If there's one engine that Mazda became known for (apart from the new SkyActiv series), it's probably the Wankel motor. More widely known as the rotary engine, what it lacked in displacement, it made up for in revs, as well as a smoother power delivery thanks to fewer moving parts. 

Mazda rotary engine returns in 2023 MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV image

It was not long for this world, however, as stricter emission laws meant Mazda was faced with the difficult task of actually making it more eco-friendly. Combined with its high fuel (and oil) consumption, Mazda sadly had to discontinue the Wankel motor when they officially ended production of the RX-8 back in 2012.

Mazda rotary engine returns in 2023 MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV image

Fast forward to 2023, and Mazda has brought back the rotary. But instead of powering a vehicle directly, the engine now serves a different purpose. Making its debut at the Brussels Motor Show is the 2023 MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV. It is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) that uses the marque’s renowned rotary engine as a range extender.

Mazda rotary engine returns in 2023 MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV image

The Mazda rotary engine was known for its simple design, excellent weight-to-power ratio, smooth power delivery, and the ability for higher revolutions. Instead of utilizing these features in the 2023 MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV to send drive to the wheels, the Japanese automaker decided to use the rotary engine to generate power for the 17.8 kWh lithium-ion battery.

Mazda rotary engine returns in 2023 MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV image

Based on the vehicle’s design, the rotary engine is paired with a compact electric power unit to deliver an 85-kilometer battery-electric driving range. As a PHEV, it is compatible with normal and fast charging, including 1,500 W power supply functionality. It has three driving modes, Normal, EV, and Charge. This gives the MX-30 R-EV a cruising range of up to 600 km, a big improvement over the EV-only version which can only do around 160 to 170 km on a full charge.

Mazda rotary engine returns in 2023 MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV image

The 2023 Mazda MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV will be available in a special edition model called ‘Edition R.” It will have a black exterior with an accent from the color of the R350 Coupe and a Maroon Rouge Metallic cabin. Other exclusive features include a rotor-shaped emblem sewn into the floor mats and embossed on the seat headrests.

Mazda rotary engine returns in 2023 MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV image

While the rotary is not exactly powering a Mazda vehicle today, it's nice to see that the automaker was able to bring back one of its signature engines for an electrified future. Perhaps one day Mazda will be able to make a rotary-powered vehicle that can actually meet emission laws today.