Mazda is bringing back the rotary engine – but not as we know it

GT Sport is out this week, and if you’ve ever some of the previous Gran Turismo games, you’ll know about the Mazda 787B. The 1991 Le Mans winner is easily one of the fastest cars in the game, and that’s mainly because of its incredible rotary engine. Its unusual power unit is high-revving, responsive, and features one of the best engine notes you’ll ever hear.

If you haven’t heard of the rotary engine before, that’s to be expected. The rotary, or Wankel engine is only really used by Mazda nowadays, and even then, only rarely. Mazda has used the engine in a handful of road cars, racing cars and concept cars, and not much else – but now it’s making a comeback.

Earlier today, Mazda announced the Wankel engine will be returning to its road cars, but not as you might expect. Mitsuo Hitomi, head of the Japanese manufacturer’s powertrain division told Automotive News that the  rotary engine will be installed in an EV as a range extender, and it could be on the road as early as 2019.

“I think that’s probably what it will be,” Hitomi said during a technology preview at the Japanese carmaker’s testing facilities  in Japan.

Why now?

Many manufacturers have experimented with rotary engines in the past, but drawbacks such as poor fuel consumption and low torque have meant only Mazda has really persisted with the technology.

However, range extenders only serve to charge the battery of an EV – they don’t actually drive the wheels themselves – and that means those drawbacks are sidestepped. In fact, rotary engines are known for just how compact and quiet they are, and that means they’re ideal for use as a range extender.

We’ll find out if Mazda has made the right choice in two years time. In the meantime, here are a few videos of that fantastic 787B – don’t expect the new EV to sound like this.

 

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