The Mazda Rotary Engine Is Coming Back — But Not How You’d Expect

For years, rotary engine fans have salivated at the thought of Mazda putting their full engineering weight behind a reimagination of the company’s quirky, high-winding Wankel rotary engine configuration last seen for public consumption as the 13B-MSP powerplant in the 2003-’12 Mazda RX-8. According to Automotive News, the engine is poised to make its return here in the United States as soon as 2019, but not under the bonnet of a traditional Mazda sportscar as enthusiasts have hoped for.

Instead, the company may be planning to use one as a range-extender/supplemental powerplant in an as-yet-undisclosed battery-powered car, according to Mazda’s Mitsuo Hitomi, who shared a few details at a recent technology preview at the company’s proving ground.

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Renesis 13B-MSP engine in Mazda Museum (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Unlike other electric hybrid vehicles like the Ford Fusion, which relies on a traditional inline-style internal combustion engine to supplement its electric motor, the new arrangement from Mazda will likely feature the power-dense rotary engine to provide extra motivation.

The American market is different from many in that driving distances are further apart, which virtually requires the range-extender arrangement to be installed. The vehicle architecture will support either the all-electric or hybrid powertrains, giving Mazda the ability to tailor the vehicle to its owner.

The technology preview included a nugget from Hitomi, as he confirmed that they are working on a larger rotary engine to potentially power an as-yet-unannounced sports car. According to Automotive News, he says the challenge is not making the technology work well, but the case for Mazda to develop a second performance car on top of the venerable and much-loved MX-5 Miata.

By Kickaffe (Mario von Berg) - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Would this be the perfect platform for the Wankel rotary engine to make its return to the mainstream? (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

EngineLabs would like to propose a different idea. Instead of developing a new chassis to support the engine and muddy up the company’s product line, why not continue engine development and use it in the existing Miata platform?

The Wankel’s light weight, high specific power output per liter, and high-rpm nature would be an immediate hit with enthusiasts. The engine would likely fit right into the bay and perhaps prove even more fun to drive than the traditional small four-cylinder the Miata currently employs. Throw a turbo into the mix and it’s lights-out for the small performance car competition. Drop-top body, sexy curves, 9,500 rpm shift points, and a suspension capable of handling it all.. how could Mazda go wrong?

What do you think?

About the author

Jason Reiss

Jason draws on over 15 years of experience in the automotive publishing industry, and collaborates with many of the industry's movers and shakers to create compelling technical articles and high-quality race coverage.
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