The Rotary's Returning, Says Mazda, But There's Some Things to Take Care of First

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

More by Steph Willems

Join the conversation
5 of 32 comments
  • Notapreppie Notapreppie on Oct 30, 2017

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

  • Cognoscenti Cognoscenti on Oct 30, 2017

    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?

    • See 2 previous
    • Erikstrawn Erikstrawn on Oct 31, 2017

      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.

  • Wjtinfwb Funny. When EV's were bursting onto the scene; Tesla's, Volt's, Leaf's pure EV was all the rage and Hybrids were derided because they still used a gas engine to make them, ahem; usable. Even Volt's were later derided when it was revealed that the Volt's gas engine was actually connected to the wheels, not just a generator. Now, Hybrids are warmly welcomed into the Electric fraternity by virtue of being "electrified". If a change in definition is what it takes, I'm all for it. Hybrid's make so much sense in most American's usage patterns and if needed you can drive one cross-country essentially non-stop. Glad to see Hybrid's getting the love.
  • 3-On-The-Tree We also had a 1973 IH Scout that we rebuilt the engine in and it had dual glass packs, real loud. I miss those days.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff thanks. Back in 1990 we had a 1964 Dodge D100 with a slant six with a 3 on the tree. I taught myself how to drive a standard in that truck. It was my one of many journeys into Mopar land. Had a 1973 Plymouth duster with a slant six and a 1974 Dodge Dart Custom with 318 V8. Great cars and easy to work on.
  • Akear What is GM good at?You led Mary............................................What a disgrace!
  • Randy in rocklin I have a 87 bot new with 200k miles and 3 head gasket jobs and bot another 87 turbo 5 speed with 70k miles and new head gaskets. They cost around 4k to do these days.