By on April 22, 2022

After years of speculation that Mazda would someday bring back rotary-powered performance, the company is finally willing to confirm that our collective hope was not in vain. However, there will be no rear-drive RX model spinning up its triangular Wankel beyond 8,000 rpm because piston-free rotary engines are difficult to seal. Despite making oodles of power for their size, they’re not well optimized for everyday driving and tend to offer the kind of fuel economy and emissions that get regulators’ panties in a twist.

Given the circumstances, Mazda’s rotary will be returning as a range extender for the MX-30 PHEV.  

According to Automotive News, the manufacturer has confirmed that the rotary assisted crossover will be making its way to North America sometime next year. This meshes well with months of rumors and makes sense considering the rather severe range limitations of the all-electric model. The Mazda MX-30 EV’s 35.5-kilowatt-hour battery is limited to just 100 miles of EPA-estimated range. However, we’ve seen tests showing the figure is likely only to be reached under the most idyllic of conditions, limiting its appeal.

Adding a range extender allows Mazda to field the plug-in MX-30 in parts of the United States that aren’t California and forgoes the need to toss in a significantly larger (and heavier) battery pack. It’s basically the company’s only option if it’s serious about sales volume in North America and hardly front-page news considering Mazda had been discussing its development for years.

From Automotive News:

Talk of deploying an updated rotary in the MX-30 has swirled since the vehicle debuted at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show. Mazda Motor Corp. toyed with using it in a range extender that would have gone on sale in the first half of the fiscal year started April 1.

But Mazda opted for a plug-in variant. That allows it to further reduce the size and cost of the battery, compared with a range extender. But the engine would operate more frequently.

The rotary plug-in version of the MX-30 will debut in the second half of the current fiscal year ending March 31, 2023. It will be introduced in the U.S. and Japan in sequence, a spokesman said.

Having discontinued rotary engines in 2012 with the death of the RX-8, Mazda revived the technology the following year as a 0.33-liter prototype range extender fitted to a Mazda2 that had been converted to an all-electric powertrain. If you’re wondering why a company would go this route to boost efficiency when Wankel rotary engines are famous for being so thirsty and dirty, you’re not alone. However, Mazda had previously suggested that using one as a generator would allow it to run at its most optimal speed by avoiding low RPMs. Rotaries also don’t tend to produce much vibration, potentially making Mazda’s range extender less noticeable than generators using a traditional piston arrangement.

They likewise offer excellent power for their size. Speaking with suppliers, Nikkei Asia said the unit could effectively double the electrified MX-30’s range. But that remains to be seen and we’ve watched other generator-supported EVs flop.

“This is the most Mazda-like initiative in their electrification strategies, and the market is looking at how it will contribute to the sales volume,” said analyst Eiji Hakomori of Daiwa Securities.

Even if this ends up becoming a failure for Mazda, it’s nice to see them trying something unique while figuring out a way to keep the rotary motor relevant. We should have an idea of pricing later this year. Though, if history is anything to go by, EVs equipped with a range extender typically retail for a few grand more than their non-hybrid equivalent.

[Images: Mazda]

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38 Comments on “Mazda Rotary Engine Returning on MX-30...”

  • avatar

    It’s cool and very Mazda, but its 100% gonna fail.

  • avatar
    kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh

    .. nice .. completely ignore nearly 100 years of modern diesel tech used in trains, Mazda’s OWN low compression diesel engine and design a compact rotary engine from scratch that eats seals fails emissions on a good day a sucks gas like a congressman drinks scotch and makes no torque to turn a generator..

    • 0 avatar

      Diesel gensets are heavy, large, noisey, vibey and expensive.

      And, in the US, the poeple likely to buy an electric car, are unlikely to live in areas where diesel is common. And are likely not keen on often grungier diesel pumps.

      • 0 avatar

        What? Diesel is common everywhere in the US.

        • 0 avatar

          Not to the extent it is in Europe, where the pumps are no different at all from regular passenger car gas pumps.

          In may tighter urban/suburban gas stations, you don’t even get diesel. And in many of the ones where you do, the pumps are much grungier and less yuppie-friendly than typical gas pumps.

