The Rotary Engine: Mazda’s Bold Pursuit of Innovation
In the world of automotive engineering, certain technologies rise to prominence, capturing the imaginations of car enthusiasts everywhere. However, as time passes and new trends emerge, some of these innovations fall out of favor, making way for new and more advanced developments. One such technology that has experienced a decline in popularity is the rotary engine.
Once hailed as a groundbreaking breakthrough in internal combustion technology, the rotary engine has faced numerous setbacks and challenges in recent years. Many car brands have shied away from its use, citing various shortcomings and limitations. However, one brand remains steadfastly committed to the rotary engine’s potential – Mazda.
Despite the prevalence of alternative powertrains, Mazda continues to invest time and resources into perfecting the rotary engine. While the last mass-market production rotary sports car, the RX-8, was retired more than a decade ago in 2012, Mazda’s dedication to engine technology development has recently seen a revival. The brand has resurrected the rotating-triangle powertrain for use in its MX-30 SUV as a range extender.
But Mazda’s commitment to the rotary engine doesn’t end there. At the 2023 Japan Mobility Show, Ichiro Hirose, Mazda Motor Corporation Oversight Director of R&D, definitively confirmed that further developments of this fan-favorite engine can be expected. When asked why a relatively small brand like Mazda would continue investing in the rotary engine, Hirose simply smiled and replied, “Because it’s only Mazda who does it.”
Clearly, the rotary engine holds significant importance for Mazda. The brand has been a pioneer in rotary engine technology since the introduction of the 1967 Cosmo Sport. Over the years, Mazda’s relentless efforts have led to the production of two million rotary engines, powering legendary cars like the RX-7 coupe, Le Mans-winning 787B, and the short-lived Furai.
So, what lies ahead for Mazda and its iconic rotary powertrain? Well, one promising candidate is the Iconic SP concept, unveiled at this year’s Japan Mobility Show. This concept car showcases a rotary range-extending electric powertrain, capable of delivering an impressive 272kW of power. It can also be fueled by hydrogen and other clean fuels, highlighting Mazda’s commitment to sustainable mobility.
Interestingly, this isn’t Mazda’s first foray into hydrogen-powered rotary engines. The brand previously produced a limited batch of dual-fuel RX-8s called the Hydrogen RE, capable of traveling up to 100km on clean hydrogen fuel while emitting only water vapor.
When queried about the resemblance of the Iconic SP concept to the RX-7 sports car, Hirose responded cryptically, “Partially, it may look like an MX-5 and partially, I think it looks like an RX-7 as well – so that’s all I can say.” This enigmatic response left enthusiasts speculating about the future of Mazda’s iconic sports cars.
Hirose also revealed that the Iconic SP concept builds upon the rotary range-extending plug-in hybrid premise used in the MX-30. By harnessing the power of a compact, high-output engine, Mazda aims to create an exhilarating sports car experience.
As Mazda explores electrification options for its next-generation MX-5 roadster, it is likely that a refined version of the rotary powertrain seen in the Iconic SP concept will play a significant role. This advancement would help Mazda reduce tailpipe emissions, electrify their iconic nameplate, and maintain a lightweight design – key elements that have defined the MX-5’s success over the years.
Unfortunately for Australian car enthusiasts, Mazda’s decision to discontinue the slow-selling MX-30 nameplate means that the newly produced rotary models won’t make their way to Australia. The R-EV plug-in hybrid variant, exclusive to European and Japanese markets, leaves Australian Mazda fans longing for a glimpse of the rotary-powered future.
In conclusion, Mazda’s unrelenting pursuit of rotary engine innovation sets it apart from other automakers. While many brands have moved on to other powertrain technologies, Mazda remains dedicated to perfecting and utilizing the unique capabilities of the rotary engine. With the unveiling of the Iconic SP concept and ongoing development efforts, Mazda continues to push boundaries and redefine what is possible in the world of automotive engineering. The rotary engine’s legacy lives on, and Mazda’s determination ensures that it will continue to captivate enthusiasts and drive innovation for years to come.