Its most likely function will be a range extender, but a sports car is possible.

The Mazda rotary engine is making a comeback, but not in the way its legions of die-hard loyalists expect. Rather than powering a lightweight sports car like the dearly departed RX-7, it will likely serve as a range extender for an electric-hybrid vehicle.

Mazda's global powertrain chief Mitsuo Hitomi told Automotive News recently "I think that's probably what it will be." Though not an assurance, the statement makes sense. The report adds, "A rotary engine is ideal as a range extender because it is compact and powerful, while generating low-vibration, Hitomi said."

The rotary engine might part of an electric vehicle that will debut in 2019. The AN article cites Akira Kyomen, a Mazda program manager, who says the upcoming EV will come as a fully electric vehicle for crowded urban markets like Japan and Europe, but that the hybrid version would come to North America where the average commutes are longer.

2017 Mazda Mazda3
2017 Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback
2017 Mazda Mazda6
2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata
2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
2016 Mazda CX-9
2017 Mazda CX-3
2016 Mazda CX-5

In the same report, Hitomi also confirmed that engineers are working on a performance oriented car with a more powerful rotary engine, but whether that comes to market depends on buyers' appetite for a more expensive sports offering slotting above the MX-5.

The rotary has not been in production since the RX-8 was discontinued in 2012. Whether the rotary returns in a hybrid or a sport car remains to be seen, but according to Hitomi it "gives Mazda a way to keep the technology alive."