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Mazda has a history with the rotary engine, a Japanese carmaker that has been bold on many occasions delivering something different to the buyer. For more than fifty years, Mazda has been associated with the rotary engine for road and motor sport; a notable achievement, victory in the Le Mans 24 Hour Race.

To date they have produced almost two million engines from the distinctive Cosmo to the very desirable RX-8. Visitors to the Brussels Motor Show earlier this year cast their eyes for the first time on the unique MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV series plug-in hybrid which adds to the company’s electrified range alongside the MX-30 e-Skyactiv and the impressive CX-60 PHEV. The R-EV offers the same customer values as the pure electric MX-30, while simultaneously offering new ways of using a car as a battery electric vehicle. The R-EV has a 17.8kWh battery and Mazda clams a 85km (53m) pure electric range, and using the unique rotary engine technology, the engine is new, a modest 830cc single-rotor petrol unit which acts as a generator to enable longer distance drives without range or charging anxiety and this will be very welcome news to many, myself included. There is no mechanical connection between the engine and the wheels as the rotary unit simply acts as a generator, ensuring the newcomer always drives via the electric motor to deliver a seamless EV drive experience. The combination of the 17.8kWh battery and 50-litre fuel tank create a unique series plug-in hybrid with a flexible total range of over 640km (400m), while a WLTP CO2 output of just 21g/km ensures class-leading environmental performance. There is compatibility with both AC charging and rapid DC charging; 3-phase AC charging takes around 50 minutes and DC rapid charging can be completed in around 25 minutes.

With this new Mazda, you have the choice of three drive modes to suit various driving situations: Normal, EV and Charge, and with a 125kW/170ps output, the R-EV delivers better acceleration performance than the 145ps MX-30 In Normal mode electric drive is delivered as long as there is enough battery charge and should you desire more power than the battery level can deliver, such as when accelerating, the rotary engine generator will activate based on the degree of accelerator opening and supply the battery with more power. You can turn EV mode on to stay in electric drive for as long as possible and this mode will ensure the R-EV uses electric drive exclusively until the battery is completely drained. Need to accelerate suddenly and depressing the accelerator pedal significantly beyond a certain point, like the kickdown switch function on a standard automatic transmission, the rotary engine will activate and generate the power needed for the car to accelerate as powerfully as possible. I certainly found acceleration brisk and instant, giving that little sporting touch. Re Charge mode it can be used to safeguard the necessary amount of battery for situations such as the need to save zero emissions running for particular urban environments, additionally the option of setting the amount of battery charge you want to reserve in increments of 10 per cent. The generator will activate when battery charge drops below the specified reserve level, charge the battery to the set level, and maintain that level of charge. Once battery charge is above the set level, the R-EV will operate in the equivalent to Normal mode until the battery depletes to the specified level and it will then use the rotary engine generator to keep the battery at that level.

My opportunity to get behind the wheel of the R-EV came over driving routes in England and Wales; the latter provided a challenging route over some magnificent scenery. Right away I discovered the same level of build quality that has made Mazda the choice for many buyers. All versions feature a rotor badge on the front wings and an e-Skyactiv R-EV badge on the tailgate and unique wheels which differentiate the trim levels. A pleasing exterior is matched by a well appointed interior. However passenger space in the rear is rather restricted and the unusual rear doors do take a little getting used to, another feature which Mazda has used previously.

I have to applaud Mazda for bringing something different to the market, only time will tell how successful this new approach to the rotary engine will be, so I will not be at all surprised if future models are powered like the MX-30 R-EV.

Ian Lynas