Every story dealing with a new rotary engine from Mazda lands in a different place on the matrix of possibilities between "Coming soon!" and "Never gonna happen!" In 2011 it was speculated that the rotary engineering program would be shut down with the demise of the RX-8, in 2012 the program was still alive and taking lessons from the SkyActiv engines, in August 2013 a Mazda insider said a rotary engine called 16X would be here in two years, in November the CEO said the only way we'd ever get a new rotary is if Mazda could sell 100,000 of them per year. Meaning that, for the moment, you can forget about it.
And yet, last month Mazda was putting journalists in a Mazda2 RE Range Extender, an electric car using a 0.33-liter rotary to power its lithium-ion batteries when the charge runs down. With a 75-kilowatt, 100-horsepower electric motor turning the front wheels, the Wankel generator and its 2.6-gallon gas tank living under the trunk double the range of the electric-only Mazda2 to 250 miles.
There's been talk of using a rotary to assist an alt-fuel vehicle for at least seven years, with Mazda pairing an electric motor with a rotary that ran on gas and hydrogen in a Mazda5 in 2007. Since then, almost all of those stories debating its return or demise also spoke of the oddball motor's advantages, such as compact size and ability to run on various fuels, as an aid in an unconventional powertrain.
Its development was said to be born from dissatisfaction of 70 percent of Mazda2 BEV owners in Japan who said they weren't happy with the 124-mile range of their electric car even though they never needed more; however, such a car was hinted at by the previous Mazda CEO at the 2012 Moscow Motor Show. AOL UK drove the range extended version in November and found it to be a fine experience, with Mazda engineers at the event putting such technology at least three years out while stressing that the test car is just that, and not scheduled for production.