Using a Wankel engine as a range extender for a hybrid drive is not a completely new idea. 13 years ago, Audi, in collaboration with the development service provider AVL, packed a rotary piston engine into the spare wheel well of an Audi A1 and combined it with an electric motor. The technicians in Ingolstadt were convinced of the idea, but it did not fit into the company's rationale. Apparently Ferdinand personally gave the thumbs down. That was a death sentence. “Why do we care about the VW problems of days gone by,” the Mazda developers probably thought, and they took the concept out of the baptismal pool again and packed it into the attractive shell of the MX-30 EV.
This technology and thinking also suits the Japanese car manufacturer, which has a long history with the rotary piston engine. But anyone who believes that the tradition-conscious Asians are acting out of pure nostalgia is mistaken. “We want to offer every customer and every region the choice of the right drive type,” explains product manager Wakako Uefuji. That's why the basic version of the Mazda MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV costs just as much as its fully electric brother at 35,990 euros. Due to the sophisticated operating strategy of the serial plug-in hybrid, the combustion engine is not constantly active. The Wankel engine in the Mazda MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV has a chamber volume of 830 cubic centimeters and, when necessary, feeds a generator, which in turn drives the 125 kW / 170 hp electric motor if the 17.8 kilowatt hour battery does not have enough energy can provide. “The drive unit is very compact,” says chief engine developer Kota Matsue. This is also necessary to combine the elements and put them on the front axle.
The opened hood reveals a view of the construct, without any panels. However, a Wankel engine is not the most uncomplicated engine design. Years of experience help here: “We use new surfaces and have further optimized the manufacturing tolerances,” says Kota Matsue. The consequence is that the oil and gasoline consumption of the rotary piston engine has decreased significantly. Mazda states consumption as 1.0 liters per 100 kilometers or 17.5 kWh/100 km. Purely electrically, the battery should take the crossover up to 85 kilometers, and in conjunction with the combustion engine and its 50 liter tank it should be up to 680 kilometers. “The Mazda MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV is a car for commuting electrically every day and also driving further on the weekend,” explains Wakako Uefuji.
We want to put the system to the test and take a seat in the PHEV crossover. With a small switch you can choose one of three driving modes: EV mode (purely electric), normal, in which the battery charge level remains constant at around 45 percent, and charge mode, with which you can use the combustion engine to charge the batteries up to a defined level Load percentage. This is not efficient, but it is helpful if you can only drive purely electrically in certain areas. If you fill the battery in a conventional way, it takes around 25 minutes at a DC charging station with a maximum charging capacity of 36 kW before the energy storage is filled from 20 to 80 percent. For the AC version and wallboxes, it takes around 90 minutes from zero to 100 percent at 11 kW.
We choose the EV program because the Wankel engine only intervenes as soon as the battery is empty or you demand the full power of the drive train via kick-down and announce itself with a quiet hum. Basically, the Wankel engine only supports the battery and never has direct drive to the drive wheels. The Mazda crossover, which weighs 1,703 kilograms, completes the sprint from zero to 100 km/h in 9.1 seconds and can reach speeds of up to 140 km/h. Fast enough, only on German motorways you are sometimes in a speedy no man's land: too fast for the right lane and when overtaking you have to keep an eye on the traffic in the left lane. Country roads are the natural habitat of the Mazda MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV, but despite the torque of 260 Newton meters, the real punch is missing and from 120 km/h the forward momentum decreases somewhat.
The chassis could use a lot more speed, is well tuned, not too soft and hardly rocks over bumps. The direct steering is also more agility roadster MX-5 than MX-30. The coordination of the accelerator pedal characteristic and the five recuperation levels are also adopted with MX-30 EV, although one-pedal driving is not possible even in the strongest setting. We decide for sailing and brake or recuperate ourselves. The PHEV-MX-30 is convincing on the road: after a 91-kilometer test drive that took us over country roads, around 20 kilometers of motorway (including top speed) and of course through cities the battery was empty (after around 80 km) and the on-board computer reported consumption of 18.2 kWh/100 km and 1.7 l/100 km. Pretty close to the factory values mentioned at the beginning.
You feel comfortable in the MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV anyway. The interior is identical to that of the BEV version and we like it with its simplicity, the principle of touchscreen detox and the straightforward round instruments, which are complemented by a head-up display. However, the digital control unit of the air conditioning is very difficult to read in direct sunlight. The seats are comfortable, although the leg rest could be a little longer and the side support could be a little more pronounced. In the second row the space is significantly tighter, especially the legroom. Under the center console there are two USB-A ports and a 230-volt socket with 150 watts, which can also be used to charge a laptop. For larger tasks, there is a 1,500 watt socket in the trunk. If necessary, the Wankel engine can also produce the energy. Reassuring for all campers and electric bike users.
Only one thing remains to be clarified. With all the knowledge and improvements to the rotary engine, what about an RX successor? A new edition of the rotary engine sports car would delight many Mazda fans - and not just them. Kota Matsue doesn't let his hand be played, smiles kindly and says. “We would like to build an RX again.” Hope dies last.