It’s not often that a once-popular nameplate returns from the automotive junk heap. And it’s all the more uncommon for the industry to bring back an abandoned engine design. But that’s what happening at the Tokyo Motor Show this week with the unveiling of the Mazda RX-Vision rotary sports car concept.
The rotary was a central part of the successful formula when Mazda introduced the original RX-7 sports car back in 1978. It remained the throbbing heart of successive generations of until 2012, when Mazda pulled the plug on the slow-selling RX-8. Ever since, rumors have repeatedly hinted at Mazda’s plans to revive both the rotary and the RX line.
While the RX-Vision is, for now, just a show car, it appears to have a serious future, the maker noting during its debut that, “The RX-Vision represents a vision of the future that harbors the soul of the Mazda brand.”
The RX-Vision boasts classic Mazda sports car dimensions and visually seems to be stripped down to basics, nothing frivolous or showy. The proportions are clearly influenced by the carmaker’s Kodo design language – which, in its latest incarnation is also visible at the Tokyo Motor Show in the form of the Koeru concept vehicle.
The Mazda RX-Vision’s body is low and wide, with minimal overhangs and a taut cabin. The low hood is made possible by the use of the new SkyActiv-R rotary engine which is a fraction the size of a similarly powered piston powertrain.
“The design aim was to shave away all but the essentials and give birth to the dynamic tension and ambience of a machine that is all business,” suggests Mazda.
(Return of the RX? Mazda set to show new sports car concept in Tokyo. For more, Click Here.)
The cabin picks up on that minimalist theme. But that doesn’t mean it’s simple. There’s a lot of handcraftsmanship in the interior, with a saddle motif for the center tunnel. And the instruments reflect the precision and detail you’d expect of a high-performance sports car.
For the moment, Mazda isn’t saying much about the new SkyActive-R engine, but it marks the first time it has publicly shown a rotary since the RX-8 was pulled from production in 2012.
The technology uses a triangular-shaped rotor spinning within an elongated chamber to make power. It revs up quickly and turns out gobs of horsepower in a hurry. The Japanese maker introduced Wankel engine, named for its inventor, in the late 1960s, a time when a number of manufacturers, including American Motors, General Motors and Germany’s old NSU, planned to put into production, as well.
But other makers never were able to pull it off and that, in Mazda’s words, made it “a symbol of the company … (a) unique and innovative technology that helped establish the brand and create a solid bond between Mazda and its customers.”
(Click Herefor a review of the all-new Mazda Miata.)
By the time the RX-8 ended production, Mazda had sold 800,000 vehicles using a rotary. And it would have continued offering the engine but for the obstacles that led other manufacturers to skip the technology. Though Mazda overcame durability issues, it couldn’t meet both emissions and fuel economy targets. Until now, anyway.
TheDetroitBureau.com reported last November that Mazda had two projects on the table — one for 2017 and another for 2020 – based around a new rotary design that was able to meet tough new global mileage and emissions standards.
“We want to surprise everyone in 2017 with something special to celebrate the birth of rotary,” a senior Mazda executive told us at the time. “Then, to celebrate the company’s 100th birthday, we want to take it to another level in 2020.”
The debut of the RX-Vision Concept confirms the first half of that plan. Though Mazda isn’t revealing much about the technology behind the SkyActiv-R, it appears to use some of the same strategies that have helped the maker deliver both strong performance and solid fuel economy numbers from its newest piston engines.
(Click Hereto check out the Mazda Koeru concept.)
For now, the RX-Vision is just a concept vehicle, but insiders suggest that what we see will be very close to what we’ll get in 2017, a way for Mazda to celebrate its centennial in high-performance form.