Mazda discontinued the RX-8 sports car in back 2012, and enthusiasts have been waiting for the brand’s iconic rotary engine to make a comeback ever since. Now, Mazda CEO Akira Marumoto has confirmed reports the rotary engine will return to the Mazda lineup, though not in a super high-revving RX-9. (Check the video below, and read the subtitles around 7:30.)
Mazda plans to use the rotary engine as a range-extender for the brand’s upcoming electric car, the MX-30. Mazda intends to begin testing prototypes next year to get production version on Japanese roads by 2022, but it has not yet offered any specs.
A rotary engine would work well, in theory, as a range-extender for an EV, as it is able to pack a lot of punch in a tiny footprint. The last RX-8 put out 232 hp from a 1.3-liter engine. So they should be able to get a rotary range extender to fit within a tiny footprint.
Mazda has toyed around with hydrogen rotary engines in the past, so the rotary as a range-extender or hybrid could have utility moving forward in a carbon emissions-free future.
It’s not clear whether the U.S. market will get the pure EV MX-30 or the range-extender version, but that doesn't mean we would not see the technology in another vehicle. Holding a candle for a traditional rotary-powered combustion RX-9 that looks like the RX-Vision may be foolish; plowing R&D into an engine for a low-volume sports car feels like about the last thing an automaker would do in 2020. But Mazda developing rotary engine technology for other uses could bring the cost down for an eventual sports car application.