Could The Rotary Engine Live Again?

Image: Holiday Auto via

With the slow but eventual death of Mazda's RX-8 in 2012, the Wankel rotary engine fell out of use in road-going production cars. Despite its incredibly simple design -- with just three moving parts -- it had developed a reputation for being unreliable, oil-burning and fuel-hungry. But a new report out of Japan suggests the rotary, loved by enthusiasts for its distinctive brap-brap sound and driveability, might make a return -- in a new Mazda RX-9 at the beginning of the next decade.

This report comes to us from Japanese magazine Holiday Auto via, which days that Mazda's board of directors has signed off on the often-rumoured successor to the RX-8 and RX-7 sports cars, approving the research and development and design of a new two-door chassis and rotary engine-powered drivetrain.

Mazda, the magazine says, will use the SkyActiv name -- already used for the company's fuel efficient Atkinson cycle piston petrol engines -- for the new rotary. The new twin-rotor engine, displacing 1.6 litres versus the older Mazda rotaries' 1.3 litres, may also be turbocharged in the future RX-9, planned for eventual release in 2020 after concept displays at motor shows throughout 2017 onwards.

A rotary engine doesn't use the piston and rod arrangement of a regular motor as used in most petrol and diesel internal combustion engine vehicles on the road today. Instead, a single spinning shaft with a rounded-triangle rotor sits inside an oval housing, moving on an eccentric bearing that creates a constantly-moving combustion chamber where fuel and air are mixed. Trust us, just look at the wiki -- you'll understand it straight away.

Mazda had considerable success with its rotary-powered race cars throughout the '80s and '90s, including the distinctive 787B, which housed a 2.6-litre quad-rotor engine. Rotaries have also previously had applications within aircraft and motorbikes for their small size, and have been proposed as range-extender engines in some petrol-electric hybrid cars.

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