          And urban/suburban, is where electric cars sell. in the great wide open, which is the only places where diesel is gas’ equal in the US, distances are too long for electrics to make much sense.

          • 0 avatar

            Agree with the grungy diesel pumps! As far as EVs in urban/suburban areas, I’d say you have to pretty much eliminate urban. Where you gonna charge your EV in NYC?

          • 0 avatar

            I was thinking of West Coast “urban”….. I suppose New York is another level of dense.

  • avatar

    I’m kind of excited about range extender EVs Especially ones like Audi ran in Dakar this year.

  • avatar

    I have to assume Mazda has done efficiency tests determining kw/h per liter of fuel and the numbers came up right. Otherwise, the given reasons of reduced NVH don’t really justify developing a new engine.

    • 0 avatar
      kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh

      I would hope so… but … rotary seals … they just suck. And they would have to run it at much higher rpms to get the TQ to turn a generator. It doesn’t add up yet. Maybe it will make more sense when it releases and someone can take it apart

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t know squat about rotary engines, but I do know a little about modern business. If engineering couldn’t present a valid business case for doing this, the funding would have never been made available. Nobody is risking big money on a vanity project.

        • 0 avatar

          Maybe they have an unused production line and a lot of tooling for rotary engines so the up front investment is less? I wonder if the rotary will be like a gas turbine engine and run reasonably efficiently at a fixed speed?

  • avatar

    Glad they did something – without range extension of some kind, this car was a pretty much a joke.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Putting two turds together won’t make them smell any better.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      MX-30 US sales so far:

      October = 65
      November = 55
      December = 61

      January = 33
      February = 46
      March = 101

      This car is irrelevant in the US, adding a rotary option is stupid, and there is no mention of how performance is affected in REX mode, nor the cost adder.

      Sales in Europe are about 10x higher.

      Mazda’s persistence with rotary development puts their delusion on full display.

      Why would anybody buy a *tiny*, costly, inefficient EV with the added complexity of a rotary ICE? You’re much better off with a plain old 4-cylinder or a 200-mile EV like the obsolete Leaf.

  • avatar

    I wish them luck. Mazda is 1 auto company that pushes into new technologies/products. Rotary engines, deep fluid bed sand decore, MX5, miller cycle engines, and as mentioned above by hjkl…; low compression diesel, et al.
    Not all were successful, but this tiny company comes out with 10 times more good stuff than massive shtie GM or Toyota.
    Good for Mazda. I m pulling for them.

    • 0 avatar

      After giving serious consideration to FOUR Mazda products last year (3 Turbo, 6 Turbo, CX-30 turbo, CX-5 turbo) I’ve come to a conclusion about these fellas: their stuff looks and feels a lot better than it drives. The 3 looks great, and has a wonderful interior, but it’s also got a beam axle. The new 2.5 turbo should make their cars fast as hell, but they hamstrung it with the same old cheap six-speed automatic that shifts slowly.

      I suppose you could say their heart is in the right place, and I want to root for them, but they remind me of a Japanese GM…always just ***half a step*** away from making their stuff right. I gave them four chances at my business, and none of it felt RIGHT.

      Maybe they don’t have the budget to go “all the way” with their stuff?

      • 0 avatar
        Daniel J

        1. Everyone complains about the 6 speed. Yet even Raiti likes the 6 better than some of the competition 8 speed. Personally after test driving the 8 speed in the accord and Acura RdX, the 6 speed was so much smoother to me. The 8 speed dual clutch from Hyundai was snappy but not smooth at all.

        2. The rear bean seemed to be a non issue for me in the CX30 and 3 we had as loaners. Even pushing them hard in corners they were fine. Push them like race car driver hard? Sure, the rear gets upset. But compared to the CX3, the cabin in the 30 is quieter. Heck, even Mercedes is going beam on its entry levels.

        From looks and feel, I found the CX5 to be on par if not better than the XC40, RDX, and the Buick envision. Even the previous gen NX felt cheap. Of course this is comparing the top trim CX5.

