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Mazda resuscitates rotary sports cars with its RX-Vision concept

It’s always satisfying to have your faith rewarded. While the sprightly MX-5 Miata has become Mazda’s current performance icon, car fans know that it hasn’t always been the only sports car in the Japanese firm’s lineup.

Starting in 1967 with the Cosmo, and culminating in the RX-7 and RX-8, Mazda built a line of cars powered by rotary engines which earned a following over the succeeding decades. But problems such as poor fuel economy always dogged rotary engines, and Mazda ceased production in 2012. At the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, it offered a glimpse of a second coming.

The Mazda RX-Vision concept is the rotary-powered sports car fans have been aching for since the RX-8 departed three years ago. It’s a front-engined, rear-wheel drive sports car with styling that blends Mazda’s current design language with what look like elements of the iconic FD-generation RX-7 from the 1990s. And under the hood is an all-new rotary engine dubbed SkyActiv-R.

Somewhat frustratingly, Mazda didn’t offer any details on this all-new engine, which shares the “SkyActiv” name with the company’s current line of efficiency-focused piston engines. It was revealed recently that Mazda has a dedicated team of engineers working on rotary-engine development, and hopefully they weren’t convened just to build something to grab headlines at an auto show.

Related: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata review

And while it’s hard to judge the RX-Vision’s substance, its style certainly makes quite an impression. Mazda says this is the latest evolution of the “Kodo” design theme used on its current production cars, but the design also seems heavily influenced by the FD RX-7. It may have Mazda’s current corporate grille, but the lighting elements around the headlights create silhouettes that recall the pop-up lights of the FD and other RX-7 models. The rear lighting will also look familiar to FD drivers, and the RX-Vision has similar fastback rear glass.

Mazda went out of its way to emphasize the car’s long-hood, short-rear-deck proportions. That expanse of bonnet almost makes the RX-Vision look like a Mercedes-AMG GT or Aston Martin Vantage. Or maybe an RX-7 that’s been in a taffy puller.

The biggest piece of concept-car fantasy here might actually be the RX-Vision’s shockingly basic interior. Without a touchscreen in sight, it’s a refreshing throwback to a time when there was less technology to come between drivers and, err, driving. The cabin is almost completely unadorned, save for three simple gauges, and controls.

The RX-Vision seems to be everything fans were asking for, but will Mazda build it? The company says “mass production is currently on hold,” meaning the question is no longer whether the company will build a new rotary-powered sports car, but whether it will let anyone buy it.