Matt Kimberley profile picture Matt Kimberley a year ago 65

A Rotary Engine For The 2020s Could End The Scene As We Know It

When we thought rotary engines had gone forever, it was easy to almost deify Mazda's divisive but much-loved RX-7 and RX-8, but now that the technology could realistically return in a very different way, the waters could be muddied

Remind me later
A Rotary Engine For The 2020s Could End The Scene As We Know It - Blog

Earlier this week we reported that Mazda might, after all, deliver a rotary-engined car again at some point in the not-too-distant future. It’s the latest in a long line of on-off developments that give us different ideas about the future of rotary power from one week to the next.

It’s been frustrating to keep reading inconclusive comments when all we want is a straight answer. The latest comments made by Mazda’s own Zoom Zoom magazine, implying that rotary tech has a future that meshes with the demands of the current age of technology and lowering emissions, hasn’t really helped.

The real problem isn’t that we don’t know whether it’s happening. The bigger issue, and the one that bothers me most of all, is what if Mazda really is working on rotary power, but in a way that’s totally different to the RX-7 and RX-8? Like a CVT-linked range-extender hybrid, or a hydrogen-sucking silence-fest. The only thing worse than never regaining something close to your heart is getting it back and finding it changed beyond all recognition.

Will rotary make its comeback in cars more like this...?
Will rotary make its comeback in cars more like this...?

We know the mythical ‘RX-9’ isn’t happening under any circumstances. The car derived from the RX-Vision concept is not viable, and that’s that. The idea of a nice, efficient, hybrid drivetrain using rotary technology’s advantages to cut weight and boost efficiency, though… that’s not going away. The question I really want to ask is whether all those people who’d give a kidney just to see a new RX warrior hero get built would be a little bit crushed when a rotary engine returned as a mild-mannered eco-warrior.

They say you should never meet your heroes. Most of us who have a big ol’ soft spot for the RX-7 or RX-8 have never owned one, if we’ve driven one at all. A new, rotary-derived drivetrain that achieved fresh heights of efficiency but that completely turned its back on those old dreams of brap-brap-brap drama might be even worse than not having a rotary at all.

This is the closest we'll get to an RX-9
This is the closest we'll get to an RX-9

At the end of the day it’s just a car, and at this stage it’s just a non-existent car. With your sensible hat on, there’s no doubt that it shouldn’t make any difference to anyone. But we car guys and girls are romantics at heart. We fall in love with the character and personalities we see in cars. We put our favourite models on pedestals in our minds and we grieve if those pedestals are ever torn down.

It might be likelier than some of us would want to admit that if we do see rotary again, it won’t be something to drool over or turn the volume up for. For some people it might be better to just remember it as it was rather than confront a cold new reality that sends those old pedestals tumbling.

Perhaps this as-yet fictional future engine we’re imagining might win millions of new fans across the world with its lightweight design, innovative approach and seamless function. But, then again, maybe it would just begin to overwrite all the old glory. Maybe it would signal the beginning of the end of rotary fandom as we know it. It’s a risk Mazda would have to take.