Mazda recently unveiled the most beautiful car on earth at the 2015 Tokyo auto show. The RX-Vision concept is the logical next step for the automaker who’s taken it upon themselves to make driving fun again. From the outside, the car is already a smash hit, with nearly universal praise for the incredible design. What makes the RX-Vision truly important is what is set to power the car.
Most people are familiar with the concept of an engine. Combustion powers a piston up and down, turning the driveshaft and moving the car forward. This is different in electric and hydrogen-powered cars. This is also different in the RX-Vision concept. That’s because the RX-Vision concept is powered by a rotary engine. What is a rotary engine, and why is it important? Let’s look back on one of Mazda’s greatest accomplishments.
The rotary engine was first developed by Felix Wankel (the rotary engine is often referred to as the Wankel engine) in 1929. Rather than traditional up and down movements of a piston, the rotary engine works on, well, a rotary motion. In this engine, an oval-shaped housing contains a moving, triangular shaped rotor. This rotor creates a moving combustion chamber inside the oval housing. As combustion takes place, the rotor is naturally rotated, which drives a driveshaft and propels the vehicle forward. The advantages of the rotary engine are reduced weight, less moving parts, and more efficient use of combustion.
It seems then that the rotary engine is superior in every way, and that every car should use one. At least that was the thought. In practice, the rotary engine ended up having a few drawbacks that ultimately cost Mazda, the lone developer of the rotary engine, to shelve the idea for some time. For one thing, rotary engines were never one for being fuel efficient, often using more fuel than their piston counterparts. The rotary engine also had some problems functioning in cold weather environments, which can be a problem for any Northern drivers. Finally, while rotary engines were free from any major failures like snapping a piston or succumbing to an engine seizure, they were more expensive to repair as the know-how and parts simply weren’t available.
So why revive the rotary? Sure it had some advantages, but its failures eventually left it out of the market. The driving factor is demand, and prestige. Mazda is the only automaker outside of Europe & North America to ever have won 24hr of LeMans, and they did so using a rotary powered vehicle. People didn’t forget about how the small, independent Japanese automaker beat experienced German automakers in a car that had no pistons. People didn’t forget about the Mazda RX-7, a car that remains popular among enthusiasts to this day. People didn’t forget about the advantages of the rotary engine, and how in an ever-changing landscape of vehicle power, all valid options need to be considered.
So when it came time for Mazda to take the stage at the 2015 Tokyo auto show, they blew the crowd away with the unveiling of their RX-Vision concept, a true to form sports car powered by a rotary engine. People went wild, there was crying, laughter, wars were stopped, and it was finally the return of the rotary in the most beautiful way imaginable. So in the coming months, expect to hear more about the rotary engine, Mazda, and the RX-Vision concept, since it marks the first time in a very long time where automakers have given their customers exactly what they wanted, even if it might not be the most profitable option.
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