Fans of Mazda's rotary engine have spent years lamenting the loss of the unique powerplant and eagerly awaiting its return. In the face of ever-tightening emissions standards and ever-increasing fuel economy requirements, it has seemed – for a while now – that the rotary engine was doomed to remain a relic of the past.
Perhaps more so than any other industry rumour, whispers of the rotary's triumphant return have appeared with unmatched regularity, only to wither and die on the vine just as quickly. However, this is no rumour – this comes straight from Ichiro Hirose, the executive in charge of powertrain development at Mazda.
The Australian motoring publication Drive had a chance to speak with Hirose at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, where Mazda was celebrating the reveal of their new CX-30. More important than a new crossover, however, was what was revealed about Mazda's developments in rotary engine technology.
According to Hirsoe, what was originally intended as a range extender has grown to become a much more versatile powerplant in light of recent technological breakthroughs. He says that the new flexible rotary hybrid powerplant currently in development is so efficient that it could be sold in any market in the world – even markets with notoriously strict emissions regulations in place.
Hirose went on to describe a setup similar to the Toyota Prius, in which the hybrid drivetrain has the versatility to not only generate electricity, but to actually power the drive wheels when needed. This technology, dubbed XEV, may make an appearance in production cars – at least in Australia, and, we'd imagine, Mazda's native Japan – within the next few years.
That's perhaps the most promising news yet for the rotary engine faithful. While we may never get another car like the RX-7, we may indeed end up with something even better.