The rotary engine is ready to roll again.
Mazda has announced that it will unveil the first car to use the brand’s unusual engine since 2012.
Wankel rotary engines use a triangular-shaped rotor spinning in an oval chamber instead of reciprocating pistons.
The design provides excellent power density and smooth operation, but at the expense of some efficiency and with poorer emissions performance.
It rose to prominence in the Mazda RX-7 model line, but the last new car feature one was the Mazda RX-8.
Since then, Mazda has been continually developing the technology with the aim of bringing it back. It will do just that at the Brussels Motor Show on Jan. 13, but not by itself.
Instead of being used as the primary power source, Mazda will offer it in a range-extended, plug-in hybrid version of the MX-30 electric SUV.
The MX-30 is Mazda’s first electric vehicle and currently offered in a version that provides just 100 miles of range between charges, in an effort to keep the weight and cost of the battery down.
The range-extended version that will first go on sale in Europe this spring will not use the rotary to drive the wheels, but as a gas-powered electricity generator for long trips.
It is similar in concept to the discontinued Chevrolet Volt and BMW i3 REx, which used four-cylinder and two-cylinder piston engines.
The rotary should be small, light and less intrusive than a piston engine when it is running, and its efficiency will be optimized since it can operate at a constant speed rather than having to rev up and down with changes in speed. A logo for the car that has been released depicts an “e” in the form of a rotor.
Mazda has not announced if it will sell this model in the United States, but the CX-30 is only available in California, where local regulations require automakers to deliver a certain percentage of zero-emissions models, while the extended range would make it more appealing to more customers.