Many Mazda fans shed a tear when the brand’s beloved rotary engine finally went out of production at the end of the RX-8’s lifespan in 2012. The Wankel drought is finally coming to a close, however, as Mazda’s VP of European sales and customer service Martijn ten Brink recently confirmed to ZeraAuto.nl that the engine will be making a comeback in 2019. The catch? It’ll be used as range-extender in upcoming EV—sorry, sports car fans.
According to Brink, Mazda’s first electric car will debut in 2019 on an updated platform underpinning the Mazda2, Mazda3, and CX-3. While Mazda expects the EV’s all-electric range to be suitable for most buyers, those who want to avoid range anxiety will be able to opt for a gasoline-powered, rotary-engine range extender. It’ll be a single-rotor, naturally-aspirated engine roughly the size of a shoebox, functioning exclusively as a generator for the car’s electric motors rather than as a direct motive power source.
Rumors of the rotary’s return seem to always be flying around, but this is perhaps the most concrete evidence to date that it’ll actually happen. Given the rotary’s limitations as far as thermal efficiency and, in turn, fuel consumption, it makes a lot more sense in modern use as a compact, lightweight range-extender that can operate at peak efficiency.
On top of that, Mazda executives have been clear that the company is determined to leave its boy-racer Mazdaspeed3 and RX-7/RX-8 days behind, opting instead for a more premium-oriented brand character. An EV fits the bill for those goals, and the rotary is a clever addition that speaks to Mazda’s penchant for flouting prevailing convention.
These days, while everyone else is churning out small-displacement turbocharged four-cylinder engines, quirky Mazda remains committed to the naturally-aspirated internal combustion engine. And based on the company’s new compression-ignition Skyactiv-X engine in the upcoming Mazda3 (which accomplishes ignition without traditional spark plugs), Mazda appears to be correct that internal combustion can still be more efficient.