Mazda maintains a small group of engineers specifically for rotary engine development. A new batch of spy photos reveal a hacked up RX-8 near the Nürburgring, and it's likely a test mule for this team's latest powertrain work. If the company can make a business case for the vehicle, this new Wankel might actually be available to the public in a few years.
This test mule reveals little about the powertrain, though. Cooling appears to be a major concern. Big radiators sit behind the intakes in the front fascia. Scoops in the center likely direct cool air to other parts of the engine bay, too. Whatever powers this RX-8 apparently runs quite hot.
Mazda's team have been working on a new rotary under the development name Skyactiv-R. A patent suggests that it might have a layout that flips the old Renesis engine by 180 degrees, which would move the exhaust ports to the top. This would allow shorter piping to a top-mount turbocharger, which should decrease lag. An electrically powered compressor is also a possibility. In total, the new Wankel could have an output around 400 horsepower (298 kilowatts).
Before getting to excited about an RX-9, understand that it wouldn't hit the road for several years – if at all. A recent report indicates that there's no room in Mazda's budget for a rotary-power sports coupe until 2020 at the soonest.
Gallery: Mazda RX-Vision concept
The Japanese automaker isn't ready to give up on the design yet. In 2016, the company excited enthusiasts by revealing the RX-Vision concept (above) that imagined a modern rotary-powered coupe that looked like a natural successor to the RX-7.
For its compact physical size, the Wankel engine makes fantastic power. Plus, they love to rev. These are great attributes for powering a lightweight sports car, but the layout comes with challenges, too. Mazda's engineers continue to struggle with how to make the rotary comply with modern fuel economy and emissions regulations, though.