Mazda hints at return of the rotary with RX-Vision concept
We've been hearing about the possibility of a new, RX-8-succeeding rotary-powered Mazda sports car for years now. At the Tokyo Motor Show, Mazda has finally breathed fresh life into those rumors, showing what such a car could look like draped in today's KODO design language – in a word: magnificent. The deep-red RX-Vision concept drips in automotive sensuality and hopefully proves more than just a fleeting vision.
While its shape looks a bit too conceptual to move through to production, for now the RX-Vison commands the room like an exotic flagship. Its stretched, curvy proportions send the mind racing into daydream after daydream about bringing that rotary to life and mashing the accelerator pedal.
If anything, Mazda's new concept is just a tad too long, its forever-hood a bit mismatched with the low, flung-back cabin. It feels almost like a pair of god-like hands pulled it by the spoiler and tip of the nose, stretching it into exaggerated two-door form.
Still, it's hard to argue with the voluptuous, 3D curves of the fenders, the subtle concavity of the sides, the big, oversized wheels, and the penciled-in headlight design. The styling brings the retired "zoom-zoom" back to life, even in the absence of basic engine and performance specs – which isn't surprising since the concept vehicle on show in Tokyo isn't packing any engine.
However, Mazda says its dream is of a future front-engine, rear-wheel drive sports car based on the KODO design language, as hinted at by the RX-Vison concept, that would be powered by a next-generation Skyactiv-R rotary engine mounted below a sweeping bonnet and secured to the rear axle.
Mazda, still called Toyo Kogyo at the time, looked at rotary engine technology as a way of establishing itself globally as an innovative, technologically advanced auto brand. It checked out a Wankel engine at West German company NSU (now Audi) and then formed a 47-engineer rotary development team to solve inherent design problems and work toward rotary commercialization. After a trying, expensive journey, the team cracked the case wide open in 1963. Mazda completed further testing and development and launched its very first rotary on the Cosmo Sport (110S in other markets) in May 1967.
Mazda continued production of the rotary for nearly half a century, engineering its way around the engine's subpar fuel economy and hydrocarbon emissions numbers to keep it globally viable in the face of evolving regulations and the global oil crises of the 1970s. The new-era rotary engine became the backbone of the venerable RX-7, which made a name for itself on both street and race track. Between that sports coupe and the 1991 Le Mans-winning 787B race car, the rotary enjoyed some glory days throughout the 80s and into the 90s. The 787B remains the only Japanese car with a 24 Hours of Le Mans win.
Mazda developed a new, more efficient rotary engine, dubbed RENESIS, for the RX-8 sports car, which launched in 2003. Over the near-decade that the RX-8 was in production, the engine that won the International Engine of the Year Award in 2003 grew quite long in the tooth as the cars around it got cleaner and more efficient. Mazda announced the end of production in 2011, citing poor sales and high costs associated with keeping up with emissions standards, and followed through in terminating both the RX-8 and the rotary in June 2012.
While production stopped more than three years ago, Mazda has still been busy researching and developing rotary technology, the fruits of which will be revealed in the (hopefully forthcoming) details about the Skyactiv-R. The engine's Skyactiv badging confirms that Mazda has once again engineered around the rotary's drawbacks, designing a rotary for the eco-obsessed present and future.
We can't wait to hear more about it. For now, though, you'll have to be content scoping all the angles of this piece of pre-Halloween cherry candy, snapped live at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show.