Near the top of any car enthusiast’s list of most lustworthy engine types sits the Wankel rotary. So when I had a chance to talk with Mazda’s vice president of R&D and design Masashi Otsuka at the LA Auto Show, I had to see what the company was up to in the spinning-dorito-space. What he told me is that there’s a chance that tech from the “Holy Grail” Skyactiv-X engine could make its way into a rotary.
Mazda is not giving up on rotary engines, according to Otsuka, who says the company is studying Wankel engines—which aren’t particularly leaders in the area of fuel consumption—to bring them into a new era. When I asked how Mazda plans to do that, Otsuka was tight-lipped, though he did confirm the possibility of using Skyactiv-X engine tech, which we’ve described in detail here, in a rotary engine. Here’s a refresher on how that tech works in the four-cylinder reciprocating engine found in the new Mazda3:
The Skyactiv-X engine works by using a process that Mazda calls Spark Controlled Compression Ignition—essentially a spark plug lighting off a localized rich mixture of fuel and air to create a fireball that compresses the lean mixture throughout the rest of the cylinder, yielding spontaneous ignition. It’s a fascinating concept that promises the efficiency of a diesel engine.
How exactly Mazda could use this tech in a rotary, we don’t know. But Otsuka did tell me why Mazda cares so much about bringing Wankels back. “Rotary [is] a lot of fun,” he said. This, along with the fact that enthusiasts clearly want Mazda to bring the high-reving motors back, is why Mazda feels it should not give up. “This is our duty,” he told me.
The second reason, Otsuka said, is because rotary engines are a big part of Mazda’s identity. “Rotary engine technology is our uniqueness,” he said, and “uniqueness is very important.” Not to mention, he told me, this is the company’s core competence, and it connects Mazda of today to Mazda’s rich history.
So it seems like Mazda has a desire to bring the rotary back—we’ve known this for a while. We’ve also known that Mazda actually has plans to use rotary engines as range extender for hybrid cars. But, does the possibility of using Skyactiv-X tech in a rotary mean that perhaps there could be a non-range-extender rotary in the future?
We just don’t know. But I’ll be sure to mention that first in my nightly automotive prayers to the car gods.