Why It Matters: The rotary engine is a cornerstone in the house of Mazda. Also, the MX-5 Miatacould use a teammate to help zoom things up a bit.
Platform: Even though the concept’s 106.3-inch wheelbase is substantially longer than the MX-5’s, key body and chassis components could be shared, given the common front-engine, rear-drive layout. Mazda also has a wealth of Skyactiv components that could come in handy here.
Powertrain: Mazda acknowledges that 50 engineers have toiled eight years developing a new 16X two-rotor engine. The company even filed a patent for a new rotary engine earlier this year. Direct fuel injection, turbocharging, and a displacement 23 percent greater than the RX-8’s 1.3-liter will help clear the hoped-for 400-hp hurdle. Switching from iron to aluminum for the end plates (analogous to portions of a piston engine’s block) yields a significant mass savings.
Competition: Assuming that the car achieves its power and weight targets, the new RX-9 could compete favorably against the Alfa Romeo 4C, Chevrolet Corvette, Jaguar F-type, and Porsche Cayman.
What Might Go Wrong: The rotary engine has a well-earned reputation for low thermal efficiency, which translates to poor fuel mileage. If Mazda fails to make major strides reducing gas (and oil) consumption, sports-car customers will be hesitant to embrace the RX-9 no matter what it brings to the speed-and-handling party.
Estimated Arrival and Price: Armed with the stunning show car’s exterior, more than 400 horsepower, and a 9000-rpm wail, the RX-9 could be a disrupter in the $50,000-and-up set. It’s at least two years away, so don’t expect it before the 2019 model year.