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Mazda Rotary Engine Hiatus Temporary, Cleaner Return Planned

 

2010 Mazda RX-8

2010 Mazda RX-8

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Somewhere between turns five and eight on the track at Road America, with the 2010 Mazda RX-8 and its 1.3-liter rotary on high alert around 8,000 rpm, it became clear. 

The RX-8 was like a versatile actor with great chops that always lost top billing to trendier stars.

Two years later, the eccentric is retired.

Sad as it is to see it go, the Mazda was no innocent martyr. A misquote of power here, a public apology there, and it all centered around its dependency on rotary power.

Mind you, the Renesis engine had its pluses. From that tidy 1.3-liter unit came 232 horsepower, which peaked at a lofty 8,500 rpm with the six-speed manual it was fitted to. Yet for all the revs, it was still smoother than many piston engines with twice the displacement at half the rpm.

On the other hand, conventional engines were typically more efficient. The RX-8 we tested was rated at just 16/22 mpg city/highway - and that was under the EPA’s simulated “normal” driving conditions. We can’t guarantee our hooning around the road course even returned double-digit mileage.

For a spirited drive, the rev kettle had to be on full boil, because the rotary’s torque pot was nearly empty. Added to longtime sealing issues and high emissions, the rotary’s days were understandably numbered.

But with a little rehab and image improvement, anything’s possible. Mitsuo Hitomi, Mazda’s general manager of powertrain development, tells WardsAuto we could even see the rotary engine’s comeback with a supporting role in Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology.

Hitomi won’t spill the beans about every last detail, but insists his team “found a way to make dramatic improvements” for the next rotary engine. In other words, cleaner, torquier, and more efficient. He clearly has his work cut out for him.

Don’t take this to mean there’ll be a high-efficiency RX-9 anytime soon. While another rotary-powered car could be developed, we think it’s more likely to see duty as a means to extend range in an as-yet unspecified Mazda electric vehicle down the road.

Rotary engine

Rotary engine

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