Mazda revives the rotary engine … with the help of electricity

Mazda revives the rotary engine … with the help of electricity

Mazda is bringing its famous Wankel engine back to life as an extension of its MX-30 urban SUV, for better freedom and more capability. Have you placed a bet?

All statistics show that in recent days, electric cars are on the rise. Balanced price, freedom, basic interests, suspension of some incentives for the public… In terms of registration figures since the beginning of the year, especially in Europe, and according to the data and strategies shown by the manufacturers, it seems that the dynamic development of electric car stop sign open. Already because the customer base of the “early adopters”, these electric pioneers, are starting to decrease significantly, and demand is decreasing. Especially since certain parts of the market, especially those of small urban cars, have a hard time coming up with new plans that are profitable for manufacturers and affordable for the customer, apart from the popular Fiat 500, Smart and the future Renault 5. And the Chinese Championship is starting to get really strong.

So it’s on the hybrid car side that we’re pushing back. And among all manufacturers, even if the standard plug-in hybrid is now the norm, we are increasingly moving towards accelerating the PHEV offering. And even towards the rebirth of a type of motorization that has been somewhat neglected in recent years, EREVs (extended electric vehicles), which are electric vehicles with power extensions, a technology that we saw a few years ago proposed by BMW, Opel ( GM era), Ford (on some of its utility vehicles) and even Fisker.

A little warm … serve electricity

The purpose of this technology is to enable you to benefit from a 90% electric car, without the stress of “running out of fuel”, a battery that can be recharged by a socket or by using a small heat engine that serves only as a generator. no direct communication with the drive chain). Somewhat confusingly, this technology has given way to PHEVs and hybrids, but it is once again showing signs of interest from the public, who are still reluctant to go fully electric.

When Mazda presented its compact SUV MX-30 at the end of 2020, its first 100% electric model, the Japanese manufacturer immediately wanted an innovative but modest car, with a small environmental impact. The result was certainly successful, but it suffered mainly from its lack of freedom (about 200 km). And from the beginning, during the test, we can see under the hood a significant free space near the electric motor, which may suggest that the idea of ​​expanding the range is possible, and even under research.

This design benefits from dual motor operation, mainly electric and fuel expansion type © Antoine Larigaudrie.

The rotary engine rises from its ashes

Now it’s finished, and Mazda for the occasion has brought out of its closets the rotary engine technology, which was the heyday of the manufacturer’s “RX” sports cars, from the 1960s to 2012, and which even allowed Mazda to win its title in 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991. Without the usual cylinders and valves, working only with one or more rotors rotating in the cylinder tank, this block is known © light, compact and above all vibration-free. At the time, it allowed impressive power to be produced from very low displacement, at very high revs (around 10,000 rpm). The last Mazda with this engine, the RX-8, reached more than 230 horsepower, with a two-rotor air cycle and a displacement of only 1,300 cm. Unfortunately, this engine, which is also known to be very greedy in gasoline and oil, has become the sworn enemy of the new anti-pollution standards. Its production should therefore have stopped 12 years ago.

Our MX-30 R-EV can be charged from a standard socket as well. © Antoine Larigaudrie

But here he comes back to life! Mazda, to power the MX-30 battery, has chosen to bring back into production the “RX-8 half engine”, a reworked and improved single rotor of 830 cc, with a power of 74 horsepower. It is connected only to a 17.8 kWh battery , it only vibrates when the MX-30 R-EV’s autonomy drops below 45%. Then a small purr is heard, but it gently enters the movement.

Once it’s on, it will often charge the battery at a constant speed, or if you’re taking fast routes, follow acceleration and deceleration, rotating from 2450 to 4500 rpm minutes. But in most cases, it is the electric motor that will ensure the movement, with a driving sound slightly different from that of the all-electric version.

OUR MX30 has a reworked and improved single rotor of 830cm3, with 74 horsepower and is connected only to a 17.8 kWh battery. © Antoine Larigaudrie

Positives: more realistic and still powerful

An unusual hybrid engine, with an unusual hot spot … For a car that was not under the hood! Already tested here, the MX-30 is a machine that stands out from the norm of many electric SUVs in world production, and compact, cut, futuristic, elegant, and very Mazda, especially with its opposing rear doors that pay respect. of the RX-8. Furthermore, nothing outwardly distinguishes this range-extending version from the 100% electric version, apart from a few logos including that of the rotary engine, present on the side.

The release of this version is also an opportunity to enhance the finishes, including the “Zircon Sands” color from our test example that rotates between gis, green and beige, the best effect. The interior is very similar to that of the electric version, modest and well finished, with a level of quality that Mazda has continued to improve in recent years, and to gain. In short, the MX-30 is still modern.

Black spot: no big feeling

At the wheel, we also find the familiar feeling of the electric version, powerful, drivable and pleasant. But for a few details. The damping is more flexible, although the car weighs about one hundred kilograms (total 1.8 tons), sometimes it gives a rubbery feel and a stronger rolling effect during cornering. Despite everything, the MX-30 R-EV isn’t there for sport, nor is its zero-emissions version. It’s the perfect city machine to drive in a zen atmosphere, just the right amount of fear, and a good 170 horsepower.

But even if those who are not crazy about the rotary engine want to try how Mazda has revived it, they will definitely be disappointed, since we are far from the 13b engine that drove the RX-7 and the RX-8 has motorcycle fodder. There the monorotor is really just an additional technology, cleverly integrated, that will not change much in terms of feel. On the other hand, it transforms a low-capacity electric car into a more practical machine, with an estimated range of 650 km according to WLTP standards.

The interior of this Madza MX30 R-EV. © Antoine Larigaudrie

The most diverse driving modes will allow you to drive electric, 100% hybrid, and even the possibility of preferring to charge the battery. But in this case, fuel consumption will increase quickly, reaching around 9 liters per 100 kilometers. Typical figures for a PHEV. For the rest, you will move between 6 liters per 100 km in urban driving if you use a high-revving engine, and in all-electric mode, the consumption will be around 18/20 kWh per 100 km, the levels are very accurate, especially since the paddles on the steering wheel allows you to get a great effect of energy regeneration when breaking. Finally, regarding cable charging, we have times that vary from 2h50 to from 34 to 100%, around 30 minutes on a high 50kW terminal.

But at what cost? The right balance of quality-nature-price

Finally, it is undeniable that the MX-30 R-EV constitutes a real development compared to the 100% electric version, whose autonomy is very limited. Sales were also affected, and almost 30,000 cars were sold in Europe in 3 years. More importantly, the R-EV version allows this future-friendly SUV to go beyond the urban limits and gain freedom, even if it remains the conventional car that it will be. and the difficulty of competing with the competition.

This MX30 R-EV starts at more than 38,000 euros. © Antoine Larigaudrie

With a base price of 38,450 euros, it may even seem a little expensive compared to wider PHEV/hybrid vehicles such as the Honda HR-V and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross. But this does not seem to be a lesson for Mazda, which above all has made it a duty to satisfy the very loyal local customers, who demand original products and the desire to continue with Smooth electric. It is done with this MX-30 R-EV which also allows us to revive a beautiful piece of the company’s technological heritage. Great success.

Our model on test: Mazda MX-30 R-EV 170 Mako Urban Expression (41,350 euros)