We’re holding out hope for a return of the rotary on the automaker’s 100th anniversary.

Even before production of the RX-8 ended in 2012, rumors swirled about whether Mazda would follow up its rotary-powered sports car with a new model. The RX-8, like the RX-7 before it, had a rabid fan base, and the car’s death inspired lots of fretting over whether Mazda would give up entirely on building rotary engines.

Fast forward four years, and there’s more evidence than ever that an RX-8 successor is on the way. It will most likely be called the RX-9, and it’s probably going to pack a modernized, turbocharged rotary engine. Here’s what we expect to see in the next few years.

What is it?

Along with the MX-5 Miata, much of Mazda’s credence with car enthusiasts comes from its line of rotary-powered, rear-wheel-drive sports cars, most notably the now-dead RX-7 and RX-8. The RX-9 would succeed both of those and carry on those key attributes, with a Wankel engine up front sending power to the rear wheels. Though Mazda has at times said it has no interest in building another car like that, hinting that the business case for limited-volume sports cars is tough, there’s mounting evidence that’s no longer true. Mazda executives are said to have signed off on the final plan for a production RX-9.

Mazda RX-Vision Concept


As with the RX-7 and RX-8, the RX-9 will be rear-wheel drive and will almost certainly come standard with a manual transmission.

What will it look like?

Pretty similar to the RX-Vision concept (pictured) that Mazda revealed at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show. When the car debuted, the automaker said it, “represents a vision of the future that Mazda hopes to one day make into reality.” Mazda designer Kevin Rice told reporters, “Inside Mazda, we all love the car … We’d love to build it.” The most recent rumblings suggest that Mazda would keep the production RX-9’s design remarkably close to the concept, albeit with a few tweaks for real-world sensibilities. It would be a little shorter in length than the outrageously long-nosed show car, with a taller hood to meet Europe’s strict pedestrian-protection rules, and a front fascia that more closely resembles other Mazda models.

What’s under the hood?

A new rotary engine that’s believed to be called Skyactiv-R, fitting in with the company’s naming strategy for other new engines. The biggest evidence that this engine is planned comes from the aforementioned concept; Mazda said the car was “powered by the next-generation Skyactiv-R rotary engine.” A patent application shows that Mazda has developed a new rotary engine that’s rotated 180 degrees from the old Renesis unit, apparently for improved packaging and reduced turbo lag. In other words, a turbo rotary is a sure bet. Some outlets reported that the engine would produce at least 400 horsepower (298 kW) – that’s up from the 232 hp (173 kW) produced by the outgoing car’s 1.3-liter naturally aspirated rotary. An electric turbocharger is also possible to improve low-end torque.

As with the RX-7 and RX-8, the RX-9 will be rear-wheel drive and will almost certainly come standard with a manual transmission. Whether an automatic or dual-clutch gearbox will be offered as an option remains to be seen – though the concept had only two pedals, hinting at some type of automated option. It’s possible the gearbox will be a transaxle design, integrated with the rear axle, to improve weight distribution.

Mazda RX-Vision Concept


The Mazda RX-9 could be on track for a launch in 2020 – perfectly coinciding with its parent company’s 100th anniversary.

How's the interior?

If it’s anything like the RX-Vision concept, look for a minimalist, driver-focused cabin that might bear some resemblance to the inside of the Miata. The concept had a big tachometer directly in front of the driver, with a sporty three-spoke steering wheel, and a metallic shifter atop the center console. Whereas the RX-8 was a 2+2 with suicide-style rear half doors, the RX-Vision seats only two occupants.

Are any other versions on the way?

We’d be happy just to see an RX-9 coupe at all. A convertible seems unlikely, given that a drop-top version of the RX-9 never materialized, and Mazda already satisfies sun-worshippers with the MX-5 Miata.

When will we see it?

We’ve long heard that a new Mazda rotary sports car would arrive by 2017. More recent reports have clarified that a concept version will debut at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, while the production model would appear at the same biennial show in 2019. That puts the Mazda RX-9 on track for a launch in 2020 – perfectly coinciding with its parent company’s 100th anniversary. In other words, we still might not see a finished product for another three years. Start saving now.

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