The business case for a rotary engine-powered Mazda RX-9 sports car is stronger than ever thanks to the development of a new rotary engine designed for use in electrified powertrains, according to company bosses.
An RX-9 has long been rumoured, with 2015’s RX-Vision concept thought to mark the Japanese car maker’s intentions to launch a range-topping sports car powered by a rotary engine. No such car has yet appeared, but the revival of Mazda’s rotary engine to aid electrification means the case for an RX-9 becomes much more persuasive.
The new rotary engine will first launch in a range-extender variant of Mazda’s MX-30, recently revealed in pure-electric form. However, the rotary can also be used for plug-in hybrids and hybrids and works with fuels including LPG and hydrogen, meaning it can be employed, over time, by many Mazda vehicles.
Mazda R&D boss Ichiro Hirose said: “The flexible rotary engine is a major solution for electrification technologies. It’s compact and lightweight with outstanding NVH. By using the rotary engine in a variety of ways, we can improve the cost efficiency – that means we can lower the hurdle of putting the rotary engine on a sports car. I really wish that we can justify this car. We have that dream, of course.”
Increasingly strict emissions legislation means that a rotary-engined RX-9 would need some form of electrification, according to brand and design boss Ikuo Maeda. “If we just look at the rotary engine, to meet current environmental requirements, technology-wise, it will be difficult for a rotary to meet these,” he said. “Mazda is looking at combining different technologies in our vehicles. If we can look at some suitable and fitting combination [for a sports car], then that might be a good solution.”
Talking about the justification for a top-of-the range sports car, Maeda added: “It is hard just to focus on studying high-performance sports cars with a rotary engine, but we wanted to see how we can evolve the technology by going through this type of trial [with the range extender].
“And, of course, we share the same dream that in the future we would like to have an RX-type sports car.”
While the car is not officially confirmed, Mazda recently filed a chassis design patent for a spaceframe-like structure that hosts features most common to a sports car. These include a double-wishbone front suspension and a relatively small engine bay – which would be ideal for a compact rotary motor – as well as lightweight carbonfibre-reinforced plastic and aluminium components applied throughout the structure.