The Wankel rotary engine has been dead since Mazda killed off the RX-8. Yet, despite the rotary's less-than-ideal fuel efficiency, reliability, and oil consumption, fans loved it and have been asking Mazda to bring it back ever since. Now, fans might finally be getting what they've wished for ... sort of. Mazda is bringing the rotary engine back to the 2023 Brussels Motor Show this week, but this time as an EV range extender in the MX-30.
Mazda's MX-30 has one of the shortest ranges of any EV on the market, with an EPA-estimated range of only 100 miles. So the need for a range extender is real, even if it's antiquated. It's been a while since we've seen a new electric car hit the market with a gasoline range extender. The BMW i3 was the most famous, and the take-rate on its range extender model was so low that BMW discontinued it in 2019. However, the MX-30 can use all the help it can get.
A rotary engine as a gasoline range extender is an interesting choice, considering it was never an especially efficient engine design. Its inherent lack of a traditional rotating assembly may make it lighter and more compact to fit into the back of a car. Also, we've heard that Mazda is adapting its traditional Wankel design with dual intake ports (VVT) to better improve low-power demand situations.
It's also unclear exactly how it will work. BMW's i3 REx used its range extender to add a few miles of range, but only after the battery reached around 10% state-of-charge, so it was really just an emergency backup. However, Mazda's press release calls the MX-30's electric motor/rotary engine setup a "unique plug-in hybrid powertrain." Does that mean the rotary engine will be regularly engaged, similar to a plug-in hybrid? Could it add power to the rear-wheels, while the existing electric motor powers the front axle? Or will it work like the i3's emergency range extender?
All of our questions should be answered when the car is finally revealed in Brussels at the end of the week. Either way, fans will likely be happy to see the rotary engine return.
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