When Mazda revealed its RX Vision concept, jaws across the automotive world dropped. This stunning concept embodied everything enthusiasts wanted in a new RX, sans the “concept” suffix. Recently, Mazda rightfully brought home the “Most Beautiful Concept of the Year” at the 31st Festival Automobile International for its work on this sleek, Wankel-powered rig.
Though the RX was an undeniable beauty, this award was by no means automatic. It had to stand up to the likes of the Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6, the Peugeot Fractal, and Porsche Mission E—none of which were deficient in terms of sexiness. In the end, however, the RX Vision designers’ tweaks to the KODO language were enough to bag the prize.
The big question now is whether Mazda will actually use this design in producing a road-going RX. In recent years, Mazda has been pretty good about avoiding useless concept cars, but this one seems more of a stretch for several reasons.
The first issue is that the RX will have to come with some form of rotary engine, or fans will revolt. This requirement leads me to the next issue; the rotary, while capable of big horsepower numbers from a small displacement, has always had three flaws: fuel economy, oil consumption, and lack of low-rev torque.
Since their inception, the Rotary engines were little more than a novelty, as they allowed for a nearly limitless rev band that gave engineers more freedom to extract serious horsepower from them. Horsepower is great for bragging rights, but torque has always been one of the Wankel’s shortcomings—the RX-8’s embarrassing 152 pound-feet at 5,500 is a key example of this—and the only way Mazda saw to fix it was turbo, which compounded the oil- and fuel-consumption issues (sigh). And don’t even get me started on the apex seal issues…
According to Mazda, it is continuing to tweak the Skyactiv-R rotary in the concept to make it friendly for production. Rumors have swirled about this engine, ranging from it being a generator for an electric powertrain to it being a diesel engine. Recently, the rumormill has rested on a report that Mazda engineers want the rotary to stand alone—no electrification—and run on diesel. Instead, the last reports claim that Mazda is looking to go back to turbocharging for the new engine.
As a fan of the RX lineup, the latest rumors scare me. I just can’t see a smallish automaker like Mazda having enough free cash laying around to toss at developing a low-production engine that is able to overcome all of the inherent shortcomings of the rotary design.
Maybe Mazda can get everything together and have the new RX in showrooms in time for the brand’s 100th anniversary in 2020, but I see way too many difficulties moving forward to have any confidence in it getting done. I have my fingers crossed that Mazda will prove me wrong.
Stay tuned for more details.