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Mike Stevens | Oct 22, 2010

While other carmakers have tried - and ultimately failed - to popularise the rotary engine, Mazda has been the only one to produce a range of workable production vehicles motivated by the unique Wankel powerplant.

But with poor torque production and terrible fuel economy being the main bugbears of the rotary engine, can it survive in an industry that's being increasingly constrained by emissions laws?

According to Mazda, it can, and a patent application submitted early last year, likely for the planned 16X engine, offered some insight into its plans.

The application details a direct-injected version of the company's familiar rotary engine - a version that may allow such a motor to remain relevant in a more eco-conscious environment.

The 16X has a longer rotor stroke than the 13B-MSP, as well as 300cc more displacement, but while the 13B uses 80mm thick rotors the patent describes a engine that uses either 76mm or 70mm-wide rotors, suggesting two different engines may be in the pipeline.

The new engine will eventually take over from the 1.3 litre 13B-MSP that powers the current RX-8, but exactly when it will launch is unclear.

According to Mazda's powertrain development boss Mitsuo Hitomi, the 16X project is alive and well, although the company's focus on its new Skyactive engines and transmissions has caused delays for the rotary engine.

“Maybe within two years we can tell you when we will introduce it to the market,” Hitomi said this week.

Offering a glimmer of hope to enthusiasts, Hitomi added that testing has shown that the 16X is about 30 percent more fuel-efficient than the 13B engine powering the RX-8.

In the European market, Mazda has decided to retire the RX-8 at the end of this year because of the 13B rotary's inability to achieve Euro V emissions compliance.

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