Mazda 3-rotor, rear-wheel-drive flagship, and how to make it happen

Mazda has filed a patent application for a 3-rotor hybrid drivetrain configured for a rear-wheel-drive layout. Obviously, if built, it would be the first rotary-engined car since the 2012 death of the RX-8, and the first triple-rotor production car since the JC Eunos Cosmo ended production in 1995. Just as obviously, though, it would totally buck prevailing market trends. The rotary, great as it was, was never as clean or as thrifty as a piston engine, and even those are phasing out. What’s going on in Hiroshima?

The application was filed to the European patent office, where it was discovered by Japanese blogger taku2-4885. The analysis shows a transmission tunnel that seems to closely resemble the one in the flagship sports coupe patent submitted to Japan’s patent office last August. It also clearly shows three rotor housings sandwiched together in a triple-rotor configuration.

Another illustration in the filing depicts a torque tube enclosing a driveshaft, which is connected to a transaxle sending power to the rear wheels. A 48-volt hybrid system is mated to the rotary engine, likely a PHEV setup.

A diagram shows that the hybrid system will also have two in-wheel electric motors driving the front wheels, which match previous patent filings. This will allow for an AWD system that incorporates some kind of torque vectoring, like spinning the outside wheel faster for improved grip, or perhaps an even more finely tuned G-Vectoring Control system. Finally, a cooling system illustration details a slant-mounted radiator for more surface area and improved cooling. It’s as serious a driver’s car as we can think of in this day and age.

Our sources at Mazda have said that they’ve never stopped developing the rotary engine. As recently as 2019, a rotary-engined test mule has been spotted at the Nürburgring disguised as an RX-8. However, they’ll only bring it to market if market forces align, and we don’t mean whether internal combustion engines live or die. We mean whether the market will bear Nissan GT-R prices for a car with a Mazda badge. So far, the answer is far from certain.

In the meantime, Mazda has bigger fish to fry. The world is becoming a sprawling, confusing mosaic of emissions and electrification rules. In some regions Mazda will essentially be forced out of the market if they don’t offer some kind of electric vehicle.  They’re already buying expensive carbon credits from companies like Tesla to offset their all-petrol fleet. That’s why Mazda is frantically trying to put electric vehicles on the road, even if they’re as half-baked as the non-rotary MX-30 or rebadged Toyotas.

Assuming the fairly significant problems above — as well as others, like the fact that Mazda is still tiny and the brand isn’t even on most car shoppers’ radars — can be solved, the only way a rotary-powered car like this will make it is if it’s a PHEV. A PHEV’s ability to run on pure electric power for short trips will allow a car like this to enter some European cities, which, by the time this comes out, have chosen to bar gasoline-powered altogether cars from their streets.

At the same time, a PHEV will be able to supplement the petrol engine with additional power and give the car some truly phenomenal range. Think 50+ mpg. It solves the issue of being stranded without a charging station in the middle of nowhere and lets the car be a true driving partner. Imagine being able to drive hard for 8 hours straight without needing a refuel. It’ll truly allow you to explore the backroads, which dovetails perfectly with Mazda’s brand image and mission statement of hashiru yorokobi, or “joy from driving”.

We’re not trying to get your hopes up. Each day that passes, the window for such a car gets a little bit smaller. That’s why the patent is, in a likelihood, just a placeholder. If by some stroke of insane luck the planets align and Mazda is able to move forward with the rotary flagship, this is what it has planned. We’re getting  peek into the company’s vision board. It probably won’t happen, but other companies don’t even file patents like this anymore. At least Mazda dares to dream.

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10 Responses to Mazda 3-rotor, rear-wheel-drive flagship, and how to make it happen

  1. Lupus says:

    Well… If it would come to production, this car should be the RX-9. Last from it’s breed, with the last single-digit designation.
    Or … RX-0 (RX-Zero)? As the culmination of all efforts, expirience and hopes revolving around the rotary engine idea..

  2. j_c says:

    ” The world is becoming a sprawling, confusing mosaic of emissions and electrification rules. In some regions Mazda will essentially be forced out of the market if they don’t offer some kind of electric vehicle.”

    For this reason, I wouldn’t be surprised if anything like a 3 rotor would be a Japan-only release.

  3. speedie says:

    Being a fan of the rotary is like being the only one in your family who likes the politically incorrect, but extremely fun to hang out with, uncle who is the black sheep of the family. You always find yourself laughing when they are around but no one understands why even when you try to explain it to them. I hope Mazda finds a way to make this happen but it was already a hard sell to management even before Covid hit and the all-electric initiatives came along. Here’s to hoping the relatives finally understand and start laughing as too.

  4. Alan says:

    If you’re watching this space, Mazda, I personally would relish the opportunity to spend low six-figures for an exotic, highly focused, gorgeous triple rotor sports coupe. I’m ready with a deposit. Make it happen, show the world who you are and what you stand for, make our dreams come true.

  5. dankan says:

    Wasn’t Mazda looking at using hydrogen in their rotaries? A hydrogen-burning rotary hybrid might be a way to be green and swing for the fences on a proper exotic (it would certainly be a car out of the ordinary).

    • Lupus says:

      Yeah, awesome idea. The EV’s are absurd in cuntry’s like mine – Poland, where ~80% of electicity comes from burning coal or earth gas. So from “green” point of view it’s just pushing the pollutiuon out of the city streets to suburbs, where powerpalnt are located. IMO the hydrogen is the only sensible way to power cars in the future. It is the most alike to today’s fuel’s from the users perspective.

  6. Speedie says:

    Ah the great hydrogen debate. It is indeed a clean burning fuel but it has a number of drawbacks. It has a low energy density which requires it be stored at high pressure to make up for the loss of range, there is zero infrastructure for refueling, and it uses a lot of energy in its production. Some of these issues could be solved but with electric cars already solving the infrastructure and range issues I do not see hydrogen ever being accepted in the market.

  7. John says:

    If Mazda builds this, it should be called the Rx-7. From what we have seen, it would be worthy of the Rx-7 name plate. Rx-7 just rolls off the tongue and sounds mean as hell and brings back good memories.. Rx-9 is not cool sounding at all.

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