Mazda's next RX-7 will be based on the same platform as the new MX-5
A successor to the Mazda RX-8 is in development, and could launch as soon as 2020 to coincide with the company's 100th anniversary.
The rotary-engined coupé will be based on the new, lightweight, fourth-generation MX-5 platform and, like past RXs, be front-engined and rear-wheel drive.
Mazda won’t confirm the RX-7 project. However, Kenichiro Saruwatari, vice-president of European R&D and based in Japan until 18 months ago, told Autocar that the company retains a department of 30 engineers developing rotary engine projects and hinted that they’re working towards the firm’s significant birthday.
Because the rotary engineering team is relatively small, Mazda also employs the services of Japanese universities. Mazda has found, like Honda did during the HondaJet project, that academics are better at maintaining confidentiality than commercial partners.
It’s also working with NASA on material technologies. The American aeronautics and space agency specified the material for the rotor tips of the RX-8’s rotary engine.There’s no word on engine capacity or power outputs at this stage but, from a marketing perspective, any rotary-engined sports car would need to be more potent than the most powerful MX-5, which will have a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine making upwards of 160bhp.
The now-defunct RX-8 had a twin-rotor 1.3-litre engine, which, because there are two combustion cycles per engine revolution, in effect gave it a 2.6-litre capacity and a power output of 228bhp.
Mazda is virtually alone in the automotive industry in persisting with rotary engines, which are smooth and high revving and have a high specific output but have little torque and can suffer from rotor tip wear and excess fuel and oil consumption.
Mazda appreciates the technical, marketing and recruitment advantages that its persistence brings and thinks a high-power, low-torque engine would sit well in the light MX-5 platform.
The lightest MX-5 will weigh less than a tonne and the architecture is one that Mazda is keen to exploit. How well it can be scaled will dictate whether the RX-8 successor will have +2 rear seats, but Saruwatari said Mazda is too small a company to develop another sports car platform.
An ‘RX-9’ name is unlikely for the new car. Mazda is said to prefer a return to ‘RX-7’ instead, because the new model is likely to be a two-seater. ‘RX-7’ is also a more iconic name. However, ‘RX-6’ is also the cards to indicate its smaller, purer positioning.
Saruwatari also confirmed that the planned joint venture with Fiat, under which the Italian car maker will produce its own roadster on that platform, is ongoing. It won’t use Mazda engines, though, and “you would have to ask them which badge it will have”.
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