2021 Mazda RX-9 Rotary engine tipped for comeback

New tech raises RX-9 hopes. Mazda ponders sports car using new rotary engine developed as range-extender.

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.

New tech raises RX-9 hopes

New tech raises RX-9 hopes

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 carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic and aluminium components applied throughout the structure. The Japanese brand has a long history of producing rotary-engined cars but hasn’t had one in its line-up since the RX-8 went out of production in 2012.

Long-mooted RX-9 sports car could use latest rotary tech. Rotary-engined RX-8 was canned seven years ago. New MX-30 EV will also come in rotary range-extender form. Mazda’s chassis patent would appear to suit a sports car.

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