Do MX-5 Miatas Have Rotary Engines? Explained

Mazda Motor Corporation has been at the forefront of vehicle design and production for over 100 years. Their vehicles represent a cost-effective and reliable form of transport for drivers across the globe.

In 1967, Mazda debuted its rotary engine. The engine was originally designed by Felix Wankel – a German motor engineer – in collaboration with NSU Motorenwerke. Wankel and NSU licensed the rotary design to companies like Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Mazda.

Mazda incorporated its rotary engine into a number of its production vehicles, including the legendary RX-7. But did the MX-5 Miata ever feature a rotary engine? Let’s find out.

Do Miatas have rotary engines?

Simply put, the MX-5 Miata has never used a rotary engine. Mazda’s now-discontinued RX series were some of the best-selling vehicles to feature the revolutionary rotary engine design.

You can’t purchase an MX-5 Miata off the lot with a rotary engine. The roadster has always incorporated an inline, piston-driven 4-cylinder engine, with a displacement ranging from 1.5 L to 2.0 L.

Funnily enough, an experimental, Mazda-made MX-5 Miata with a 1.3 L hydrogen-powered rotary engine does exist, somewhere. Popular Science magazine reviewed the car in October of 1993, arriving at the conclusion that the vehicle was way ahead of its time. The infrastructure was just not present in the US at the time for hydrogen-powered vehicles to enter the mainstream.

Since then, there has been no word from Mazda on whether the MX-5 Miata will ever utilise a rotary engine. Aside from the impressive homemade rotary swap conversions, there is no other way on earth to own a rotary-powered MX-5 Miata. Trust me, I’m sad about it too.

Could we eventually see an MX-5 Miata with a rotary engine in the bay? Perhaps, but not in the way that you might think. As Mazda looks to electrify its fleet, we could see the rotary design coming back as a range-extender for Mazda’s future models of the MX-5.

Image Credit: Mazda Europe

What engines do MX-5 Miatas use?

The first MX-5 Miata, the NA, was kitted out with a 1.6 L inline four-cylinder engine from Mazda’s B-series. The latest MX-5 Miata, the 2022 ND, features a 2.0 L inline four-cylinder Skyactiv-G engine.

All MX-5 Miatas use a straight-four engine to generate the humble power output that we know and love. These engines have been refined by Mazda over the course of many decades, resulting in a super reliable and cost-effective option for MX-5 owners.

Each and every MX-5 Miata engine follows a dual overhead camshaft layout, or ‘twin-cam’ design. They’re great at high speeds, promote more efficient combustion and they allow for more airflow in the engine. It’s a foolproof design that is used in the majority of modern vehicles that you see on the road today.

You know what they say – if it isn’t broke, don’t bother fixing it. This is a tried and tested statement for the MX-5 Miata’s bulletproof engine, which can quite happily hit 200,000 miles and beyond when taken care of properly. It’s just a shame about the rust.

Image Credit: Mazda Europe

Which Mazda cars have a rotary engine?

Some examples of Mazda’s rotary-powered vehicles include the RX-7, RX-3, R100, Luce R130 and the Cosmo. Mazda’s last road-legal car to feature a rotary engine was the Mazda RX-8, which ceased production in 2012.

While the RX-7 and RX-8 were far from perfect, the RX series attracted a large following of passionate rotary heads who loved the free-revving nature of the Wankel-designed engine.

But one of Mazda’s biggest gripes with the rotary engine was fuel efficiency. The RX-8 was renowned for its thirsty nature, with the least powerful model squeezing out a measly 26.7 miles per gallon. By modern commuter’s standards, that’s a pretty poor figure.

Mazda’s rotary engines are also notorious for needing frequent repairs. Apex seals are responsible for maintaining compression in the chamber and tend to only last for 80,000 miles or so. When they go bad, it’s a job for a rotary specialist, who will likely need to rebuild the engine.

Now, that’s not to say that Mazda won’t revisit the rotary engine in future. In fact, they still hold on to the 13B rotary engine design to this day. This particular rotary engine has plenty of benefits: it’s small, packs a punch and runs a lot smoother than conventional piston-driven engines.

Mazda continues to work on making the rotary engine more fuel-efficient and reliable. Fingers crossed we’ll see the engine back in a production vehicle sooner rather than later!


We’re sorry to be the ones to break it to you, but the Mazda MX-5 Miata has never used a rotary engine.

Mazda’s only adventure into a rotary-powered MX-5 Miata was a one-off experiment. It was conceptualized and built in 1993, using hydrogen as a primary power source.

The good news is that many Miata owners have completed at-home rotary engine swaps. If you’re confident and don’t mind spending a bit of cash, this could be a viable route to go down.

The rotary engine is a significant part of Mazda’s motoring heritage. Taking on the engine was a big gamble for the manufacturer. They took the risk and created an engine that won the hearts and minds of car enthusiasts everywhere.

How do you feel about Mazda’s rotary engine? Let us know your thoughts below!

2 thoughts on “Do MX-5 Miatas Have Rotary Engines? Explained”

  1. I am looking to buy a 2003 MX5 Mazda MX-5 Miata 116,000 miles’ is it worth it’ I’ve been contemplating for 3/4 days’ it looks clean to me’ what do I look for on this vehicle’ do I look for rust underneath the car. I am 64 lady’ need professional advice. Thank you


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