Thursday, February 12, 2009

2 Handfuls of Awesome

Regular readers are aware that I've been fascinated with rotary engines for a while, and my interest was intensified by my recent test-drives.  You will therefor not be surprised to hear that I read a recent Inside Line article reporting a rumor about Mazda's future rotary-powered cars with unusual excitement in addition to the usual skepticism with which I respond to rumors.  

IL's source starts by saying that Mazda is hard at work on the next-generation RE, the 16X.  That part is well-established fact.  The source also claims that the engine, which I've described before, will put out abut 270 BHP, with atmospheric induction, while reducing emissions.  That claim is in line with Mazda's stated goals for the 16X.

The source also claims that Mazda is working on not one but two new rotary-powered vehicles.  One of these vehicles is a new RX-7 weighing about 2640 lb. The other is a follow-on to the RX-8, called the RX-9.

That two-vehicle part is a stretch.  Mazda hasn't offered more than 1 RX car since the mi 1980s, as far as I can tell.  The company seems to have felt that the RE's particular merits and demerits suite it to a niche applications of light-ish-weight sports cars.  Mazda has stated that they are committed to the Wankel, an they've been working on the new "long-stroke" engine since at least 2007, so I'm sure they are planning a vehicle to put it into.  But 2?  If that's true, they'd have to be very confident in the performance, the reliability, and---most importantly, in light of rising standards---the fuel consumption of this engine.  

For now, let's assume that Mazda is planning a two-RX line-up.  What's the likelihood that it would include and models called RX-7 and RX-9?  

The RX-7 name implies a two-seat sports car of light weight.  Many rotor-heads, myself included believe that, because of the RE's low-torque/high-power output, it works best in a light-weight, narrow-purpose sports car.  Additionally, the RX-7 is Mazda's most iconic car.  Thus, taking the rotary program back to an RX-7 is quite reasonable.  If nothing else, going to a two-seater will save weight and thus reduce fuel consumption, improving the company's CAFE situation.  Mazda has stated the goal of removing 100 kg---220 lbs---from each of their vehicles, on average.*  So, the source's claim makes sense, but I'm a little put off since the number the source offers is exactly the number Mazda has given out for it's fleetwide average.  It makes the source seem less credible, not more.  Another issue is that Mazda already makes a two-seat sports car:  the MX-5 Miata.  Of course the Miata is only available as a convertible, so perhaps the '7 would only be available as a coupe.  With the price and performance differences, that could yield enough product distinction.  Still, a pair of two-seaters seams like a lot for a small automaker,** even though Mazda has offered those same two models before.  One alternative would be to make the RX-7 a two-door 2+2 coupe.  I don't like that option, because the '7 has only ever been a two-seater, and tiny rear seats, without doors to get at them, are not very useful.

What about an RX-8 "sequel" called the RX-9?  The name implies, to me at least, something larger than than the current '8.  If the new car were to be a 4-seater with little suicide doors, like the current model, Mazda would simply call it the RX-8 again.  If they are planning a 2-rotary strategy, and if one of those cars is to be a 2-seater, it might make sense  for the other to be a sports sedan.

Still, I'm skeptical that well be seeing two Wankel-powered cars from Mazda in the near future.  But it would be seriously cool if we did.

* This is one reason that Mazda is probably my favorite mainstream automaker right now.

** If said automaker isn't Lotus, Ferrari, Lamborghini, or the like.


  1. If they really do have a winner of an engine in the 16x (and 270 hp at anything like a reasonable fuel economy would be a big frakking winner), I can see putting it in two cars. I can also see making the smaller one a 2-seat coupe, which is a market segment they serve poorly right now, and the larger one a big 2+2 coupe, like a Prelude or their old MX-6. I'm not sure the bigger one makes much sense, though, since it seems to step on the toes of the Mazda3 a bit. Yeah, I know that the base model isn't a performance car, but the Mazdaspeed3 most certainly is.

    Oh, and I saw a Lotus Exige on the Beltway the other day. The two thoughts that occurred to me were: "Wow, that thing is frakking tiny!" and, "What a waste to drive that car on the Beltway in rush hour."

  2. Nick,

    The Mazda3, including the MS3, is a FWD, 5-door hatch, so perhaps a RWD 2+2 coupe or 4-place sedan wouldn't compete directly with it.

    You comment reminds me of another kind of "internal" competition: competition with Ford products. Until a few months ago, Ford Motor Company owned just over 1/3 or Mazda, making Ford the largest shareholder and, by Japanese law, giving FoMoCo controlling interest. Some Mazda fanboys have speculated that Mazda's products have been constrained to not compete too directly with Ford's, in particular, the Mustang V6 convertible (Miata) and Mustang GT (RX cars). I'm not sure if this allegation is true, but it will be interesting to see if and how Mazda's product line changes now that Ford has sold off 20% of Mazda and no longer has control of the smaller company. (Ford made the sale to raise cash during the ongoing carpocalypse. I think it was a stupid move, since Mazda is one of the few divisions that is turning a profit, but no one asked me.) I certainly hope that the 2 companies continue their partnership; sharing chassis, engines, and other resources has been beneficial to both companies. Read more about that here:

    Yes, the Exige and its convertible sister, the Elise, are tiny cars. They make my Miata look like a boat. It makes me jealous.