Wankel engine returns as a range extender in the Mazda MX-30 EV

Wankel engine returns as a range extender in the Mazda MX-30 EV

Mazda used the Brussels Auto Show 2023 on Friday to present a modern vehicle with a rotary engine.

The engine, a compact single-rotor design with a displacement of 0.83 liters, serves as a range extender in a new R-EV variant of Mazda’s MX-30 compact electric crossover.

The engine is mounted directly to a generator and the electric motor that drives the MX30 R-EV’s front wheels, all of which are located in the vehicle’s engine compartment. The engine never drives the wheels, which means it can be operated in a rev range that is optimal for performance and emissions. Its sole purpose is to generate electricity, which can charge the battery or, under strong acceleration, also drive the electric motor.

The driver can choose between Normal, EV and Charge modes. Normal mode activates the rotary whenever it’s needed, while EV mode only draws power from the battery for as long as possible. The charge mode ensures that the vehicle always has a minimum battery charge, which the driver can set in 10% increments. This can come in handy when the driver expects to enter a zone where only electric vehicles are allowed, which could be the case in some cities in the future.

Mazda MX-30 R-EV

Sales of the MX-30 R-EV in Europe are slated to begin in the spring, although US availability has not been announced. According to a report by Green Car Reports, the MX-30 R-EV will not come to the US, at least initially, as Mazda focuses on other vehicles.

The MX-30 R-EV’s battery is a tiny 17.8-kWh unit, or about half the size of the 35.5-kWh unit found in the regular MX-30, a vehicle the EPA is using rated at a range of just 100 miles. With a fully charged battery and a full 13.2-gallon fuel tank, Mazda estimates a range of more than 400 miles for the MX-30 R-EV. Another advantage of the R-EV variant is a power rating of 167 hp versus 143 hp for the regular MX-30.

Mazda MX-30 R-EV

Mazda MX-30 R-EV

Although it didn’t invent the rotary engine (credit goes to German engineer Felix Wankel), the engine has held a special place at Mazda since the automaker released its first rotary engine model in 1967 in the form of the Cosmo 110S. Mazda built just 1,176 examples of the sports car between 1967 and 1972, but there were more Mazdas with rotary engines, including sedans, racers and even a 26-passenger bus. Its use in the RX-7 and RX-8 sports cars has earned it a place in the hearts of many Americans.

Issues like poor fuel economy and emissions have plagued the gyro, which is the main reason Mazda hasn’t offered one since ending production of the RX-8 in 2012.

Mazda MX-30 R-EV

Mazda MX-30 R-EV

The challenge of reducing emissions from the rotary engine means a rotary-powered sports car is unlikely to return to the market unless Mazda can somehow develop an electrified version that meets increasingly stringent emissions regulations, something the automaker is after recently seems to try patents.

By 2030, every vehicle in the Mazda lineup will be electrified in some form. It is part of the automaker’s overall goal of achieving a 90 percent reduction in emissions by 2050 compared to 2010 levels.

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