      • 0 avatar

        ” I’ve come to a conclusion about these fellas: their stuff looks and feels a lot better than it drives.”

        I agree, my experience with driving recent Mazdas not called the Miata is that the experience doesn’t match the tongue bath journalists like to give them. They aren’t *bad* or anything but it’s pretty much just muddled with any other nonpremium or nonperformance offering.
        The CX-9 Signature did have a very nice interior though. And the last 6 had a good exterior.

    • 0 avatar

      As someone who brought home a new Miata ND RF to replace a Miata NC PRHT they have very definitely upped their game in the interior quality department. The materials and layout are at least on par with the Mrs.’s ES 350 if not a little better.

      There’s just a missing piece of the puzzle keeping them from their “Asian Audi” goals they’re reaching for, and I think they concluded that a RWD Inline-6 Mazda 6 wasn’t going to be the answer.

      • 0 avatar

        @DungBeetle62 – 100% on Mazda upping the game on interiors. The Mazda3’s interior has to be class-leading in appearance and quality. And I’m impressed that Mazda put in such a nice and well built interior in the MX-5 given how obsessed they are about keeping the weight down. But every button and switch has a solid feel, and the dash only uses hard plastics where you are likely not to contact them on a regular basis. The Audi-owning members of the family were quite impressed with the look and feel of the MX-5’s interior quality. (Compare that to the now normal VW interior. The first maddening rattle and squeak formed at just 8,000 miles and by 10,000 miles, any drive over an hour or two turned into an endurance test with the fingernails on the blackboard effect coming from the passenger door and side of the dash.)

        And the next thing I read about a Mazda rotary needs to include these four characters: RX-9
        I need a rotary back in my life.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’m pulling for them as well, but they shoud’ve put this in a larger footprint such as cx5/9.I think the Volt would still be around if it wasn’t so cramped and frumpy.Crumpy?

  • avatar

    This concept continues to elude me. Mazda wants to sell me a MX-30 with a 100 mile battery and a “range extender” which will allow an additional 100 miles of range until it runs out of gas. Great. So I’m on a 400 mile trip which is doable in most cars on one tank (no stopping). At the 100 mile mark the battery is depleted and the range extender rotary kicks in. At the 200 mile mark, the battery is still depleted and the range extender is out of gas. I stop and fill the gas tank. Now at the 300 mile mark, again both the battery and the range extender gas tank are empty, so I refill the gas tank. Now at the 400 mile mark, again everything is out of juice. Mazda seems to feel that 100 mile range is inadequate, but 200 miles is the Holy Grail. NO THANKS.

    • 0 avatar

      Which is why Mazda *isn’t* going this route.
      I think Nikkei and Matt is confused because they’re using range extender (REx) EV and PHEV interchangeably.

      Like mentioned in Automotive News and also discussed in Mazda’s mid-term plans, Mazda was developing a BEV, REx EV, PHEV, and HEV.

      For US, Mazda was initially looking at a REx EV (a BEV with an emergency rotary generator) to satisfy California regulators. What we will be getting instead is a PHEV with a larger rotary series hybrid (and definitely more than 200 mile range). This will be closer to what everyone else is doing and much more practical.

      REx EV is out, and PHEV is in.

  • avatar

    This is one of the reasons that I figure Toyota “partnered up” with Mazda – use of Mazda rotary tech to develop a small range extender generator that has a smaller footprint than a small 4-cyl inline. Mazda may be building a Beta tester model to sell first before big Toyota tries it on a larger scale. I’d be interested in seeing if the known ills of rotary engines in the past can be minimized enough or even cured by utilizing it in a constant-speed mode at the efficiency/durability sweet spot of its operating curve. But I’m also aware that, if this pans out and Toyota takes the plunge to utilize a rotary engine range extender generator on its products, we will see a major avalanche of pop-up advertising videos for it right here on TTAC. Geeze – why does everything need to be a double-edged sword these days…

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    If Mazda is smart they designed like the Volt(extended range EV) vs the BMW i3(EV with a range extender).

