The famed rotary engine is back but powering an electric motor not a Le Mans winning super car.
Mazda has dusted off the cobwebs and given its rotary engine a new life as an electric generator for the hybrid MX 30.
The rotary engine is renowned for its lightweight, compact design as well as being smoother than conventional piston engines and served Mazda well powering the 1967 Cosmo and several RX models.
The downside is a terrible thirst but that will not matter this time because the 830cc rotary engine is being used as an electric generator to charge the battery, so instead of driving the wheels it drives the electric motor.
Unlike its electric MX 30 sister the R-EV will never give you range anxiety because it has a 50 litre fuel tank to keep the engine running when called on to charge the batteries.
In simple terms this is a plug-in hybrid with, thanks to its lightweight construction, a better than average 53 miles electric range that can be topped up to 80 per cent in 25 minutes from a 36kWh fast charging unit, and 90 minutes using a 7.2kW home charger.
Mazda is a bit out of kilter with the rest of the car industry deciding to continue developing petrol and diesel engines alongside hybrid and electric, and given the Government’s decision to put off scrapping the combustion engine until 2035 the decision seems to be justified.
Mazda’s UK boss Jeremy Thomson told me the company is committed to becoming carbon neutral but pointed to the fact that demand for electric cars is cooling off as people worry about the cost of electricity, battery range and the charging infrastructure which, he said, is posing a serious risk to EV uptake.
So, where are we on charging stations? Way behind target.
To date there are 44,000 but to reach the Government’s target of 300,000 by 2035 the rate of installation has to be trebled to 10,000 every three months. That sounds a tall order.
On that basis the MX-30 R-EV is a very useful addition to the range. Sales of the electric model have been slow and that is no doubt down to its low 124 mile range which does not leave much in reserve in the event of a long journey, but not a problem here.
The new model shares the same footprint as the sister car and offers something different to the opposition. It has the same pillarless design and rear hinged doors, just like a Rolls-Royce Phantom, giving it a clean profile.
It is a novel idea and worked well on the RX-8 sports coupe all those years ago but as a family car getting in and out of the back seat is a bit of a trial and six footers will be scrunching up for the lack of legroom. It’s also a bit claustrophobic because of the small amount of glass.
Inside has the premium feel we have come to expect from Mazda which has definitely upped its game in recent years. The vegan feel to the cabin is carried over from MX-30 with recycled materials. The cork linings are a nod to Mazda’s beginnings in 1920 as a cork manufacturer.
The dashboard is devoid of switches with a top mounted touchscreen taking care of main operations best dealt with by the rotary controller conveniently positioned behind the gearstick. Another screen at the base of the centre console takes care of the permanently displayed heating and ventilation controls. That works well too.
As with MX-30 the R-EV is all about driving enjoyment so expect an easy going, agile feel with a reasonably sharp uptake when the fast pedal is floored. What can throw you is the lack of engine noise, even though there is an engine under the bonnet. There is a bit of a hum, and that’s it.
It is a sophisticated set up with three drive modes one of which recharges the battery on the move but for a hassle free long drive leave it in normal and top up the fuel tank as and when. Top speed is limited to 87mph in an effort to extend the battery range and given our maximum speed limit should be enough for comfortable overtaking.
The range is split into three models, Prime-Line, Exclusive and Makoto with prices ranging from £31,250 to £36,000.
We can safely say that the arrival of R-EV will guarantee a lot more MX 30s on our roads.
MX-30 R-EV Makoto
Rotary 830cc + motor 168bhp
0-62mph 9.1secs; 87mph
37.2mpg combined (50mpg driven)
21g/km. First road tax £55
Insurance group 23