By on October 28, 2017

2015 Mazda RX Vision Concept - Image: Mazda

For five years now, Mazda has hinted, then promised, then reassured us that a rotary-powered sports car will return to the company’s lineup, ready to fill a spot left vacant by the departing RX-8 in 2012.

We’re still waiting and, Mazda now informs us, we’ll be waiting quite a bit longer. While the cylinderless gasoline engine holds promise as a range-extender in electrified vehicles (something powertrain chief Mitsuo Hitomi feels is a definite future use for the powerplant), that’s not something Wankel fans want to hear. They want to spin that engine up to eleventy billion rpm and drop the clutch.

It’ll happen, says Mazda’s senior managing executive officer, Kiyoshi Fujiwara, but something’s cropped up that pushed the rotary’s return to the back burner. That thing is the company’s gasoline compression ignition engine, the Skyactiv-X.

“If we achieve success [with Skyactiv-X] probably we can have money enough to invest in the next challenge, then we can judge to go ahead,” Fujiwara told Australia’s Drive at this week’s Tokyo Motor Show.

However, the development of the revolutionary sparkless gas engine, expected to launch in the 2019 Mazda 3, means the rotary will be a no-show at the automaker’s 100th birthday. “In 2020 we cannot provide RX-Vision in the market, we will not have enough money to invest in commercializing RX-Vision,” Fujiwara said of the slinky rotary-powered concept car unveiled in 2015.

Once there’s cash in the till to fund the rotary car’s development, Mazda will move forward. However, the result of the product planning might not be completely pure, depending on where you live. Emissions concerns and the need to offset the Wankel’s notable thirst means whatever rotary car Mazda develops will likely require an electrified model to slot alongside the gas-only model.

In that vehicle, the rotary would provide extra range once the battery pack has exhausted its charge, or once the driver leaves the urban limits of a city that bans the use of combustion-engine vehicles. Other markets will still allow a rotary-only powertrain, so that’s still part of the game plan.

“Like autonomous driving, electrification… [environmental regulations] cannot allow for only internal combustion engine,” said Fujiwara. “Some of the cities completely ban so some electrification is needed. It’s coming later so we have to consider this kind of technologies have to be installed, so these kind of technologies have to be developed even for the RX-Vision.”

Despite the creeping regulations and the public’s thirst for SUVs, Mazda has no intention of turning the future model into something untraditional. There’s no other bodystyle in mind for this model.

“No, just one. Lightweight sports car,” said Fujiwara.

[Image: Mazda]

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32 Comments on “The Rotary’s Returning, Says Mazda, But There’s Some Things to Take Care of First...”


  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    So, no RX-Cross? Damn. The Eclipse Cross will just have go at it alone, trading on the heritage of its name to peddle another faux off-roader.

  • avatar

    Mazda, stop trying to make rotary happen. It’s not going to happen!

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I’m not sure what market need they are trying to address here. The markets in which the Wankel has and advantage over a more conventional alternative just don’t seem to be very strong to me, and the number of people who will buy it just because it’s a rotary just isn’t that big.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    More of Mazda crying out, “HEY! We’re still around. We’re the rotary people, the diesel people and the people who will sell diesels and rotaries maybe, someday, to your grandchildren. Meanwhile check out our current line of noisy and cramped offerings corroding away down at our dealerships located in armpit of your city. Zoom-Zoom right on down!”.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      Noisy? CX5 and CX9 are class competitive to leading in their segments for quiet. The other models will follow. Noise doesn’t hold back Honda.
      As for space the 6 is a well sized mid-sized sedan. But I suppose you need to criticise them on something, even if not accurate.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Mike, its impossible for an automaker to improve. They can fix issues like rust and excessive NVH and it means nothing.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        I quite like the 6 and in the Sport trim with the reasonable sidewall tires it isn’t nearly as loud as the prior generation and it certainly isn’t cramped. Great seats, roomy enough rear cabin (though headroom suffers), good cabin quality, an excellent powertrain, and the best sheet metal in the segment. It’s a great car that deserves to sell more than it does.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Could the Miata be Mazda’s Wrangler? A near perfect vehicle for what it was intended with some great (CX9/Grand Cherokee) brethren and the rest C- average students?

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Take those resources and give us Mazdaspeed 3. The GTI outsells the regular Golf in the US…. I’d wager an MS3 would be no different, and at the right price (i.e. where the 2.5 is now, as I imagine the 2.0X will replace the 2.0/2.5) and HP level (corporate 2.5T with a Torsen LSD and ~280 HP) I imagine the MS3 would move similarly.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      Agreed. I would hope after the X engine come out (is it just one size?) They could use the turbo engine in the CX5, 3 and 6. Time will tell. They have s good track record of responding to criticisms- such as design, fuel economy and noise.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      The reason is the VW is available with auto.
      The maz speed and Ford’s have only manual which completely stops sales to most

  • avatar

    Every Mazda model should be a Mazdaspeed, all day, every day. There should be no base models, except bring back the Mazda 2 and put a transverse rotary in it.

