Should Mazda bring back the rotary engine?
John Goreham's picture

Should Mazda bring back the rotary engine?

Rotary engines are loved by their fans, but do they make sense?

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.

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Comments

With the right turbo set up, they produce plenty of torque. I'd suggest you drive the 99-2002 rx7 if you can locate one. At least get behind a twin turbo 93-95 that has not been modified to death. 217 lbs of [email protected] doesn't sound like much but the power band on a rotary is nothing like a piston, very linear. Lastly, the 99-02 cars fuel economy it is not that terrible. My wife gets 18.5 in traffic, not bad for 330hp and 4:1 gearing.
You make a great point. Turbocharging makes sense in a rotary engine, just like in a piston engine. Perhaps it will make it possible for a new generation. Thanks for adding that.
Personally from a fan's point of view, Yes, definitely, absolutely Mazda should bring the Wankel engines back. However, they should only be released if the engines are ready and are compliant with today's regulations and if Mazda is confident enough that the engines have improved over the Renesis engine. I always wanted a rotary powered car whether it's the third gen RX-7, the RX-8 R3, the old RX-3s, or even the REPU (Rotary Engine PickUp). It would be awesome if Mazda brings the RX-Vision to production as the RX-9 and I would love to see and here the Wankel rotaries back on the streets again