    I’m curious what it will get for MPG’s once the battery is depleted. I’ve taken my Volt on trips out of town well past it’s 45 mile battery range(with no place to charge) and it can easily manage 40 MPG highway running 70+ MPH. If Mazda can offer an offer a car that’s an EV for the 1st 100 mils & then offers fuel economy like you’d expect in a similar sized ICE car after that, they may have a hit on their hands. After 7 years with a PHEV, GM had it right w/Volt, too bad they didn’t stick w/developing the Voltec over the long haul.

    • 0 avatar

      Carlson, I agree. I thought the Volt was a terrific concept that’s perfect for these times. I’ve often wondered if it would have set the world on fire (and not in the Hyundai ABS sensor meaning of the term) if it had come from a company that didn’t make it the irrational lightning rod for every yahoo who wanted to say “Thanks, Obama!:”to everything.

      What’s been limiting electric cars so far? 1) price, 2) lack of a charging network for long trips, and therefore 3) range anxiety. The Volt delivered most of the in-town advantages of electric, while addressing all the worst shortcomings. If properly executed, this can do the same, and with the popular CUV form factor and much better build quality. Where’s the problem?

    • 0 avatar

      That’s the idea. In their initial announcement of rotary powered hybrid Mazda mentioned 3 variants: BMW i3 type REx EV, Volt style PHEV, and a series hybrid.

      They were initially going to launch the first option in California and second in the rest of the world. They announced a couple months ago that they’ll focus on launching the second option first and put the REx EV on the back burner (largely due to ever-changing CA ZEV rules and unstable battery economy).

      The only new info today is that this will be launched on second half of this fiscal instead of the first half.

  • avatar
    Norman Stansfield

    Next, Chrysler brings back the turbine as a range extender.

    • 0 avatar

      I would love to try deep-frying my next turkey, but I have no good secondary use for 5 gallons of peanut oil. If I had a Chrysler Turbine in the driveway, I would definitely burn the leftover peanut oil in the car. Definitely.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, I recall reading that a big problem for turbine engines in cars is that while they’re efficient at a steady speed (as in an airplane), they aren’t at multiple speeds as in a car. But a range extender can operate at the same speed all the time, and torque isn’t much of a factor. So the question becomes, can a turbine be made smaller, lighter, and at least as efficient as a piston (or rotary) gas engine, as well as have low emissions? I’m guessing not, but this may also be a case of nobody having much experience making small turbine engines than any built-in deficiency. Gasoline piston engines are as refined as they are because large numbers of people and companies have been working on designing and refining them for 1-1/4 centuries.

  • avatar

    Might as well install a steam engine range extender

    • 0 avatar

      “steam engine” That reminds me.

      A good feature of a graduate business school is one where they make you spend a lot of time reviewing past successes and failures of businesses.

      One that applies here is Baldwin Locomotive. They were the dominant locomomotive manufacturer at one point. Now they’re gone.

      One reason they failed was devoting too many resources into a dying technology. Here are a couple of examples in the late 1940’s and early 50’s.

      New battery tech is going into production as we speak. Apparently, half of Tesla’s production is using LFP batteries that do not need expensive cobalt and nickel. It’s rumored the Hyundai Ioniq 6 will have a 373-mile range and several automakers are talking 600-mile range around 2025. Super cheap, environmental friendly, and more resistant to cold temperature sodium-ion batteries continue their march towards eventual dominance:

      Charging could be vastly improved in the future. There is ongoing research that could lead to 3-minute charges. The technology has a way to go to be commercially available, but it is possible. Trust me, DARPA will make this happen since there are huge applications in defense.

      Mazda seems to be doing a repeat of what Baldwin Locomotive did in the 1950s. My advice is that they start offering Chinese lessons to their employees.

      • 0 avatar

        mcs, you are right. The right-wing knee-jerk naysayers are doing their best to shout over common sense and the reality of progress, but in the next few years even today’s cutting edge batteries and solar panels will become obsolete.

    • 0 avatar
      schmitt trigger

      A Stanley steamer hybrid.

  • avatar

    Hyundai 8-speed DCT not smooth? I own one and it is snappy and smooth I love this trans.

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