avatar

    It’s a tricky proposition. I think this could be a tech bed for Mazda. I’m seeing something like a small hybrid system that both feeds the rear wheels and assists a turbo. Couple that with displacement on demand and smaller + more numerous rotors and maybe it could work. Then they could spread those costs out by deploying those techs across their mainstream range. Even with a turbo hybrid system this would be light and super unique.

  • avatar

    Concept ≠ reality

    I doubt we’ll see rotary power in the US again – it just feels really niche.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. I see them putting out concepts to celebrate their various anniversaries, but no products for sale. They already have a slow-selling niche product in the Miata. They can’t afford another one, even if it’s built on the same platform.

      They said before that unless they can hit high annual sales, they won’t bring it back, and there’s about zero chance of hitting the threshold even with a perfect engine.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s why the Miata should have a rotary.

        Having recently driven an ND Miata, a rotary would definitely add some spice.

        • 0 avatar

          How does the ND compare to your FRS?

          • 0 avatar

            Really different animals to be honest. The Mazda feels as light as the spec sheet says it is, has a very neutral chassis but not quite as lively (really that comes down to suspension tuning). The steering was a bit on the light side and I wasn’t crazy about the shifter. The transmission was smooth but didn’t confidently go into gear. The car is crazy small but was a great environment with the top down. Interior is very nicely put together versus the FR-S and way beyond the NC. Mid range was great in the ND but the top end was wheezy. Wind noise was pretty rough with the top up but didn’t bother me at all with the top down around 60 degrees.

            Basically it boiled down to this: do you have a kid and have to drive year round? FR-S. Can you keep the top down 80% of the time and have no need to haul around a brat? MX-5. Maybe in a decade when my kid is old enough to sit in the front seat.

        • 0 avatar

          For the love of god this… Just make the mazdaspeed miata with a rotary and save the chassis development money for something else…

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t understand the point (for Mazda, a small company) of creating another niche sports car with an engine few understand and even fewer want to maintain.

      And they’re doing this when they don’t have a V6 to put in anything other than an SUV.

      Guess they have plenty of money to burn, hiding somewhere?

  • avatar

    Every Wankel engined Mazda I’ve driven, down to the long-ago RX3, was just plain fun to drive. Sadly, they just weren’t fun to own long term. I’m hoping that advances in computer tech, metallurgy, and ceramics can someday make the Wankel a viable option. I’m tired of changing apex seals.

  • avatar

    Anything with a niche powertrain is going to be expensive these days, but good to see a manufacturer still trying to skirt the mainstream. Even if it’s Mazda, which already does so.

  • avatar

    Just say no. I love my CX9 and in 3 years when I get something else I wanted it to be a CX9 or a Flex. I love both. They could have and should have spend all of this money and development of a updated, fuel efficient and powerful V6. Honda has one of the best right now and they could have made inroads with this. They could have used it with the CX9 and 6. OR they could have developed a proper 9-10 speed auto to go with their Skyactiv stuff and just bought an V6 from Honda or Toyota.

  • avatar

    I bet if they put their minds to it they could create a V6 with 300hp, 300 pft and 35 mpg on the HWY with 26 in the city.

  • avatar

    Here’s what Autocar actually wrote, not what Cole’s mind interpreted it as:

    “Speaking to Autocar, Fujiwara said: “People think rotary can not meet modern Eco demands. The SkyActiv engineers worked on rotary and have it cutting edge tech. It is an essential part of our DNA and it just be passed onto future engineers. It is synonymous with the brand. Some time in the future it will return and be called SkyActiv-R”.

    Likely not happening next year, if all the new ideas they’ve had is to be passed onto “future engineers”.

  • avatar

    How about:

    Sporty electric car, batteries down low, with a low CG, but with a range extender using a fairly light Wankel powered generator.

    This may allow it to get a pass on poor fuel economy and emissions

  • avatar

    They have three car lines – the MX-5, the 3 and the 6, and three SUV lines – the CX-3, the CX-5 and the CX-9. The CX-9 uses a V6 they buy from Ford. The three cars and two smaller SUVs range in weight from 2300 lbs. to 3600 lbs., and to power them they have a grand total of two four-cylinder NA powerplants of very modest power output.

    They don’t even have a viable engine for the 2 in this country.

    They have to use an economy car engine with a laughably low specific output for their sports car.

    And they figure they need to spend their meager powertrain budget bringing that rotary turd back to life – ?

    They’re insane.

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