By on March 5, 2018

2018 Mazda CX-3 - Image: Mazda

If you’re prone to daydreaming about slinky roadsters and curvaceous coupes powered by a high-revving rotary engine, this news might disappoint.

Mazda, one of a dwindling handful of automakers not in possession of an electric (or even hybrid) vehicle, plans to change that status next year with the introduction of a small battery-powered car. Coming along for the ride — at least in one variant — is a rotary gas engine designed to go unnoticed by the driver.

Speaking to Dutch outlet, Martijn ten Brink, vice president of sales for Mazda Motor Europe, said the electric vehicle and its range-extended sibling will appear in 2019. This jibes with what global powertrain head Mitsuo Hitomi said late last year.

Mazda loves gasoline engines, and internal combustion technology remains the major focus of its long-term planning. The mainly sparkless Skyactiv-X four-cylinder gas engine is proof of this. Still, Mazda can’t shy from technological advancements in the electric car field forever, and the upcoming EV should arrive at the same time as the new crop of fuel-efficient compacts.

Sharing a new Small Car Platform with the next-generation Mazda 2, 3, and CX-3, the unnamed EV will debut with dimensions similar to the 3, possible as a “crossover-like model,” ten Brink said.

For drivers worried about running dry while miles from a plug, Mazda will offer the option of a “a range extender in the form of a wankel engine,” the executive added. As there’s only so much battery space beneath a vehicle designed for all types of propulsion, range and battery size should be mid-pack. Having a rotary on board — one designed solely as a generator — not only eliminates fear of being stranded without a power source in the middle of nowhere, it also broadens the model’s appeal.

Not that sales are a huge consideration. Mazda’s treating the upcoming global model as something of an experiment. “Whether we sell 5,000 or 10,000 of them, we are going to learn a lot from them,” Martijn ten Brink said.

Mounted flat, the rotary generator will reportedly be no larger than a showbox, with related hardware expanding the powerplant’s footprint to that of two shoeboxes. The smooth-running engine, positioned low in the vehicle, should go unnoticed when in operation. (Hardly the spiritual driving experience of past rotaries, but at least it keeps the engine type alive.)

If all this talk of electric vehicles and crossovers has you feeling listless, fear not. There’s still a fire burning at Mazda HQ for a true rotary-powered sports car. Unfortunately, no shortage of uncertainty surrounds this future mystery model, which clearly isn’t at the top of the automaker’s to-do list.

[Image: Mazda]

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10 Comments on “Yes, There’s a Rotary Engine Coming to a Mazda Vehicle Next Year, but It’s Not the Main Event...”

  • avatar

    “no larger than a showbox”–shoebox

  • avatar
    J D

    10/10, would still place a “ROTARY POWERED” sticker on the thing!

  • avatar

    I wonder how much, If any, effort carmakers are going to put into driving dynamics and performance from now on. Driver input would appear to be an afterthought with all the technological focus being put into replacing drivers.

  • avatar

    I love this idea of a series hybrid, so long as the battery is big enough to take care of most normal daily driving needs (say, 80 miles). Then the on-board generator is truly only used on longer trips. Important because when using gasoline it will be less fuel efficient than the more complicated hybrid setups like the Volt or Prius, but it should be waaaaaayyyy less expensive. Probably even less expensive than pure electric vehicles that try to engineer in big range, but still have to deal with an upper range limit.

  • avatar

    ..and this is why Toyota partnered with Mazda. Not for the Skyactiv tech but freer access to the Wankel rotary tech to drive electrical generator power packs for Toyota products.

  • avatar

    I think the Wankel has similar problems as diesels…to meet current emission standards, most/all of its advantage is lost. The large surface to volume ratio of the combustion chamber of the rotary is a real problem.

  • avatar

    This is a neat idea. The wankel’s big advantage is power to weight and power to size. I wonder if they are rigging it to be optimized for one RPM and load combination??? Flexibility abounds in a series hybrid with no mechanical connection between the ICE and the road. Control of the gas powered generator could essential be on-off. Only having one RPM and load to optimize for allows for a highly efficient design.

  • avatar

    The rotary has to burn a little oil injected with the gas, to lubricate the apex and side seals. How are they going to account for that? A separate oil reservoir, like a DEF tank?

  • avatar

    Recently I drove the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and thought it was brilliant but flawed: brilliant as an electric vehicle, and flawed once the noisy, underpowered, fuel-swilling 4-cylinder generator came on. “If it’s going to get the same dismal highway MPG as a non-hybrid CUV once the battery’s flat anyway,” I thought, “then it would be better if they used a butter-smooth Wankel for the generator.” Yes, Wankels are hilariously inefficient, but they’re vibration free and compact, the better to leave room for the gas tank.

    Mazda has done this trick before with a Japan-market extended-range electric Mazda 2; if they can do the same in a USEFUL size CUV (CX-5 or larger, Mazda, none of this CX-3 bullpucky) then they will make a real impact. But the world does NOT need another tiny EV.

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