Mazda’s continued interest in the rotary engine is a mystery not even Mulder and Scully could solve in a brisk 46-minute episode of RX-Files. The Japanese automaker showed the RX-8, the last rotary-powered production car, the door in 2012. Since then, the company’s been more than coy about its rotary plans. While the company “dreams” of a rotary-powered sports car, teasing RX fans about such a possibility, the likelihood is nil. Patent filings from earlier this year show Mazda is continuing rotary development. And now a new video of two Mazda RX-8s testing at the Nürburgring, seven years after the model’s discontinuation, is adding another layer of mystery about the engine.
The video comes from an industry day where only automakers had access to the track. It’s unlikely any company other than Mazda would test 7-plus-year-old RX-8s, though it would be bizarre if they did. So why then is Mazda flogging two RX-8 sports cars at the track? The likelier scenario for the rotary’s return is using it as a range-extender for hybrid vehicles. Yes, it’s far less glamorous than a svelte sports car; however, the fact Mazda has continued to develop the engine, even filing patents with improvements to the design, provides some hope for its return in some form.
The two Mazda RX-8 test mules were likely hiding a new powertrain, possibly of the rotary variety. What better way to goose eager speculators into believing a new RX sports car is coming than with two RX-8s at the Nürburgring? Until Mazda releases official information about a rotary engine whether its a range-extender or the sole powerplant in a new sports car, all we can do is speculate.
Mazda has a chequered history when it comes to both hybrids and the future of the rotary engine in its portfolio. Reports of Mazda developing an RX-9 date back to at least 2011 when it was rumoured Mazda would use a Toyota hybrid system to wring more efficiency and power out of the rotary engine. In 2016, Mazda continued to talk of a rotary-powered sports car and the difficulties of making the unconventional engine work with today’s tightening emissions regulations. If anything, the two RX-8 test mules spotted at the Nürburgring will keep the internet rumour mill churning for awhile.