Mazda Still Considering Rotary-Powered Sports Car


Mazda hasn’t offered a car powered by a rotary engine since the last RX-8 ended production in 2012. The rotary engine’s impact on enthusiasts is so great that many still clamor for the chance to own another if one ever comes to fruition. Mazda’s latest news on the subject, from a joint press event with Toyota and Subaru, revealed that a sports car is under consideration. Still, it’s probably not the RX-7 successor we’ve been wishing for.

The two-rotor engine, placed perpendicularly between two sports car tires on the stage during Mazda’s rotary presentation, was not subtle. It pointed to a longitudinal, front-engine car as opposed to the transverse application currently in production in the MX-30 hybrid. It wasn’t just a hint: Mazda admitted that a sports car application was a possibility. Then, when asked directly by CarScoops, a Mazda spokesperson gave this nebulous answer, “There are various issues that need to be addressed, including emissions compliance, before it can be marketed. We believe that the first priority is to clear the technical hurdles. Once that is done, various things will become a reality.”

Ah, yes, “various things.” That’s settles it. While there’s not much to go on, we’re still happy about the possibility of a rotary-powered sports car becoming a reality. That reality might not be ideal, however.

Mazda Iconic SP Concept Car front three quarter
Mazda Iconic SP concept (2023).Mazda

Rotary engines offer plenty of benefits that make them a great choice for a sports car: they’re light, compact, and use fewer moving parts than a comparable piston engine. Because they don’t have reciprocating parts, they can more easily rev high and churn out a lot of power for their size. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, there are also a lot of downsides to the basic rotary design: they typically offer poor fuel economy, their emissions tend to be high, their apex seals take a tremendous beating, and they’re difficult to cool. As promised earlier this year, Mazda has a 36-engineer team dedicated to rotary engine development to combat those deficits.

One way that Mazda has been chipping away at emissions and fuel efficiency has been by eliminating direct human control of their operation. With the rotary engine decoupled from the driver, it can act as a generator for a hybrid powertrain and operate only under the most efficient conditions. That is a great use for a power-dense engine, but it doesn’t scratch the itch in a sports car like it did in the RX-7. Take a look around—nobody is planning a letter-writing campaign to get BMW to bring back the i8.

Mazda has been the only automaker dedicated to rotary engines, and perhaps it’s found the right niche for them as compact generators for hybrids. The performance metrics and the technology might be impressive in a hybrid sports car application, and we’d be glad to see something with the Iconic SP’s lines make it to production. But will Mazda still be able to cash in on the nostalgia if the driver isn’t the one in command of the potent rotary engine?


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    I don’t want something as small as a Miata. Wouldn’t feel safe when a Ram 1500 could easily merge on top of me.

    My NC1 is huge in comparison with the Lotus 7 in which I toured western Europe in the late 1960s. Prudently, one drives a small car as one rides a motorcycle: defensively. Stay out of blind spots, assume others intend to run you over, and try to maintain an escape route. Small, nimble vehicles can be fun, be they are not a good choice for heavy-traffic commuting.

    A rotary generator does not sound interesting to me. While I would love some 300hp+ Rotary car I don’t know we will see that again. The FD will be peak rotary RX-7 to me.

    Do modern Wankel engines really suck fuel, or is that a stigma left over from the early days of emissions controls when Mazda selected an afterburner in the exhaust manifold that required an ultra-rich mixture to function? Did the RX-8 have rapid apex seal wear, cooling issues, fail to pass emissions, or burn much more fuel than equally-powered four-stroke engined cars?

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