Although currently without a rotary engine vehicle in its fleet, Mazda has not given up on the unique powerplant. At the Tokyo Motor Show the performance-oriented Japanese brand unveiled the RX-VISION – its concept for a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive rotary-powered super GT
With a swarm of photographers and journalists surrounding him, Mazda President and CEO Masamichi Kogai stepped up to the podium at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show and pulled the sheet back on a car he described passionately as “the embodiment of Mazda’s vision of the future.” And if this is Mazda’s future, it certainly looks bright – at the very least on the design front. The long-hooded, curvaceous RX-VISION is one of the shapeliest, most cleanly lined GTs since Alfa Romeo’s heart-stopping 8C supercar.
Without a doubt, it’s a stunner.
As a GT, the RX-VISION epitomizes the format with a front-engined, rear-wheel drive layout. Controversially, Kogai promised the RX-VISION would be powered by a rotary engine – an extremely durable, simple and high-revving engine type that unfortunately suffers from efficiency and emissions issues. Can Mazda build a 21st century, CAFE-standard compliant rotary engine? Kogai promises us he can. And will.
There is little reason to doubt Mazda’s capabilities and resolve, as they are the only car maker to ever successfully mass-produce a rotary engine. First with the Cosmo Sport, a handsome E-Type-aping grand touring coupé that debuted on May 30, 1967. The following year the Cosmo Sport competed in an 84-hour endurance race on the Nürburgring dubbed the “Marathon De La Route”, and captured fourth place. The fact that this upstart brand, powered by a two-rotor rotary engine, could nearly podium on a non-stop 3-1/2 day race proved the engine’s durability and economic viability.
The rotary engine is also responsible for Mazda’s success in America, as the brand took off with the RX-7. Debuting in 1978, the very next year the beloved sportscar won the 24 Hours of Daytona. Its reputation was cemented, and helped grow Mazda into a respected brand through its successors the RX-8 and the future-forward RX-9.
Many had assumed Mazda’s development of the rotary engine would cease due to its difficulty passing strict emissions, but the RX-VISION – and Kogai’s solemn vow of allegiance to the engine type – shows that rumors of its demise were premature. Other than the fact that this “vision of the future” will be powered by a rotary engine, very little is known about the RX-VISION’s powertrain. But with its stunning low-slung stance, meaty rear haunches and truly stunning GT profile, fingers crossed that the car – and its legendary rotary powerplant – can make it into production.
Although superior to conventional cylinder engines in many ways, rotary engines are traditionally heavier in emissions. The big question is, can Mazda build an EPA-compliant rotary engine in this highly challenging “clean air” legislative climate?
Mazda is the only company to produce a hydrogen-powered rotary engine. Being zero emission, this could be the very avenue Mazda is following for the RX-VISION.
In the early 60s, Mazda bet its entire future on the rotary engine, tying its ability to bring this revolutionary engine into production to its very survival. Fail, and the company would be a footnote in automotive history. Succeed, and Mazda could finally contend with its firmly established competitors like Nissan and Toyota. They succeeded.