Somehow this slipped past our radar, but it seems that Mazda was testing what is likely a rotary powered sports car as recently as December 2017. Spy photos captured a prototype based on a Mazda RX-8, a car that has been out of production since 2012, making it quite curious why it would be testing about eight months ago. Only a few US media outlets seem to have caught onto it, and it really should have created more fanfare than it did. Here’s why.
In photos obtained by Japanese site CliccCar, the RX-8’s license plate on the test mule reads “HG DC” and is consistent with other Mazda test cars. The plate locates the registration in Hochtaunuskreis, where Mazda’s German R&D offices are.
The prototype appears to be a complete RX-8, and not the stretched Miatas they used when developing the RX-8 itself. Only the front end, enlarged for more air intake, and some bits behind the grille look funny, so it must just be for engine testing.
That engine is likely to be a rotary, and although it’s possible they could be testing a SkyActiv piston engine of some sort, why would they test a piston engine in an RX-8? A straight-six engine wouldn’t fit anyway, and although an inline-four might, the RX-8 is a RWD platform.
Also, the RX-8 is a Spirit R, which was a Japan-only model commemorating the last 2,000 RX-8s made. That means that though the test mule is being driven in Germany, it was probably built in Japan, where Mazda conducts most of its rotary research and construction. Why would they build a prototype out of a limited edition? Well, maybe it was just what they had lying around. It’s also not that special, It’s the same as the Type RS/R3, just with a badge and different colored wheels.
The last official glimpse we saw from Mazda of what could be a rotary-powered sports car was the 2015 RX-Vision concept. Since then, Mazda has said that if the rotary comes back, it’ll be as a range extender in a hybrid setup, likely due to fuel efficiency laws and market forces that don’t favor sports cars at the moment. Maybe that’s true for production vehicles, but it’s nice to know that even if Mazda can’t bring a rotary sports car to market, it’s still hell-bent on trying.