The Mazda Rotary Engine Is Finally Coming Back

The Wankel engine will return as a range extender for Mazda's new electric vehicle.

Imagine that you're a 1950s carmaker being pitched an experimental engine. This German dude named Felix walks into your office and tries to sell you on the idea of a three-pointed piston spinning around inside an oval box, burning fuel as it goes. It looks like a ball of fire in a bingo cage, or maybe a football knocking around in a washing machine. And not only does it run, but it's also incredibly balanced.
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It seems like we've been waiting forever for Mazda to come out with a new rotary engine. The last production car to use the unique powerplant was the RX-8, and that car was cancelled all the way back in 2011. Now, the rotary engine is officially returning to Mazda's lineup—as a range extender for the automaker's first electric vehicles.

Mazda revealed the news today in a short press release announcing the launch of its first electric vehicle in 2020. One version will be purely electric, while the other will sport a rotary engine range extender that functions similarly to the gasoline engine in a BMW i3. Here's how Mazda justifies the use of a rotary engine in this application:

The rotary engine's small size and high power output make multiple electrification technology solutions possible via a shared packaging layout. Taking advantage of the rotary engine’s compatibility with gaseous fuels, the rotary-powered range extender is designed to also burn liquefied petroleum gas and provide a source of electricity in emergencies.

We've seen reports about the rotary returning as a range extender before, so this doesn't come as too much of a surprise. Mazda doesn't specify the body style, battery type, or driving range of its new electric vehicle, nor does it say whether this new model will be sold in the United States. The only thing we know for sure is that it'll have a rotary engine.

This new rotary-backed EV is the second part of Mazda's "Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030" initiative, where Mazda intends to pursue advanced drivetrains using a combination of efficient gas engines, alternative fuels and electric power. The first part, of course, is the automaker's ultra-efficient SkyActiv-X compression-ignition gasoline engine, first revealed in 2017.

Though it's not the RX-badged sports car we've been hoping Mazda would build, this news is a step in the right direction for rotary die-hards everywhere.

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