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The AutoGuide News Blog is your source for breaking stories from the auto industry. Delivering news immediately, the AutoGuide Blog is constantly updated with the latest information, photos and video from manufacturers, auto shows, the aftermarket and professional racing.
Pistons need not apply
The history of the automobile has been dominated by vehicles equipped with piston-firing engines.
Rarely does something completely different come along, and when it does, it usually fails miserably. One attempt to reinvent the passenger vehicle engine may have not had the smoothest of rides, but did last in the automotive industry for over 50 years and is rumored to be making a comeback soon.
We are talking about the Rotary engine. Lacking pistons, spinning furiously and making a noise that can’t be mistaken for anything else; the Rotary has developed a cult-like following over the decades. And why not? Some rotary powered vehicles may have been utter failures, but others were masterpieces of their time. Here is a list of our top ten rotary powered vehicles.
Is this car still legendary, or just past its prime?
The 1990s was a great time for Japanese sports cars. Pretty much every manufacturer was building a world class performance machine including Mazda, with the third generation RX-7. But that was twenty years ago and what may have been great then, might not be any good today. So, we have gotten our hands on a pristine, low mileage 1993 Mazda RX-7 to see if it was all hype, or the real deal.
The 1990s is a decade known for things like flannel shirts, grunge music, Barney the purple dinosaur and Napster. But for those who live and breathe high octane fuel, the ‘90s was also a great time for performance vehicles. With the world economy in fine shape, manufacturers everywhere were producing some impressive machinery. This is the decade that gave birth to the Dodge Viper, McLaren F1 and Lamborghini Diablo.
What's in a Name?
Usually the engine found inside a vehicle receives a name based on some sort of manufacturer specific numbering and lettering convention. However, every once in a while a manufacturer will feel a little fiery and give that new hunk of metal an actual, proper name.
These names, more often than not, conjure up images of power and hairy-chested strength. Names like Rocket 350, BOSS and Fireball. Or, sometimes the name will refer to the design of the engine itself like Hemi (referring to hemispherical combustion chambers) or Quad-4, which is a dumb name in itself, but at least referred to four valves on four cylinders.
But now and then a manufacturer will reveal their latest and greatest engineer marvel and slap on a name that leaves us scratching our heads in disbelief, or is just so pretentious our eyes can’t stop rolling. Remember the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-to named Ford inline-6 called the ‘Thriftpower’? Well, that didn’t even make this list.
The Wankel engine lives! Although recent reports have suggested otherwise, a tweet from Mazda’s PR department was posted in Japanese for their followers indicating a new generation rotary engine is in the works, and thus confirming a previous report stating that SkyActiv senior exec Kiyoshi Fujiwara is continuing development on the Wankel.
Details on the rotary engine are still limited, but fans are not complaining. Although known for its incredible power output from its tiny displacement, a rotary engine’s inherent design burns a lot of fuel, contradicting the current eco-conscious trend across the automotive industry.
To stay relevant, the rotary engine must become more efficient. As Kiyoshi Fujiwara’s involvement suggests, much of Mazda’s rotary development depend on Mazda’s new Skyactiv technologies. Skyactiv innovations that can be applied on the rotary include the lightening of components, minimizing engine friction, engine temperature management, and optimizing compression ratio. Mazda is confident that the sum of these efforts will produce a new rotary that delivers Mazda’s driver-centric Zoom Zoom philosophy while addressing the current demands for fuel efficiency. Arigato, Mazda!
[Source: The Detroit Bureau]
The Mazda RX-8′s production run has already ended for much of the world, but Japan is sending off the last rotary engine equipped sports car (for the time being) with a special run of 1,000 cars dubbed the “Spirit R”.
Special badging, red brake calipers, Recaro seats and 18″ wheels are the main highlights of the package, while a choice of Aluminum Metallic, Sparkling Black Mica or Crystal White Pearl Mica paint will be offered for the exterior.
While the Spirit R will be offered only with a 6-speed manual, an automatic-equipped Type E will also be sold for those who only want two pedals.
