Should Mazda bring back the rotary engine?
Over the past handful of years, Mazda has reduced the Zoom-Zoom quite a bit. Both the MazdaSpeed3 and the rotary-engine-powered RX-8 were discontinued for two valid reasons. First, people were not buying them in any quantity worth keeping, and second, each one that did sell reduced Mazda’s average fuel economy significantly. Both were gas-guzzlers by comparison to other cars Mazda was selling. However, both have their fans and with sales now up significantly, and with Mazda being the number one automaker for fuel economy in the U.S. and having been granted an EV-exemption of sorts by CARB, Mazda might be able to squeeze a few rotary engine-powered sports cars past the bean-counters. Should Mazda, is the question.
Frank Mitchell, Manager and Director of MazdaPartsUSA.com is a fan. He says, “Most people don't realize the numerous advantages the rotary engine offers over a standard 4-stroke engine. Dare I say it, but rotary engines are in many ways the best engine option available.” Rotary engines count among their benefits compact design, smooth operation and a very high redline. They are also simpler in design though it is hard to prove they have longer life or lower maintenance when compared to piston engine designs.
The downside to past rotary engines has been low fuel economy, high emissions, and terrible low-end torque. The outgoing Mazda RX-8 manual had a combined EPA mileage estimate of just 18 MPG using premium fuel. MazdaPartsUSA.com says that rotary engines lend themselves well to racing, but that is a matter of taste. Having had some wheel time behind Mazda RX-8 sports cars with the most recent Mazda rotary engines, it is easy to say they are weaklings in the low rev-bands. There is simply no torque to speak of and the whole industry is headed towards high-torque engines.
Mazda’s design team could perhaps find a way to improve fuel economy and emissions, but will Americans buy a low-torque, high horsepower engine in a sports car given the many choices on the market today that offer both?
Photo by John Goreham. Use with permission only.