Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Is the Mazda RX8 the last Rotary Engine car?

The rotary engine was seen almost as an engineering miracle in the 60ies. Every car maker wanted to have it in its car. Mercedes experimented with it others did the same. But only NSU (now Audi) and Mazda followed through on it and when the NSU RO80 ceased production, Mazda was the only manufacturer to offer rotary engine cars. And they did it with quite some success. They even won Le Mans with a rotary engine car! And they improved the engine a lot and made it reliable. But they were never really able to solve one of the key problems - the high fuel consumption. The Mazda RX8 is still built today and sold reasonably well. It is an exceptional design because of the way how the doors open and because it quite nicely combines the shape of a coupé with the need to properly seat four people. The small rotary engine allows for a very sporty weight distribution with the engine mounted low and behind the front wheels. Power is sufficient with 231 hp, torque is of course an issue with only 211 nm. Mine was a grey 2004 model and it was actually quite fun to drive. The engine sound was very special with basically now low frequencies and this touch of a coffee mill. The car depreciated quicker than most cars I ever owned, also because Mazda pushed sales with heavy discounts. Fuel economy was a disaster especially compared to equally fast alternatives. The handling was exquisite and it's one of these cars you can really look through the side window when you go around corners!
Due to its characteristics and the current need to be green it may well be the last rotary engine car that is being built. But it could be an inexpensive good and fun track day car if this is what you need.

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