Speaking to CarAdvice at the launch of the 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF, Benders said: "In many ways, the MX-5 took over from what the rotary engine infused into the company. The rotary engine was the single most defining moment in Mazda's history."
Mazda's early design ethos focused on lightweight, agile, affordable cars for the masses and the brand has developed with its own distinct DNA since those early days – much like the Wankel rotary, which had it's own distinct characteristics.
"Those unique characteristics define what Mazda is all about," Benders said. "That engine, as you know, became an overwhelming passion in the business."
Benders reminded CarAdvice that Mazda remains the only Japanese manufacturer to have won the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans – with a rotary engine – but the low volume, high cost proposition of the rotary means it hasn't always been feasible.
Further, Benders stated that while there is a passionate love within Mazda for the rotary engine, the unique nature of it means with modern emissions requirements it is more challenging than ever.
"Good steering, chassis design, handling and balance is part of our philosophy though," Benders said. "What the rotary engine did was give us a base for lightweight, affordable sports cars and that has gone to another level in sales terms with the MX-5."
Mazda's philosophy with the new ND platform was to take the MX-5 back as close as possible to its spiritual starting point and deliver an affordable sportscar with great balance.
"This RF is sleek, lightweight and has exceptional steering and chassis dynamics," Benders said. "We've reduced the weight with this RF almost back to the original 1000kg."
Benders was keen to emphasise the MX-5 as the vehicle that has carried on that tradition for the marque.
"The MX-5 definitely took over philosophically from the rotary engine," he said. "We have focused on every little detail, and this RF will even appeal to buyers who weren't considering a soft top MX-5 before."