Rotary Renaissance: Mazda’s Team Sparks Anticipation Among RX-7 Fans

The rotary development team went away in 2018, but as of February, it’s back.

Mazda built its last rotary sports car in 2012 when the JDM-only RX-8 Spirit R was discontinued. However, it wasn’t until 2018 that the development team in charge of the rotary engine was disbanded. Last year, the rotary returned as a range-extending engine in the MX-30 to fix the worrying range issues that have plagued the small crossover.

Speaking at the 2024 Tokyo Auto Salon, Mazda President and CEO Katsuhiro Moro took everyone by surprise by announcing a dedicated team of engineers responsible for rotary engine development will be established on February 1. Prior to sharing the big news, he expressed his gratitude about the great feedback following the unveiling of the stunning Iconic SP concept.

Mazda’s head suggested the high-performance coupe is actually happening: “I am very happy and deeply moved by all the support and encouragement I have received for the compact sports car concept. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all. With your encouragement, we are launching a rotary engine development group on February 1 to move closer to this dream.”

In order to break through the challenges of the carbon neutral era, rotary engine engineers who have acquired a broad technical perspective that transcends the boundaries of engine types and cutting-edge internal combustion engine technology, and who have been trained as users of model-based development, will reunite. It is not so easy, but I hope we can take a step forward into a new chapter of insatiable challenge.”

A good chunk of Katsuhiro Moro’s speech was about the Iconic SP. He focused on how its rotary engine behaves like a generator rather than driving the wheels. Some of the already known technical specifications appeared on screen during the press conference: 164.5 inches (4180 millimeters) long, 72.8 in (1850 mm) wide, and 45.2 in (1150 mm) tall, with a wheelbase of 101.9 in (2590 mm) and a curb weight of 3,196 pounds (1,450 kilograms).

Mazda’s top brass called it a twin-rotor compact sports car with 365 horsepower and “top notch” performance, even comparing the Iconic SP to a Porsche 911. He went on to say the gorgeous coupe is big enough for two people and their luggage. You’ll be driving home “with a smile on your face” without the “inconvenience” of an electric sports car that might give you range anxiety.

Previously, Chief Designer Masashi Nakayama said the concept “could easily be shrunk down to Miata-like proportions,” alluding there wouldn’t be packaging constraints. We also know the combustion engine has been developed to run not just on gasoline but also on hydrogen, biofuels, and even liquified petroleum gas (LPG).

As for the concept’s name, Iconic SP is a deliberately vague moniker to avoid a direct connection to the MX-5 and the long-defunct RX. If a production version will follow, logic tells us it won’t be released sooner than 2026 seeing as how it’s only now that Mazda is putting together a new rotary engine team.

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