The RX Vision, though, is a pipe dream. Mazda is smart to keep the rotary dream alive. It's smart to keep developing it in back rooms and to keep the idea on the public's mind. Credit where credit's due: Mazda has solved some of the stickiest issues the rotary engine has, through savvy engineering and perseverance. We've seen promising patent filings for the Skyactiv-R engine, which is supposed to be found in the RX Vision concept. Mazda uses every opportunity to remind us that development is continuing and that the company would love to bring a rotary-powered sportscar to production.
I believe it. But the RX Vision is just a design study. And there are some harsh realities about rotary engine emissions and fuel economy standards that are difficult for modern piston engines to achieve without expensive componentry. Emissions and fuel economy are both bugbears of the rotary, in case you've forgotten. And that explains Mazda's interest in running rotaries on hydrogen, but down that road lie infrastructure challenges as daunting as making a gasoline-powered rotary burn as clean as one of Mazda's Skyactiv piston engines.
All this is meant to put Mazda's recent comments to Top Gear in context. Mazda's design director, Kevin Rice, spoke to TG at the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa D'Este, and was waving Mazda's rotary flag quite enthusiastically. "In the back rooms at Mazda, we're still developing it," Rice said, "and when the world's ready to buy another rotary, we'll be ready to provide it."
I'd like that to be a comforting statement, but given the realities of fuel economy and emissions regulations and Mazda's position in the market, it seems like a hollow platitude. "When the world's ready" is just another way of saying "when we solve the fundamental issues with this engine layout, and there's an unambiguous market study that shows we can build these cars and make a profit, we'll consider it."
That seems like a lot of "ifs". Perhaps Mazda does have a clean-burning, efficient, cheap-to-produce rotary running on an engine dyno in Hiroshima, and it's prepping an RX-9 for the next auto show. I'll happily be proved wrong – I think there are few things as enjoyable on the road than a rotary revving like a banshee – but I can't honestly take comfort in Rice's words. But they do stoke interest from the hardest-core, most evangelical Mazda fans, and maybe that fervor will move some MX-5s or get families into that new CX-9.
The company will keep plugging away on the rotary, as it should. When such an engine is ready, we'll embrace it with open arms. And feel free to be vocal, on forums or to Mazda directly, about building a rotary-engined sportscar. It couldn't hurt, but it may not help. Just don't get your hopes up.