It’s the end of a 45-year era as the last rotary engine departed Mazda’s factory in Hiroshima recently, as reported by Car and Driver. At one point the Japanese automaker seemed poised to transform the industry with the technology developed by Felix Wankel. Rotary engines were lightweight and could produce incredible amounts of power for their size.
Mazda toyed with the technology, fine-tuning it throughout the years. Changes in fuel consumption and emissions standards put the company in a bad spot, even though it made some dramatic changes with the design of the 13B-MSP, or the Renesis engine that powered the RX-8. Even though it could pump out 222 horsepower and 159 lb.-ft. of torque, plus it had a redline of 9,000 rpm, consumers lost interest in the rotary engine as they perceived too many weaknesses.
Considering how important fuel economy has been to car shoppers in recent years, it’s a wonder Mazda stuck with the rotary engine for as long as it has. For example, the EPA estimates that a 2011 RX-8 gets just 16 mpg in the city. That’s the kind of fuel efficiency one would expect from an exotic performance car with at least a large V-8, or a huge luxury SUV weighted down by loads of chrome-out parts.
Even though no rotary engines are currently being produced by Mazda, there is supposedly a light at the end of the tunnel. The company’s been pouring its resources into Skyactiv technology, which is designed to boost fuel efficiency without making cars boring to drive. Hints from Mazda’s Twitter feed, which have been dropped here and there over the past few years, indicate that the company is working on a new kind of rotary engine that uses Skyactiv engineering principles. Just what exactly that means and when those engines will be included in production vehicles isn’t clear, so now begins the game of waiting and wondering.