Like moths to a flame, a legion of Mazda sports car fans have rekindled faith that the Japanese automaker will produce a successor to the storied RX-7 and RX-8 sports cars, following the reveal of the company’s RX-Vision concept at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show.
The concept features sleek lines, familiar RX family proportions, and most important to fans—a Wankel rotary engine underneath, now known as the Skyactiv-R. But as has been apparent for quite some time, bringing back the rotary sports car is no small feat, and one that will require a development “breakthrough.”
According to sources, the new engine—said to be an evolution of the 16X Renesis 2, showcased on the 2007 Mazda Taiki concept—hasn’t been able to hit Mazda’s targeted performance levels. That isn’t from a lack of trying, however. Mazda R&D chief Kiyoshi Fujiwara revealed to Automotive News that the company has assigned 50 engineers to the project in recent years.
“We have a dream that one day, this design with a rotary engine will achieve a level that customers will accept,” Mazda CEO Masamichi Kogai told the trade paper. “We have rotary engine fans and they will not be satisfied if we have the same exact rotary engine from before.”
While the Wankel rotary engines are simple in design and capable of both high engine speeds and horsepower, they aren’t without their blemishes. Rotaries tend to consume fuel and oil faster than their conventional counterparts, as well as produce higher emissions—the factor that killed-off the last-generation RX-8, which bowed out in 2012.
One option for the continuation of the Wankel rotary breed was seen in late 2013, when Mazda began prototyping electric Mazda 2 hatchbacks, fitted with rotary engines used as “range extenders.” The setup allowed for the engines to operate at a constant (and efficient) rpm, recharging the car’s onboard battery.
While the hybrid system could merit the basis for a future RX-7 or RX-8 sports car, Fujiwara told Australia’s CarsGuide he wants the rotary to make a standalone appearance first.
“I want to introduce a new rotary without electrification first,” he told the outlet. “If I introduce with both, people will say electrification helped the rotary engine.”
The development hurdle appears to be a big one as Mazda continues work on the Wankel engine, though you could say the future is beginning to look brighter. Between 1978 and 2002, Mazda produced 800,000 RX-7 sports cars. Hopefully—either with or without electrification—the world will see a few hundred thousand more in the coming years.