Gallery: Mazda RX-8 Spirit R
Hit the jump to see the official press release
The RX-8′s days may be as limited as the Shinka, but the rotary engine isn’t. Mazda is still interested in furthering production of the Wankel, and they could have one ready by 2017 with Skyactiv technology.
During the gap, engineers will work on improving the rotary’s mileage and oil-eating capabilities, as well as improving reliability. The new rotary project had been scaled back during the recession, but senior officials are eager to continue developing it to fit with Mazda’s “zoom-zoom” image. It could go in the RX-7/RX-9 revival that’s been floating around for years, or it could even go in the MX-5 Miata. Either way, one thing’s for certain: they won’t give up on the triangle spinner.
Mileage is a big concern, but Mazda’s new Skyactiv system from its gasoline and diesel engines could make the jump over to the rotary. Skyactiv promises hybrid-like mileage from conventional powertrains, and some of its technology—direct injection, for starters—could easily be adapted. No more eating apex seals, hopefully.
[Source: The Detroit Bureau]
Rotaries may seem like a thing of the past these days, especially with Mazda preparing to retire the RX-8. But the Wankel-powered sports car won’t be the last Mazda to get the odd powerplant, thanks in part to a recent breakthrough.
A recently big step forward for Mazda’s engineers is a newly developed laser ignition system that can remove spark plugs from the equation. This has made sealing the Wankel’s combustion chamber easier, resulting in better efficiency and, more importantly, lower hydrocarbon emissions.
This breakthrough could prove to be the catalyst Mazda needs to rejuvenate the RX-7 model, but it all comes down to finding the proper funding.
That influx of cash could come from a partnership with Audi. The two automakers are reportedly in talks and Audi’s A1 e-tron concept did use a 254cc Wankel range-extender underneath the trunk floor. The light weight, smooth and quiet rotary technology could prove the perfect pairing for a future production hybrid drivetrain for Audi.
[Source: Inside Line]
Bad news for Mazda rotary engine enthusiasts – the company has no plans to build the RX-9 hybrid sports car, contrary to recent rumors. Even worse, minimal sales of the RX8 may jeopardize the Mazda rotary engine all together.
Production of the Mazda RX-8 is drawing to a close, with U.S sales of just 291 units from January to April of this year. With production halting on the RX-8, there won’t be a Mazda vehicle to utilize the Wankel 1.3-liter engine. However there is discussion of reviving the RX-7 as a replacement. There is no official go ahead with the RX-7, however it would most likely utilize the next-generation MX-5 platform.
The death of the RX-8 is sad, most notably for its stellar chassis and steering, however issues like horrible fuel consumption, burning oil and a lack of torque were always sore points.
[Source: Car and Driver]
File this one under “completely out of left field.” GM engineers are looking for any possible way to cut costs from their Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, and anything is currently on the table. Among the possibilities being investigated is a rotary engine, a powerplant long abandoned by nearly every automaker except Mazda, who still produces the rotary-powered RX8 sports car.
GM once experimented with a rotary Corvette, but the idea was quickly scrapped. The rotary has a few drawbacks, namely oil and gasoline consumption, but there are also positives; the engine is unbelievably smooth, loves to rev and incredibly compact. The RX8′s rotary is a little larger than a basketball, and the Volt’s rotary would likely be smaller, giving the car a nice reduction in weight.
Also being investigated are a diesel engine, or a small two-cylinder gas engine. GM is also hoping to cut the cost of the battery pack from $10,000 to $5,000, in order to help the car be economically viable.
[Source: Inside Line]
The Mazda RX8 has led a rich, full life as one of the finest sports cars you can buy for under $40,000. Never the quickest car in a straight line, the RX8 was always a dominant car in autocross, and a good way to put a smile on your face when blasting down a back road.
The RX8 was slated to exit the European market this year anyways, officially due to stringent Euro V emissions standards, but slow sales in North America have hastened its exit from our shores as well. If you still want one, the R3 model, with various suspension bits, Recaro seats and fancy wheels is the one to get, but deep discounts are sure to be had on virtually all models. Picking up a newRX8 for the price of a Civic Si is a realistic prospect depending on where you live.
In the mean time, speculation continues on what Mazda’s newest rotary project will be. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for an all-new RX7.