Mazda is hoping to revive its dreams of producing a viable rotary-engined sports car by equipping its RX-8 successor with a petrol-electric rotary hybrid powertrain.
According to a recent report by Auto Express, Mazda could bring its controversial Wankel rotary engine back into production as part of a hybrid power unit in an upcoming roadgoing sports car.
Although Wankel rotaries have been dismissed and forsaken by most automakers decades ago, Mazda alone have steadfastly continued to champion their benefits as lightweight, compact, smooth and responsive engines.
By the nature of their unusual design, rotary engines can produce enough power to equal the output of conventional piston engines twice their size, a trait that would seem absolutely congruent with the current-era automaking ethos of downsizing engines without losing performance.
Furthermore, their diminutive size and weight often allows engineers more creative freedom to position them when designing a car, resulting in an overall improvement in power-to-weight ratio, weight balance and handling dynamics compared to the competition.
Historically, this power and weight advantage often came at the expense of reliability, emissions and fuel consumption. In an era bygone, this may not have been an issue – but Mazda’s latest rotary-powered production car, the RX-8, was discontinued after the car failed to meet European emissions standards in 2010.
However, although the Japanese automaker’s rotary engine lives on in race cars, they have still been unsuccessful in bringing the technology back to the road.
This could all change as the Japanese manufacturer looks to build an RX-8 successor powered by a Wankel rotary hybrid, according to one of Mazda’s chief powertrain engineers, Florian Callies.
Speaking to Auto Express, he explained: “There’s still enthusiasm for rotary tech at Mazda.”
“If we build a rotary hybrid, it has to be something special. We can’t just drop it into a Mazda6 saloon. We’d need to combine these special technologies in a special car.”
In response to the magazine’s inference that the “special car” would be the Mazda range’s fastest and most efficient offering, Callies responded: “Yes, something like that.”
However, he was reluctant to offer any insight into what the upcoming sportscar would be called, although many industry insiders are claiming that the fabled ‘RX-7’ name could be revived.
Auto Express also reports that the RX-8 successor will be based on a modified version of the upcoming fourth-generation Mazda MX-5’s chassis, and that its total power output will equal approximately 300hp, courtesy of a 250hp petrol Wankel engine coupled to a 50hp electric motor.
Mazda have previously made numerous valiant attempts to keep their signature rotary engine relevant to modern automaking. For example, in 2003 they debuted the ambitious hydrogen-powered RX-8 Hydrogen RE experimental vehicles, and more recently Mazda explored the possibility of using a 0.33-litre rotary engine as a range extending generator to power an all-electric Mazda2 hatchback prototype.
The legendary engine returning to our roads in the guise of a sporty petrol-electric hybrid would be a welcome conclusion to Mazda’s recent rotary experimentation.
Image credit: Everton Yamamoto – Mazda (Flickr), CC BY 2.0; Mazda