  • avatar
    pdl2dmtl

    Here we go again, perpetuating the “spark-less” myth.

    It has spark plugs, as explained by Car and Driver:

    “Instead, Mazda achieves compression ignition using a spark plug as a combustion control. This generated a new acronym: SPCCI, for Spark Plug Controlled Compression Ignition. It enables the Skyactiv-X to use extremely lean fuel mixtures like an HCCI engine—the sort that are so lean they can’t be combusted via spark, only by compression—but it does so over a much broader swath of driving scenarios, including under moderate load and higher engine speeds. When operating with compression ignition (CI), Skyactiv-X mixes air and fuel during the intake stroke (as it does during spark ignition, only much leaner) but then injects a second dollop of fuel just before the power stroke and ignites it using the spark plug. The flame created spreads out and down while also raising the cylinder pressure high enough—along with the compression from the piston—to combust the lean primary air/fuel mixture.”

    It is called home work.

  • avatar
    Scout_Number_4

    “They want to spin that engine up to eleventy billion rpm and drop the clutch.”

    I spit coffee when I read this. Thanks for the morning laugh, Steph.

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      Clutch dumps? No. In my half-bridgeported FB I’d burn the tires to 10,000 rpm in first and then shift to second and burn the tires until they caught. Redline was 9000 rpm, but you couldn’t catch it that fast in first gear.

      And yes, gas mileage was single-digits.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    With cash that tight, and with tightening regulations, the rotary is never going to happened.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    I still wish this will happen, but I’m not at the “I’ll believe it when I see it” with the rotary.

    Since day 1 I just wish they had put it in the Miata. I know why they didn’t, but it still just seems so absolutely perfect for that type of car.

    I’ve been waiting 25 years for a rotary Miata. I suppose I can wait another 25.

  • avatar
    PentastarPride

    Among many other cars, all imports, my wife was considering an RX-8 to replace her 320i. Since I didn’t know anything about the RX-8 or Mazda in general, I took my queries to Google.

    After reading pages and pages of woeful tales and coming to the realization that the rotary was a whole new ball game, “no and absolutely not” was my verdict, even though the car would have been under manufacturer warranty. There’s no warranty against inconvenience and eventually that warranty would have come to can end.

    She got a loaded Jetta instead, which turned out to be very reliable, though its track record (while far from perfect) wasn’t nearly as bad as the RX-8.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    Mazda, don’t be like Honda and screw it up. All those millennials and younger Gen-Xers can afford to spend some $ on an upmarket car now. They’ve lusted after FD RX-7s for years. Now is your time to do it right and stop kicking the can down the road. Two models. A RELIABLE turbo rotary and a hybrid model if you must. Please offer a manual transmission, please?

    I’d happily pony up $70k+ for one instead of spending more for a 911 if Mazda can get this right. Again, please don’t be like Honda and screw it up like they did the NSX.

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    I’m still holding out hope that they’ll come to their senses and produce an MX-8.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    Could someone with rotary ownership experience please explain the draw of these engines? From the outside looking in, all I see is lack of torque, poor MPG, and oil consumption. What are the advantages?

    • 0 avatar
      cbrworm

      General hooligan fun. No vibration, seemingly limitless RPM, lightweight and simple, usually tied to RWD in a well balanced, lightweight vehicle. Some people even like the noise.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Bought an RX-2 sedan in 1974. 7,000 rpm redline and used a 2-stage 4 barrel carburetor. The secondaries opened up at 4200 rpm and the car really took off. An honest 100 mph car, when few could hit hat mark. Turbine smooth and nearly silent idle. Other than a water pump bearing failure, the car was stone reliable for 4 years and 60k miles—no small thing in that era. Yes, by 1978 power was down and seals probably needed replacement. Yes, driven sanely, best highway mpg was 20. But that was a time when a 50 hp. VW Beetle would get 26 under similar circumstances.
      So, it was a fun car that served me well.

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      The lack of torque was made up for by amazing rpm potential and a broad power curve. The mpg was poor, but it’s kind of like choosing a V8 over a V6; you do it for your love of horsepower. The oil consumption was on par with a slant 6, and got better with each generation.

      I switched to an MSD 6A ignition on my ’83 RX-7 and picked up torque, high-rpm horsepower, gas mileage, and idle smoothness. I think the earlier ignition systems were lacking.


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