Mazda has confirmed it will release a new-generation rotary-powered RX-7, but it could be up to five years away.
The Japanese brand has been vocal in its desire to continue with its trademark rotary engine technology following the demise of its rotary-powered RX-8 sportscar earlier this year – not just as a generator for an extended-range hybrid version of its all-new Mazda3 due next year.
But it has long said that any additional models – including a born-again RX-7, the long-rumoured sub-CX-5 ‘CX-3’ and further body derivatives of the new Mazda6 – are contingent on Mazda Motor Corporation returning to profitability.
Now, however, first official confirmation that Mazda continues to develop both a successor for its legendary RX-7 and a new-generation rotary engine to power it – based on the ‘16X’ concept engine revealed five long years ago in 2007 – comes from MX-5 program manager Nobuhiro Yamamoto.
In Australia for the local launch of the facelifted MX-5 this week, Yamamoto-san confirmed a redesigned RX-7 – almost certain to be based on the same new rear-wheel drive SKYACTIV platform that will underpin the fourth-generation MX-5 and Alfa Romeo’s new Spider in 2014
– will be launched by 2017.
Mazda’s sports car chief said the new RX-7 will be launched 50 years after the company’s first rotary-engined car, the Cosmo Sport, appeared in 1967. That means we’ll see the new RX-7 three years after the next MX-5 upon which it’s based, and 15 years after the last (FD3S-series) RX-7 ceased production in 2002, capping a 24-year lineage that debuted in 1978. While that model was produced exclusively for Japanese domestic market consumption, the last RX-7 disappeared from local Mazda showrooms in 1998.
Mr Yamamoto was the powertrain manager for the FD3S rotary engine and, during his last visit to Australia, also oversaw the RX-7's win in the 1992 Bathurst 12-Hour and designed the Le Mans-winning 787B’s R26B rotary engine (which produced 700hp from just 2.6 litres), so he knows a thing or two about rotaries.
While the RX-8’s 13B Renesis rotary engine displaced 1.3 litres, Mr Yamamoto said the larger 1.6-litre 16X rotary is capable of up to 300 metric horsepower (220kW) without forced induction. He said that, in conjunction with a special catalytic converter and combustion principles already developed for Mazda’s new SKYACTIV-G petrol engine family, the 16X would also easily meet strict new Euro 6 emissions standards due in force by the time it debuts in the RX-7.
Asked if the next-generation RX-7 will follow the lead of the last FD-series by featuring forced induction, he said: “maybe not”.
“At this time it has not been determined. Maybe later in life it will be turbo, but to start with maybe not.”
Mr Yamamoto said key attributes of the new RX-7 would be throttle responsiveness and a linear power delivery. He said the two-stage power delivery of the FD RX-7's twin sequential turbochargers and the turbo lag associated with a single large turbo made a naturally aspirated rotary the ideal powerplant for the next RX-7.
Yamamoto-san also ruled out an electrified powertrain for the next RX-7, saying that hybrid or plug-in EV technology was not suitable for a proper sportscar.
“For a pure sportscar, it must be internal combustion,” he said.
Addressing those who think 220kW is not enough for a modern supercar, Mr Yamamoto said the next RX-7 would “definitely be lighter” than the FD RX-7 (1310kg) by being “probably around the weight of the Toyota 86” (1250kg).
This is despite the fact the next RX-7 will be larger overall and longer in wheelbase than the MX-5 to accommodate two extra rear seats for the Japanese market (but not Australia and other western markets, where it will remain a two-seater) and to reflect its position as Mazda’s new flagship sports car. To achieve this weight-reduction, Mazda will employ all of the lessons learned in developing the new SKYACTIV chassis-based MX-5, which is expected to weigh as little as 1000kg, as well as a range of other lightweighting technologies.
While Mr Yamamoto said aluminium panels would be used extensively in the new RX-7’s bodyshell, he ruled out materials such as carbon-fibre on the basis of cost. On the question of price, Yamamoto-san said the born-again RX-7 will come with a price tag commensurate with its position as the flagship of the Mazda model range, which will have been fully renewed by the time it emerges.
He said the new RX-7 would therefore cost somewhere between Nissan’s 370Z coupe ($68,640) and the rival Japanese brand’s top-shelf GT-R coupe ($170,800).
While it’s clear the four-door, four-seat RX8 ‘coupe’ – which featured two unique rear-hinged ‘suicide’ doors – will not be replaced after attracting less than 192,200 sales between 2003 and 2012, the new RX-7 will ensure the rotary engine remains exclusive to Mazda.
The unique reciprocating rotor technology was first patented in 1929 by German engineer Felix Wankel, who later sold the licence to the technology to Mazda and NSU, which used it to power the Ro80 until 1977 before it was merged into the Audi brand.
While Audi employed a rotary engine as a range-extending generator in one of its e-tron hybrid concepts, it has since confirmed it will be replaced by a conventional internal combustion engine in the production version.
Mazda, meantime, looks set to recommence rotary engine production for the Mazda3 hybrid next year
– just a year after the RX-8 rotary was discontinued – following 35 years of almost continuous rotary engine production between 1967 (when the rotary-powered Cosmo sports car first appeared) and April this year, when production of the RX-8 ceased.
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